Birmingham & Black Country

Malcolm X's visit to Smethwick remembered in pictures

Newspaper detailing Malcolm X's visit
Image caption Malcolm X's visit to Smethwick caused a "rumpus", according to newspapers at the time

The US political activist Malcolm X visited Smethwick, in the West Midlands, just nine days before he was assassinated.

The civil rights campaigner visited on 12 February 1965 because at the time Smethwick was considered a hotbed of racial tension.

The previous year, Conservative MP Peter Griffiths had won the Smethwick seat from Labour on the slogan: "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour".

Some residents of Marshall Street were calling for the council to buy up empty houses and make them available to white families only.

Malcolm X told newspapers he was visiting because he was "disturbed by reports that coloured people in Smethwick are being treated badly".

Image caption Malcolm X said the reason for his visit was that he was disturbed by reports people were being treated badly
Image caption He is described by admirers as "one of the greatest orators of the 20th Century"
Image caption Conservative MP Peter Griffiths controversially won the Smethwick seat from Labour
Image caption Some residents of Marshall Street did not want black people moving into the area

During his visit he went to Marshall Street and a local school.

He also had a drink at a pub with Avtar Singh Jouhl, from the Indian Workers' Association, who had invited him to Smethwick.

Mr Jouhl said he wanted to make Malcolm X aware of segregation in pubs and bars.

Image caption Footage of the little-known visit was captured by the BBC cameras

One of those living on Marshall Street at the time was Neville Henry.

"I was only little when he came but my mum showed me plenty of pictures of it. It was back in the 60s," he said.

"My parents had just come from Jamaica and he was outside our house talking to my mum. I can't remember what they were talking about. They were a bit excited about it.

"My dad was one of the first black people to buy a house on this road. It made a difference to them - a bit of moral support, I suppose."

Footage of the little-known visit was captured by the BBC cameras.

However, the film was never screened until community artist Stephen C Page uncovered it in 2005.

Image caption Community artist Stephen C Page uncovered footage of the visit

Mr Page's film Malcolm X: A Day in Smethwick was shortlisted at the Black International Film Festival.

He said: "The knowledge of his visit is minimal.

"I spoke to black community leaders who were politically active at the time and they didn't realise he had been to the town.

"I initially thought the interview in Smethwick was his last TV interview but he did actually do a couple of others before he was killed," Mr Page added.

"I believe he was one of the greatest orators of the 20th Century."

Following his visit, Malcolm X returned to the US. He was shot on 21 February while speaking at a rally in New York.

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