The legacy of Olive Morris


“A life defined by action in the face of injustice”

Olive Morris’ story is one defined by bravery and persistence in the face of injustice. Earlier this week she was commemorated on the google front page which sparked intrigue into her life and accomplishments.

Before Morris became involved in the activism that would come to define her time in England, she would start her journey in Jamaica. She was born in Harewood, St Catherine, Jamaica, to Doris Lowena and Vincent Nathaniel Morris. She moved to London with her family at the age of nine, and was one of six children which included three brothers and two sisters. She studied at Lavender Hill Girl’s secondary school and despite leaving school without qualifications, would later study at the London College of Printing.

Where her influence would be felt though was in her stance to injustice and this would be seen from a young age. Although accounts vary, it was at the age of 17 when she Interjected in an incident that saw police try to arrest Nigerian diplomat Clement Gomwalk. The diplomat, who was driving a Mercedes, was accused of having stolen the vehicle and was subsequently beaten by the police. One depiction of the event has her as having intervened to stop the arrest of the diplomat. Another account claims that she did not arrive until after the diplomat had been taken away by the police. What we do know however is that Morris’ protest led to her being the target of assault and as the historian Angelina Robinson points out - this was one early incident of Olive’s commitment to challenging oppression.

Driven by pride in her identity, she would continue to take up this mantle. She joined the British Black Panther movement in 1968 alongside Linton Kwesi Johnson and Clovis Reid and in the early 70’s would become one of the founding members of the Brixton Black Women's Group who pushed for more transparency and unity in their community.

Later work in helping to set up the 121 Railton Road squat in 1973 which became a hub of political activism would follow and her influence was felt further North as well. She would help to set up the Manchester Black Women's Co-operative and the Black Women's Mutual Aid Group with activists in Manchester such as Kath Locke and Elouise Edwards further reaffirming her dedication to facilitating the betterment of black women in the UK.

Olive Morris would live for only 27 years, but in her short time in this world, her influence on her community was as long lasting as it was profound. 68 years on, and her legacy is still one to cherish.

Mayowa Ayodele