Long live the memory of Bernie Grant


I remember to this day where I was when the news came through that the iconic Black British Civil Rights leader, Bernie Grant had died. It was Saturday 8th April 2000. I and the OBV team were around Lewisham High Street on a voter registration drive before the forth-coming local elections in May. In many ways we were part of the succession planning that Bernie had inspired to follow in his activist footsteps.

Bernie Grant was the original grass roots, trade union, and internationalist political leader. He was never afraid to take up the battles for the oppressed not just in the UK but across the globe and particularly for the Black Diaspora.

Imagine for a second, the statement Bernie Grant made when he arrived as one of two Black men of African descent dressed in African costume, the pride that that gave to young Black Brits.

When Black youths were oppressed by the police, particularly around Stop and Search, it was Bernie Grant who not only defended them but also issued them with cards about what they should and shouldn’t say.

'Understand your rights' he would bellow. 'Know more than the police about your civil rights'.

When it came to Black history I remember Bernie calling for activists to lobby the British Museum to turn the stolen Benin bronzes. When only 20 people showed up he’d say, ‘not everyone understands the importance of what we’re doing, but that doesn’t make any less important’.

Although I’d known Bernie for some time it was in his later years that we became good friends. When he married Sharon Grant I felt honoured to be invited to the Parliamentary wedding reception.

If you were in a room with Bernie Grant you would never forget him. His presence and charisma would fill the room. But deep down Bernie was the most humble man, who just wanted to do right by his people, both Black and white. That was the brother, Bernie Grant.

Simon Woolley