Wednesday, 28 March 2012

X marks the spot!

Did you know that human rights activist, Malcolm X, was assassinated shortly after visiting Smethwick? No...we had no idea either!

Laurence Saunders (thanks Laurence!) found this great footage from the BBC archives of his visit which took place almost 50 years ago.

It made us want to know more so fortunately we knew the right person to of all our favourite Bearwood All-Stars, local historian and chair of Smethwick Local History Society, Mary Bodfish.

Mary told us....“A blue plaque has recently been placed by the Nubian Jak Community Trust on a house in Marshall Street, Smethwick to commemorate the visit to the street on 12 February 1965 by the outspoken and controversial civil rights activist Malcolm X. Controversy was rife in Smethwick at this period and he had come to show solidarity with West Indian and Asian people.

In the early 1960s numbers of migrant workers were moving into the town, especially West Smethwick, as they sought work in the metal-working industries, hoping for a better future for themselves and their families.

The local residents felt anxious and uncomfortable at seeing their neighbourhood rapidly changing, with more and more men who spoke strange languages coming and going, and with strange cooking smells in the air.

This culminated in residents of Marshall Street asking Smethwick Council to buy up houses that came on the market and let them to white families on the housing list.

The Minister for Housing, Richard Crossman, refused outright to allow any funding to Smethwick Council to do this, but international press coverage of these issues came to the attention of Malcolm X, who stood at the front line of the racial struggle that was going on there.

He was coming to Birmingham to address university students, and BBC reporters took the opportunity to bring him to Smethwick, planning to get him into a debate with the MP Peter Griffiths on the steps of Smethwick Council House.

Griffiths, whose election the previous year was tainted by a very unpleasant and racist slogan being bandied about, declined to appear, so Malcolm X was taken to Marshall Street, where he posed for photographs, before being taken on to Birmingham University.

Five days later, on his return to America, he was shot and killed at a public meeting.”


  1. I was involved in the documentary Malcolm X - A Day in Smethwick which was made by Steve Page (seen in the clip). I've got a copy somewhere so if we ever do a Bearwood film club I could bring it along for a screening.

  2. Keith, could you get it on YouTube and then link to it on the BetterBearwood Facebook page?

  3. Malcolm X came and went - oblivious to the fact that factories had been closed and 4,000 families were on the local council waiting list for houses and flats, oblivious to the fact that many people still had no inside toilet or running hot water. He was another interfering, blinkered foreigner totally UNdeserving of a plaque, a plaque that now insults the people of this area.