Black For a Cause

About Black for a Cause

The Case of the ‘Oval 4’ and the story it tells of Black Power in 1970s Britain

Winston N Trew


‘Black for a Cause....’ is a site dedicated to promoting the book of the same title. The book tells a ‘story’ about Black Power activity in Britain in the 1970s when most people assumed Black Power in Britain disappeared in the late 1960s.   The publication of the book demonstrates that this was never the case and one of the aims of the site is to correct this misrepresentation of Black Power activity in modern Britain. 

The phrase ‘Black for a Cause...’ originated with the Fasimba in 1971 and was derived from the title of an album track, "Just Because," by the 'original rap’ group the ‘Last Poets’ in 1970.  The author, Winston Trew, was a member of the Fasimba (the 'Young Lions') - one of a number of ‘radical’ Black organisations operating in south-east London during the 1970s, along with the Black Unity and Freedom Party (BUFP), the Black Panther Movement  (BPM) and the Black Liberation Front (BLF).

The mission of ‘Black for a Cause...’ is to not only publicise the book it is to also publicise the idea that black people have made a tremendous contribution to the economic, social and cultural life of modern British society, and the ‘Black for a Cause...’ site exists to capture and disseminate these ideas and images. 

The Book

The book details the events of 16th March, 1972, when four members of the Fasimba were confronted late at night at the Oval underground by a group of white men claiming to be policemen and accused them of "nicking handbags." An argument broke into pushing and shoving, and then escalated into a fight. When police arrived it turned out that the men they were fighting were themselves undercover policemen, members of the notorious 'anti-mugging' squad. The night they spent being 'interrogated'  in the police station is described as a "night of dread."  After a 5-week trial at the Old Bailey the 'Oval 4' were found guilty of attempting to steal, theft, and assault on police. All were jailed for 2 years in November 1972. In July 1973 they were released from prison after a 'successful' appeal. 

In 1980, Det. Sgt. Ridgewell, former Rhodesian policeman and officer in charge that night was himself arrested and jailed for 7 years for 'conspiracy to steal' after he and other undercover policemen were caught stealing goods from the railway they were sent to protect.  To the black community the policeman's jailing was further evidence of his corruption and deceit, something the 'Oval 4' have always maintained.

The book is divided into Seven Chapter:    Chapter 1,  Arrest of the 'Oval 4'; Chapter 2,  Trial of the 'Oval 4'; Chapter 3, Campaign to Free the 'Oval 4'; Chapter  4, The Demise of Det. Sgt. Ridgewell; Chapter 5, The journey to find myself; Chapter 6, SELPO, the Fasimba and Black Power; Chapter 7, The 'Oval 4'  Episode and the ethics of Black Resistance.

In the final Chapter  new territory is explored by the author as he tries to develop an ethical basis for the acts of resistance undertaken inside the police station. To do so the text challenges the ethics of subservience he sees as coded into the Wedgwood 'anti-slavery' logo,  a figure so prominently displayed during the 2007 bicentenary 'celebrations' that marked the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.  It was a pose unwittingly celebrated by descendants of emancipated slaves in Britain, and the very pose of supplication the transport police tried to impose on the 'Oval 4'  in 1972 It was rejected and the basis of its rejection is what is explored in that final Chapter.

Finally, the constant references the author makes throughout the book to the black musics played in the early 1970  anchors the story in lived and remembered history.
People from that generation will recall Bob & Marcia's, Young, Gifted and Black; Errol Dunkley's, Black Cinderella; Big Youth's, Tell it Black; Staple  Singers, Respect Yourself, Syl Johnson's, Is it Because I'm Black? and the Chosen Few's, Message from a Blackman.


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