September 16, 2020
Olive Morris ( 26 th June 1952- 12 July 1979 )
Community leader, feminist, activist, campaigner for racial justice
The protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in May 2020, and the subsequent global Black Lives Matter gatherings; have encouraged me to share with you some information about my cousin and mentor Olive Morris.
Olive Morris was born in St. Catherine, Jamaica on the 26th January 1952. She emigrated to London, England with her parents, when she was nine years old where she lived and grew up. Olive was very involved in the Women’s Movement in the United Kingdom and she co-founded the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent in London. Olive also joined the youth wing of the British Black Panther movement. This organization later became the Black worker’s movement. Olive was also concerned with the right of all people to shelter and housing. She fought for the rights of the unsheltered and homeless. Olive was a student at Manchester university and she loved her time there. Whilst in Manchester she co- founded the Manchester Black Women’s co- operative. Olive passed away of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma aged 27 years on 12 th July 1979. Before she died, she held my hand and whispered something to me. You can read what she said in my poem below.
Child of my father’s sister.
Luminous in heart and spirit.
Olive Morris who didn’t like her name
and so asked my family to call her Madge.
A fighter for Women’ s rights.
Founder of the Organization of Women of African and Asian descent and,
Founder of Brixton Black Women’s Group.
In Manchester she helped to start the Black Women’s Mutual Aid Group and the Black Women’s cooperative.
A member of the British Black Panther Movement.
A fighter for peoples rights.
Olive lived in Brixton, south London in an empty house.
The house had stood empty for a long time.
Olive was a student
She needed somewhere to live so
She squatted the property.
She decided to live in the empty house.
We her family who loved her.
Visited her there.
Visited her at her squat in Brixton.
My mother, father, me and my sister.
My father took her picture.
He goes unacknowledged.
Olive was photogenic.
We chatted about all sorts of things.
Education, resilience, travel, politics
What it is to be a strong woman.
Then one day
Olive said she had a pain in her lower back.
She said it was probably cancer and she laughed,
and so did we.
We dismissed it immediately.
She ate cereal out of a blue plastic bowl.
She was a humble person with a short soft fro and
A brilliant white smile.
She had been to China.
We knew this as she had told us that she was going.
“Here you are she said.”
She had brought me a rhodium tipped nib fountain pen.
She knew I liked to write so she brought me this gift.
From her visit to China.
She had loved the visit and brought something for each of us.
I was touched as I knew she didn’t have a lot of money.
She had put everything into her China trip.
There was a small piece of Chinese jade
and some pictures for my brothers and sisters.
Olive was some years older than me.
She was born in 1952.
She loved me.
She saw me.
Asked me to carry on her work.
Whispered this to me when I leaned close,
to her bed, when she was travelling to the other place,
dying and close to the end.
“You are clever.”
“Use your gifts to carry on my work.”
“You can do It.”
“You have what it takes”
This is what she said.
Quietly, so no one else heard,
The words that were meant for me.
She smiled at me then,
although it was difficult.