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Thu, 06.26.1952

Olive Morris, Activist, and Feminist born

Olive Morris

*Olive Morris was born on this date in 1952.  She was a Black Jamaican, British-based community feminist, Black nationalist, and squatters' rights activist.  

Olive Elaine Morris was born in 1952 in Harewood, St Catherine, Jamaica, to Doris Lowena (née Moseley) and Vincent Nathaniel Morris.  As part of the Windrush Generation, the family emigrated to England when she was nine.  She had three brothers and two sisters and lived in South London most of her life, attending Heathbrook Primary School, Lavender Hill Girls' Secondary School, and Tulse Hill Secondary School.  Leaving school without qualifications, she later studied at the London College of Printing (now named the London College of Communication).  

On November 15, 1969, Nigerian diplomat Clement Gomwalk was confronted by police while parked outside "Desmond's Hip City," the first Black record shop in Brixton.  The police did not believe him when he said he was a diplomat. Accused of stealing his car under the "sus law" (suspected person), the police dragged him out of his Mercedes car to interrogate him and continued to beat him as a crowd formed around them.   

Morris, then 17 years old, recalled her friend being dragged by police into the record store, shouting, "I've done nothing." She did not state how she got involved but does state that she was brutally beaten.  She was arrested, fined £10, and given a suspended sentence. The charges were: assault on the police, threatening behavior, and possessing dangerous weapons. Morris’s account goes on to describe her treatment in prison. She said she was forced to strip and was threatened with rape in police custody. 

In the early 1970s, Morris became a member of the youth section of the British Black Panther Party (later the Black Workers movement) alongside Linton Kwesi Johnson and Clovis Reid.  In August 1972, she and a friend, Liz Obi, planned to visit the American Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver, who lived in Algeria but became stranded in Morocco.  Morris co-founded the Brixton Black Women's Group in 1974.  

Eventually, the group dissolved and transformed into numerous specific groups focused on increasing the awareness of the Black struggle.  Morris participated in other activities, such as squatting buildings to establish self-help community spaces.  She squatted at 121 Railton Road, Brixton, in 1973. The site subsequently became an anarchist project known as the 121 Centre until its eviction in 1999.  

Morris studied at Manchester University between 1975 and 1978. Her activism did not halt while she was away from London. She co-founded 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.  She also helped to establish a supplementary school after campaigning with local Black parents for better education provision for their children.  She was a founding member of the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) in London.  Along with the Brixton Black Women's Group, it was the first organization for black women in the United Kingdom.  She became ill during a trip to Spain in 1978.

When she returned to London, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She underwent treatment, which was unsuccessful. Olive Morris died on July 12, 1979, at St Thomas' Hospital, Lambeth, and was buried in Streatham Vale Cemetery. She was 27 years old. The Lambeth Council named a building after her – and activist groups.  

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