Given my own status as an activist as part of a several reparations organisations and networks, it has become necessary to focus on reparations historiography through the lens of social movement analysis. I have chosen to adopt a social movement approach to the historical study of reparations advocacy and activism in the UK more generally, and London more specifically, because academic interest in the study of social movements and other forms of collective action is growing and these powerful stories of how ordinary people organising and working together produce social change often get lost in the big narrative approach to teaching the history of a few heroes.
Though no reasonably informed person would dispute the inﬂuential role and work of the late Bernie Grant MP., the Africa Reparations Movement (ARM, UK) and the organisation’s importance in shaping the historical trajectory of the ISMAR in recent history, seldom do scholarly accounts of reparations activism in the UK include the efforts of reparationists prior too or since the founding of the ARM. This study therefore seeks to rescue the suppressed historical contributions to ISMAR-building arising from the lifelong activism of grassroots reparations activists and organisers.
So whilst the leading role of Bernie Grant is acknowledged, the primary sources available (including reparations social movement organisational records and oral histories of living reparations activists in the UK), indicate that reparations activism existed prior to his co-founding of ARM and continues to exist since his death in 2000. The focus on the elites and public figures in the struggle for reparations can be very disempowering as people learn to believe the way that the changes sought by the ISMAR will only happen by waiting for the next hero, instead of a truthful history that reminds people of the fact that change happens through not only the big but also the small actions of ordinary people working together to make a difference. In this regard, I tell a people’s history of the ISMAR, i.e. a reparations movement history from below. In this context, history from below, (otherwise known as ‘peoples history’) is a broad umbrella term embracing historical narratives that account for historical events from the perspective of ordinary people; concentrating on their experiences and perspectives and thereby contrasting itself with the stereotype of traditional political history and its focus on the actions of ‘great men’ or African heritage political, social or economic elites.
I adopt a mixed research methodology in conducting this research. In order to provide a context to the main historical period under research, I commence by providing an overview of the contours of reparations related thought, advocacy and activism of individuals, organisations and coalitions within the UK. To do so I employ the use of historical research methods in utilising a paucity of primary and secondary sources to chronicle landmarks in the long struggle for dignity, repair and redress for enslavement, colonialism and their modern day legacies sought by Africans and people of African heritage in the UK .
This study then goes on to chronicle, by way of biographical data and reparations activist organising summaries, the experiences and contributions of an ideologically diverse group of African heritage activists (and the organisations/networks they are part of) who have made a significant contribution to or influenced the development of the ISMAR organising processes, emanating from London between 1989 and the present day. By focusing on the men and women who have been instrumental in interpreting the conditions arising from the legacies of enslavement and colonisation and contributing to reparations social movement and organisation building, I situate their contemporary activism within the long history of African and African Diaspora activism in Britain and extrapolate how such activism has had a global outlook and approach.
Given that I have ‘insider status’ within the ISMAR, I have chosen methods which seek to uncover the marginalised histories of contemporary reparations activism in the UK in general and London in particular. Through the utilisation of activist ethnographic methods, I capture phenomena which may be missed by macro-level analysis. For example, as well as offering accounts of the visible aspects of leadership within the ISMAR, it is also possible to provide insights into the less visible or ‘submerged’ aspects of the ISMAR, such as the movement’s inner practices and processes. These submerged aspects are often only accessible to those within the movement, and thus, by taking on an ‘activist insider’ role it has been possible to bring forth previously concealed information to reparations movement outsiders, including academics.
To date, interviews have been conducted with 30 individuals which has provided in-depth but general content; helping to establish greater clarity about the breadth and scope of the history of reparations activism in the past twenty five years. They consist of ex-politicians, academics, scholar-activists, trade union organisers, grassroots community organisers, community development workers, church, civic leaders and students leaders. From within and beyond this group of interviewees, a further twelve activists have been identified who are in the process of being interviewed in greater depth, utilising semi-structured, life history and biographic narrative interpretive methods. Their narratives will weave together further understandings of the intersections between personal narratives and social processes such as reparations social movement-building.