Yesterday Alexandra Palace, on a hill overlooking London from the 
north,  was packed with people of African descent, celebrating the life, 
and attending the funeral, of Bernie Grant, one of Britain's few black MP's.

Born in the town of Hopetown, in Guyana, a mere 56 years ago, he learned of 
the history of the escaped slaves who founded it, and of Africa.

His funeral was an extraordinary step forward in the development of black 
assertiveness and consciousness in Britain and the world.

He was always controversial. Before he let slip the remark to journalists 
that the police had got a bloody good hiding, when they were driven out of 
the Broad Water Farm Estate in a pitched battle fifteen years ago, he was 
notorious. For that he was pilloried in the gutter press as "Barmy Bernie", 
and councils like Haringey of which he was the leader for two years, were 
pilloried as "loony left". He did things like turn up to council meetings 
in full African dress. He played a fanfare before he spoke at meetings of 
the council at one stage.

Bernie could have been demolished as an opportunist by all 57 varieties of 
sectarian marxists with no difficulty. He was blunt and impulsive, but he 
made compromises. He received a phone call from Tony Blair just ten minutes 
before going into his 50-50 heart operation. He sat down with the police to 
demand angrily over and over again, that in Tottenham, his constituency 
(and mine) in which perhaps 50% of the population is black, the police must 
show they act impartially and with respect. The days are long gone of 
rumours that a picture of Bernie hung at the police station for use as a 
darts board. (He learned after his statement to the press about a bloody 
good hiding, that a policeman had been killed.)

Bernie's alliances at his funeral can be seen not so much as opportunism as 
of pluralism. The organisers somehow found ways of being inclusive to all 
who had ever championed the rights of black people. The Nation of Islam 
provided an honour guard throughout Sunday. The Home Office Minister, Paul 
Boateng, of Ghanain descent, chaired the afternoon meeting.

There were speeches from his three sisters as the silver gleaming casket 
lay open at the front of the largest packed hall in the people's palace. 
One was living in Ghana, proof of the network that is now linking the 
diaspora. Another, a counsellor and therapist led the tributes for the 
three of them. They were dressed in the most stylish west African dress. 
Bernie was "Big Grant", irritable, demanding and warm. His politics and his 
life were inseparable. They spoke to him in the casket.

A poem had been read a few minutes before by a woman associated with the 
movement linking people of African Descent. It ended with the striking call

Reparation for Our Nation!
Reparation for Our Nation!
Reparation for Our Nation!

The sisters then chose to lead on from them, a black singer singing Joe 
Hill the Swedish mine worker who fought for unionisation in the USA.

The copper bosses shot you, Joe...

Says Joe, I never died.

Don't Mourn Organize!

Trade Unionists emphasised Bernie's committment which was always linked 
with rights for black people. Whenever he attended a union meeting, he 
asked, "where are the black members?", and "what is the equal opportunities 
policy?" (At first of course there was often none, but Bernie has helped in 
some cases to change that.)

His life was therefore a fusion of the struggle for the rights of working 
people and the rights of the working class. His funeral became a 
celebration of internationalism in which black people stepped forward to 
articulate their progress in civic life and to demand the end of all 

There was no racism in turn, even though  the hall was 90% full of black 
people. There were frequent tributes to his white wife Sharon, who 
supported him for the last 15 years or so, and enabled him to remain active 
and forthright even though he suffered the effects at an early age of 
severe diabetes, and one heart operation after another.

As the immediate family filed past the open casket, first a choir opened up 
quiet music from the Indian sub-continent, reminiscent of the other migrant 
peoples of Guyana, dragged there as indentured labour when the slave trade 
had, in form, but not in content, been abolished.

Then as the coffin was lifted up shouder high by a cortege, some of whom 
held up clenched fists,  an African choir from South Africa, whose struggle 
against apartheid, Bernie had championed in so many ways, struck up Nkosi 
Sikelela. God save Africa! The anthem of South Africa, but widespread in 
the southern part of the continent. Bernie, atheist, made it his own also, 
at his funeral.

Bernie fought for the people of immediate African descent (those who came 
from Africa within the last four centuries.) But scientists increasingly 
advise that Africa is the motherland of the entire human race. His demand 
for Reparation for Africa is a movement that will go on, by people with the 
knowledge, skill, expertise and insistence that it must go on. 
Reconciliation can only be based on recognition of what has happened, not 
least in the African holocaust and what is happening now.  In fighting for 
Africa, they are also fighting ultimately against finance capital that has 
impoverished, degraded, and killed the people of the rich motherland of our 
human race. God Save Africa! Our god is, ultimately, the human race.

Bernie fought that fight, and leaves behind him tens of thousands of people 
determined to strengthen that fight. To succeed it will have to overthrow 
the global rule of finance capital. In alliance with other oppressed 
peoples, it will succeed. The African drums beat exuberantly and the 
sisters danced, as Bernie's coffin was placed on the hearse to drive down 
the hill. His message will go on until it is achieved.

  Nkosi Sikelela!

Chris Burford


     --- from list [EMAIL PROTECTED] ---

Reply via email to