Olive Morris – The Great Canadian Woman

September 16, 2020

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Annette Pateman

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Olive Morris

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.

Olive Morris

My cousin.

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.

Years probably.

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. 

Many times.

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.

Unknowing.

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.

To me.

Quietly, so no one else heard,

The words that were meant for me.

  

She smiled at me then,

although it was difficult.

10 replies on “Olive Morris”

Dear Annette thanks for the write up and poem about your cousin Olive Morris.

Many a times I have passed the building in Brixton named after her and had heard that this woman was black. Reading up about her I learnt that she fought for the rights of women blacks and the poor. So I was pleased that all she had done in her short life had been recognised.

It was amazing when I met Basil Olive’s brother who is married to a family friend Jennifer. Then I found out that you are related when I’ve known you since childhood. Therefore it’s amazing to hear that you were part of Olive’s journey and that she believed in you to hand you her batton.

Thanks and please keep up her legacy.

Hello Doreen,
You are a friend from
Childhood and are like family.
Thank you for taking the time to
Leave this lovely supportive reply.

Thank you for sharing this. I remember visiting Brixton as a child every weekend for grocery
shopping with my parents when we returned back from Nigeria. I feel honoured to have walked the same streets as your dear cousin Olive Morris. She was right to hand the baton over to you. She saw in you what you were destined to become and you too will hand over that same baton onto another and so on to future generations. You’re lineage has been called and you are working to fulfill that calling. I salute Olive Morris and I salute you.

What a strong fascinating woman who loved her convictions, was Olive. That she chose words especially for you and “saw“ you must feel like such an honour. She was right, of course ❤️

This is a great glimpse into the past which shows a connection to our problematic present day. What I learn from Madge is that she was an everyday hero. She was extraordinary without even making it to age 30. There is no excuse that is acceptable for remaining mediocre. Olive teaches us to make waves like a mermaid in the sea of life. Great story.

A lovely acknowledgement of your cousin Annette. Very touching that she chose you to carry on, what an honor she saw something special on you. She chose the right person.

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