David Lean cinema showcases the struggle for black civil rights


By - Monday 16th March, 2015

Sean Creighton welcomes opportunities for Croydon to explore black British history in film 


Nubian Jak plaque in honour of Claudia Jones.
Photo by Graham Tiller, used under Creative Commons licence.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Selma march for civil rights. It was good to see that on 7th March, Croydon Central Tory MP Gavin Barwell shared on his Twitter feed a link to the video in which former US President Bill Clinton discusses the importance of the civil rights struggles in Selma and Montgomery and the continuing challenges.

On Thursday 19th March the David Lean cinema in Katharine Street, central Croydon, has two sell-out showings of Selma, the film about Martin Luther King and the struggle for civil rights in the United States. So it’s showing the film again at 2:30pm on Tuesday 24th March.

On Wednesday 18th March another film will be screened, about a less well-known UK activist, Claudia Jones. Although the context was different, there was also a struggle by West Indians and South Asians for civil rights here in Britain. During his 1964 visit here on his way to Oslo to receive his Nobel Peace Prize, King spoke of the necessity ”for all decent Britons to challenge every case of racial discrimination and for the Commonwealth citizens to organise and unite”. This was highlighted by Claudia Jones, whom King visited, in her discussion on his public statements in her last editorial in the West Indian Gazette before she died at the end of the same year.

This film about Claudia Jones is being shown at the David Lean Cinema on Wednesday 18th March at 2:00pm. It reveals one of history’s most dynamic civil rights activists. With a directorial debut by writer Nia Reynolds and narration by actor Josette Simon (Cry Freedom), Looking for Claudia Jones is the fascinating life story of a true rebel with a cause.

These films examine the sometimes painful evolution of our multicultural society

Hounded, tried and imprisoned for her political beliefs, Claudia was deported from the United States as an ‘illegal alien’ in 1955, during the Cold War. However, America’s loss proved to be Britain’s gain, as she quickly established her immense credentials as an editor and political, social and cultural activist whose legacy continues to resonate in British society.

These two films follow the screening on Wednesday 4th March of a third film, Divided By Race, United In War and Peace, a powerful documentary about race relations in Britain during and after the Second World War. At its core are the testimonies of fourteen surviving veterans, West Indian and African men and women who volunteered to join the war effort and soon afterwards returned to live in Britain. This film by The-Latest.Com, Britain’s first dedicated citizen journalism website, seeks to both redress that balance and explore the sometimes painful evolution of our multicultural society. It is produced, co-directed, scripted and narrated by Marc Wadsworth, a campaigning journalist and anti-racist. The film was supported by the National Lottery Heritage Lottery Fund.

Croydon’s Heritage Festival 2015 will continue to explore black British history

The showing of all these films in Croydon is sponsored by me and by the Croydon Radical History Network. They form part of a continuing programme of events in Croydon exploring aspects of British Black History which included talks in last year’s Croydon Heritage Festival, the AfricanHistory+@Croydon event in November, and will continue with talks, a walk and a play in this year’s Heritage Festival in June.

Part of the backdrop to both these films is the 1948 arrival of the ship Windrush as the symbol of the large scale immigration from the West Indies, and the lifting of the Boxing Board of Control’s colour bar on British black boxers fighting for British boxing titles in the same year. The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 arose from the refusal of the local bus company to employ black or Asian bus crews. The four month campaign boycotting the company’s buses by Bristolians led to the company ending its colour bar. It contributed to the passing of the Race Relations Acts in 1965 and 1968. 

The row over the racism incident on the Paris Metro involving Chelsea fans is a reminder, however, that there are still many people who have racist views about people of African descent. While it is essential for central and local government to continue to campaign against racist groups and for equal opportunities by central local government, the police and other public organisations and private businesses is important, combating the views of individuals is much more difficult.

Fostering a better understanding of British historical development about the 500 plus years’ presence of people of African descent in Britain, and especially their post-war influences on society, is an important element of countering individual racism. It would be good to see Gavin Barwell attend the showing of Looking for Claudia Jones.


You can pre-book for Claudia Jones via Eventbrite, pop into Croydon Visitor Centre for tickets to Selma or for help using Eventbrite, or . Tickets for all David Lean screening can be booked here. Tickets cost £7.50 or £6.00 for concessions.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • michael badu

    It’s good that importance is being given to this, but I don’t think anyone would have batted an eyelid if it was passed over in silence. With racism, it’s the doublethink of the well meaning majority rather than the entrenched racism of yobs that it always the biggest problem. I’ll never forget the story in the Evening Standard in which job applications with English sounding names and foreign names were sent out-with equal qualifications and experience- with the foreign-sounding named applications losing out in comparison to tune of 50%. It’s easier t blame a few yobs and hillbillies than face reality. There is also a lot of racism between ethnic minorities who come from countries that haven’t reached the enlightenment-at least in law- that has come with struggle in western nations. These minorities must sign up to racial equality as it is understood in the UK (in Law) if they want to truly benefit from it. For my part, I was born in Croydon and returned to live and work here after university. When I was a child in the 80′s, I felt that the country was less racist than it is now because my teachers were mostly former hippies (which means I had some of the most passionate and principled people teaching me) and children don’t see colour anyway. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more aware of my ‘Blackness’. I’m often stuck in the middle as I refuse to depart from the vision of society handed down to me by those hippies, and ‘join a camp’. I prefer Bach to JayZ and Kings Of Leon to Beyoncé. When I’m with white people I’m a curiosity with Blacks I’m weird and perhaps not black enough. The exceptions to this are my warm and close friends who are very, very few, and who are such because They’ve always taken me back to that time when I was 8 or 9. Nearly off the soap-box. The treatment of Farage and UKIP in the Media is also annoying. All parties have racists in them, Farage’s points are economic and political, not necessarily racist. With Easter approaching some of the treatment rings of Caiphas vs Jesus! The UK is effectively part of a European Super-state as far as economics and politics is concerned. Why? because it increases the pool of cheap labour available to the hidden oligarchies that control western Europe (especially this country), allowing them to maintain their position in the face of economic rivalry from the East. Immigrants from poorer countries are always going to work harder than the comparatively wealthier indigenous population, but no-one seems to want to ask how hard and for how little should we ‘allow’ a person to work before it demeans the humanity of us all? It suits oligarchies to continue to play the party and the man and not the issues, but anyone who suggests this is branded a racist now (failure to engage in doublethink results in thought-crime), meanwhile, things for people like me don’t improve but some idiots who read the Guardian feel good about themselves for a bit. Rant over. I’ll probably vote Green btw, before I’m branded a racist, and I like Hip-Hop before 1997 too, and Jazz, but Only Davis and Coltrane.