Grant, Bernie (Bernard Alexander Montgomery), 1944-2000

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The senior of the first Black politicians elected to British Parliament (as Member of Parliament for Tottenham); first Black Leader of a local authority in Europe (Leader of Haringey Council); Anti-Racist campaigner; Freedom Fighter; Pan-Africanist; humanitarian and pioneering activist for racial equality.

Bernie Grant was born on 17th February 1944 in Georgetown, Guyana, to Eric and Lily Grant, both schoolteachers. He was educated at St Joseph's RC, Sacred Heart and Ituni Government Schools, and later at St Stanislaus College, and worked then as an analyst in the Demerara Bauxite Company, Guyana. He came to Britain in 1963 with his family, working first as a railway clerk, before studying at Tottenham Technical college in 1965-67, and going on to study Mining Engineering at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh 1967-1969. He left the University in 1969 in protest against discrimination against black students.

For the next 9 years, he became an International Telephonist, quickly becoming involved in the Union of Post Office Workers, fighting for the rights of fellow workers. In 1978 he became a full time Area Officer for NUPE, responsible for its local authority and health workers. Bernie founded the Black Trades Unionists Solidarity Movement (BTUSM), and worked for it full time between 1981 and 1984.

Bernie joined the Tottenham Labour Party in 1973, and held numerous positions within the local party before being elected a councillor in 1978. His impact was immediate, and within a year he was Deputy Leader of the Council. By 1985 he had become the Leader of Haringey Council, the first ever black person to hold such a position in Europe. The disturbances on Broadwater Farm Estate in 1985, brought him to national prominence, as he defended the youth who rioted against police harassment.

Bernie joined the Tottenham Labour Party in 1973, and held numerous positions within the local party before being elected a councillor in 1978. His impact was immediate, and within a year he was Deputy Leader of the Council. By 1985 he had become the Leader of Haringey Council, the first ever black person to hold such a position in Europe. The disturbances on Broadwater Farm Estate in 1985, brought him to national prominence, as he defended the youth who rioted against police harassment.

Bernie Grant met with the full force of the racism of the British press and media, but refused to compromise, even though his position as a Parliamentary candidate hung in the balance. He was however elected to Parliament in 1987, as one of the first black MP's in modern times. Famously, he entered his first State Opening of Parliament in African dress, attracting outrage in some quarters - but huge respect in others.

In Parliament he founded the Parliamentary Black Caucus, and took up a leading role in establishing contacts with black people and politicians throughout the world. He traveled widely, especially to Africa and to his beloved Caribbean region. In 1990 he accompanied the Reverend Jesse Jackson to South Africa, greeting Nelson Mandela on the day of his release. Later he established an information technology centre amid the townships in the Free State, which is named after him.

He was Chair of the All Party Group on Race and Community, and of the British Caribbean Group. In 1997 he was appointed as member of the Select Committee on International Development, and he was the only MP amongst those appointed to the Home Secretary's Race Relations Forum in 1998. He founded the Standing Conference on Racism in Europe in 1990, and also established the Africa Reparations Movement in Britain. In 1995, he founded the Global Trade Centre. A dedicated constituency MP, his last battle was to establish a major arts and cultural facility in his Tottenham constituency, the International Centre for the Performing Arts (Bernie Grant Centre), a project yet to be completed.

On the floor of the House of Commons he was outspoken in the cause of eliminating racism both in Britain and the world. He campaigned against racist policing methods, and deaths in custody, on institutionalised racism in health, housing and education, for refugees, and for greater resources for inner city areas. Internationally he fought for the elimination of overseas debt for poor nations, and for the recognition of the past injustices of colonisation and enslavement.

Contrary to popular belief, however, he fought not only for racial justice, but for oppressed people whoever they were. He will be remembered by many thousands for the individual attention he gave to their personal difficulties.

Bernie Grant channeled the concerns of his community to the highest levels of Government, and was regarded as the authentic voice of Britain's ethnic minorities. By the time of his death, the outspoken activist of the seventies and eighties was seen as a statesman of great integrity. At his funeral at London's Alexandra Palace in April 2000, attended by some 5000 people, it was said that he had changed the course of British history.

From the guide to the Bernie Grant Archives, [195-]-2002, (Bishopsgate Institute)

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creatorOf Bernie Grant Archives, [195-]-2002 Bishopsgate Institute
referencedIn Bernie Grant Archives, [195-]-2002 Bishopsgate Institute
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associatedWith Grant Bernard Alexander Montgomery 1944-2000 person
associatedWith Labour Party (Great Britain) corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Tottenham (England)
Subject
Caribbean cultures
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Birth 1944-02-17

Death 2000-04-08

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