Bernie Grant – Tribute to an ‘African Rebel’

Bernie as a young boyOn 18 April 2000 thousands of people lined the streets of Haringey to follow the last journey of a charismatic political leader. Bernie Grant had been the Labour leader of Haringey Council during the politically turbulent late 1980s and early 1990s, and went on to become the Member of Parliament for Tottenham, a multi-cultural area of north London.

Picture by Sharron Wallace
Picture by Sharron Wallace

The 4,000 people who attended the service at Alexandra Palace made this one of the largest ever public tributes at a funeral of a black person in Britain.

By the time of his death, the activist of the 1970s and 1980s was seen as a statesman of rare integrity. Cabinet Ministers, scores of MP’s, ambassadors and high commissioners, Scotland Yard Officers and most notable black British figures attended the funeral at Alexandra Palace. His family were joined by members of the public, black and white in equal measure, united in a multi-cultural celebration of his life. Locally, Alexandra Palace was known as the People’s Palace: it was a fitting place for the many who admired his tireless struggle against injustice to unite in a multi-cultural celebration of Bernie Grant’s life.

Here are just a sampling of the countless tributes found within the condolence books, letters, cards and press obituaries held within the archive – all bearing witness to the immense affection in which he was held on his untimely passing on 8 April 2000:

“Though in life he was an outspoken maverick, in death, Bernie Grant was praised from the heights of the Establishment, from Cabinet ministers and Scotland Yard to political associates and black community leaders”.
Campaign group Operation Black Vote

sharon“Bernie touched the lives of so many people in a lifetime’s work as both a national and local politician, and there will be a great sadness today. We have lost a great fighter and a champion of justice for oppressed people everywhere. He had a huge heart and I guess that he just wore it out.”
Sharon Grant, Bernie Grant’s widow

Lee Jasper“Bernie will be remembered as a hugely popular man of the people that every black man and woman should aspire to emulate”.
Lee Jasper, Grant supporter, and chair of the National Black Alliance and the campaign group Operation Black Vote

Tony Blair“Bernie Grant’s death left a huge sense of loss. Here in Tottenham you lost a dedicated MP, and for many of you, a dear friend. The black community across Britain lost an inspiration. And injustice everywhere lost a fierce opponent.”
Prime Minister Tony Blair

“Some people think it reasonable to support the view that Bernie Grant and the police were on different sides. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Chief Superintendent of Police Steven James

Oona King“With great love, affection and gratitude to the man who first let me in the door at Westminster. Love always Oona.”
MP Oona King’s personal sentiments as recorded within the Alexandra Palace condolence book

Paul Boateng“Respect Dear Brother. Respect. Yours was a true and great heart. Paul Boateng.”
MP Paul Boateng’s personal reverence for Bernie as expressed in the Alexandra Palace condolence book

“He was trying to help everybody. That’s the kind of son I had. Bernard Alexander Montgomery Grant”
Eric Grant

“When the funeral procession slowed down, I saw people from all races go to feel that coffin. That struck me. Never mind the talking. That was an outpouring of grief and respect for a man who helped me regardless of my colour.”
Alex Saunders

“Bernie’s achievement was huge in making our society more tolerant and decent.”
Mr Jack Straw, Home Secretary

“Bernie was a great friend to the Kurds. We were shocked and upset by the news of his death. We would like to express our sympathy to you for your loss and we have lost a great friend too”.
The Kurdish Community Centre

“Bernie was a real champion for the rights of Irish and black people in Britain and his loss at the early age of 56 is a great blow”.
Pat Reynolds, Haringey Irish in Britain Representation Group

“You started something that united everyone together”

“…Bernie was our voice on many issues. He was very considerate and thoughtful. Who spoke on behalf of the OROMO in Ethiopia…”

“Thank you for all of the support you offered to families living with HIV/AIDS…”

“The people of Tottenham have a lost a star in their crown…”

“Farewell Bernie. The people of Tottenham have lost a wonderful representative – someone who would take up the day to day personal problems of ordinary working people, however large or small…We pledge to continue the fight for a just society – the people of Tottenham can stand tall and be proud of one of their finest sons.”

“A son of Guyana’s soil, a leader, a fighter, who should be remembered not only in Guyana, Great Britain but the world at large.”

“Equal Opportunities moved on 200 years because of you (maybe even 2000)…”

“We will miss your strength, laughter and ability to challenge in the face of defeat”

“You carried the Black man’s burden in the corridors of power. You made them stand up and listen.”

“…Thanks for helping and encouraging us on Broadwater Farm, after the riots and beyond…”

“You have been an inspiration to all in the British Black Community. You spoke out for us and stood by your words…”

“Bernie you are sadly missed by the people of Tottenham. You were always there for the underprivileged. Wherever you are, our love goes with you.”

“A man of valour, a soldier of courage working diligently, steadfastly to change what he felt was unjust in society, a man who will always be remembered for his fighting spirit and never too tired to stand up for what is right and just…”

“Thank you for your boldness in your words and deeds”

Inventory of the Bernie Grant Archive