How past 'journeys to justice' can help inspire future generations

Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities looks at the impact the US civil rights movement had on Birmingham’s communities.

A new exhibition highlighting the impact the US civil rights movement had in the UK, opens at the Library of Birmingham later today, and I’m honoured to have been asked to say a few words at the launch event.

During the 1950s and 60s brave campaigners like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King made a stand against racial segregation is the US, launching a civil rights movement that began to transform their country and inspired others across the globe, including people here in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands who also took a stand against the economic and social injustices affecting their communities.

They include the stories of the Sparkbrook Association, a community-led campaign for decent housing, workers’ rights and conditions, and the Supreme Quilting and Bursnall strikes – led by female Asian workers in Smethwick, which illustrate how people made a bold and brave stand for their rights against those who said ‘no, you can’t, you’re not allowed’

These inspiring tales stand alongside the more familiar stories, including Malcolm X’s visit to Smethwick in 1965.

It is vital that the living testimony of our past is captured and remembered, so I am looking forward to meeting Janice Welsey, who joined the protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. At 16-years-old she was prepared to go to jail for what she believed in, and she will be sharing their experiences at today’s launch event. 

Much has changed in the last 60 years, but social and economic injustice still blights too many lives and communities in 2020.  Poverty and discrimination have found new forms, but they still need to be challenged as robustly by today’s generations as they were by the great campaigners whose stories are told by the Journey to Justice exhibition. 

I hope that whilst Journey to Justice is here in Birmingham, it provides not just a proper commemoration of the struggles and sacrifices of the past, but a spur and inspiration to take a stand against injustice in the here and now.  Let’s make sure that the generations to come are as unafraid in standing up for their rights and beliefs, and building a better world for all of us.


This blog was posted on 7 February 2020.

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