The St Paul’s riots of April 1980 are remembered most years in Bristol around April time, with a rush of media articles, usually accompanied by various people telling us how much everything has improved since then. It is likely that the toppling of the statue of the racist slavetrader, Tory MP & member of the Society of Merchant Venturers (SMV) – Edward Colston – on 7 June 2020 will be similarily remembered in much the same way historically. But it’s telling that 40 years after the St Paul’s riots, a statue to such a man was still standing prominently in Bristol city centre, and it’s very presence was still being defended by both the SMV and much of the political establishment. Maybe not so much had changed?
As a part of the M Shed’s Black History Month programme of events, in partnership with UWE Regional History Centre, there is an online talk & presentation on 15 October from 6-7pm: The St Paul’s riots: From ‘mindless mob’ to ‘conscious crowd’.
Event Info: The violent disturbance in the St. Paul’s area of Bristol on 2 April 1980 is regarded as iconic. It heralded the beginning of a decade or more of unrest in English cities.
It is also central to the modern history of Bristol, marking a moment where issues of institutional and popular racism were forced into the media spotlight. National and local government bodies were obliged to search for explanations and generate policy responses.
Many contemporary reports in the media of the ‘St. Paul’s riot’ described the actions of an ‘immigrant’, ‘mob’ of ‘black youths’ who were ‘going wild’ in the ‘chaos’ of a ‘race riot’.
Using both written, visual and oral sources Roger Ball will re-examine the event and outline how this racialised and outmoded representation of the ‘crowd’ was challenged in its aftermath by ground-breaking, and now seminal, social-psychological research focusing on the concept of social identity.
Free online registration required via the M Shed website here.
About the speaker: Dr Roger Ball is a Research Fellow at the Regional History Centre, UWE
It’s not unusual for a history talk to be delivered by some old white fossil from their dusty ivory tower in academia. Fortunately, Ball isn’t one of them! Last seen cheering deliriously from a covid-safe distance as Colston was chucked in the harbour by a large crowd back in June, Ball was no stranger to a spot of direct action street protest in his younger days. Over the last 30 years his activist CV includes being a key member of the anti-racist footie club the Easton Cowboys & Cowgirls, and playing footie with the Zapatistas in Mexico with them; and also with Kiptik (Zapatista solidarity group) using his engineering skills to build a series of water wells for the Zapatistas; later he went on to a co-founder of the Bristol Radical History Group in 2006; and for the last 5-6 years he’s been a member of the Countering Colston campaign group, and much hated by the Society of Merchant Venturers! Whilst he is indeed an accomplished historian – see for example his recent co-authored book ‘From Wulfstan to Colston – Severing the sinews of slavery in Bristol‘ – an old fossil in an ivory tower he is not.
Read – Violent urban disturbance in England 1980-81, by Roger Ball – download pdf here.
Read – The Southmead Riots 1980, by John Serpico – read online here
Listen – Bristol History podcasts, Episode 11 – Bristol Riots, with Roger Ball, BRHG & Steve Poole, UWE
Watch – St Paul’s 1980 youtube film (41secs)
Watch – Uprising 2020 (9minutes) an excellent film by CARGO looking back to 1980. The film is also notable for including comments from current Bristol Mayor Rees, who back in 1980 was an 8/9 yr old schoolkid experiencing directly the institutional racism prevalent in Bristol. Ironic then that 40 years later, after doing sweet FA about the Colston statue for 4 years as Mayor, it was then pulled down after 125 years by the public…and when an alternative statue of black woman Jen Reid was erected in it’s place, Rees had that torn down within 24 hours. He has also collaborated with A&S Police in their persecution of the protesters who pulled down Colston.
Read – St Paul’s Uprising, Bristol 1980 – a short & surprising series of articles & films published by the History is made at night blog in 2010.
(Image credits: feature image – ITV West Country; 2 pics internet scavenged, copyright BCC 2003; Jen Reid – @bricks_magazine in The Guardian)