Darcus Howe was a prominent anti-racist activist in the UK before becoming a commentator and frontman for current affair shows on TV
Born in Trinidad, Howe settled in London in 1961 with the intention of studying law. Instead he became more involved in journalism and was encouraged by his uncle, the scholar CLR James, to combine his writing with political activism.
Darcus became a leading figure in the Black Panther movement during the 1970s and took part in a protest against the frequent police raids on the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill. Mangrove was a meeting place for the black community – what Howe dubbed the “HQ of radical chic”.
The peaceful protest led to Darcus’ arrest along with eight others who were charged with affray, riot and assault. For 55 days he and Althea Jones Lecointe, the co-organiser of the protest, led the successful defence of the ‘Mangrove Nine’ – who included Mangrove’s owner Frank Critchlow.
In 1973 Darcus established the Race Today Collective, publishing a magazine – Race Today – that highlighted anti-racist and social justice campaigns in Britain and worldwide. Other members included fellow Black Panthers Linton Kwesi Johnson and Farrukh Dhondy, deputy editor Leila Hassan, and Mangrove Nine member Barbara Beese.
Race Today was at the forefront of protests against the police handling of the investigation into the New Cross Fire in 1981 in which 13 black teenagers perished. It organised the historic Black People’s Day of Action when more than 15,000 people marched from the site of the inferno to central London.
The authorities responded by initiating, Operation Swamp, an escalation of stop and search – ‘sus’ – on the streets of Brixton that led to a 1,000 people being stopped. The escalation in tension culminated in the Brixton riots, which Howe described as an “insurrection of the masses of the people”.
A larger than life figure, Darcus went on to become a television presenter, first of all for The Bandung Files (1985-91), which was commissioned by Farrukh Dhondy for Channel 4. Other programmes followed, including,
Devil’s Advocate (1992-96), where Darcus placed public figures under scrutiny by inviting the television audience to question them. He also worked as a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and the New Statesman.