End of an era

Howe had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in April 2007. In paying tribute to Howe, Public Administration and Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie said, “His passing underscores the ending of the era when the West Indian Diaspora was more closely aligned to the countries of the region.” He continued, “He helped the assimilation of the West Indian Diaspora. He did so while remaining true to both his nationalities.

Cuffie described Howe as the voice of the post-colonial era.

“He was a respected, centralising and unifying force of the wider immigrant community.” In extending his condolences to Howe’s family, friends and colleagues, Cuffie said, “He was a for a long time a solitary but outspoken voice for the TT and the West Indian community in the United Kingdom.” Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said, “Howe was a socially conscientious Trinidadian civil rights activist who provided decisive and inspirational leadership to West Indian immigrants in Britain and in TT during the late 1980’s.” He said people must recognise and be inspired by Howe’s, “courageous struggle against institutional racism in the United Kingdom.” Moonilal also said Howe “maintained an abiding interest in the land of his birth.” He said evidence of this can be found in the documentary “The Gathering Storm,” which focused on the social crisis and critical contribution to the West Indian cause.

Moonilal concluded, “Regrettably, he will not be able to report on the decay in TT under this PNM (People’s National Movement) regime.” Former parliamentarian Raffique Shah said he first met Howe in the 1970’s just before the Black Power Riots and they formed a friendship that “lasted a lifetime.” Shah said many people do not know that Howe also championed the cause of Indian immigrants in Britain in the 1970’s with respect to housing. Shah also remembered Howe as “a die-hard Renegades person.” Movement for Social Justice leader David Abdulah said he was close to Howe personally and politically. Abdulah remembered Howe as “a very perceptive journalist.” Howe, christened Leighton Rhett Radford, was born in Moruga. The son of an Anglican priest, he first moved to England at the age of 18, arriving on the SS Antilles at Southampton. While he initially intended to study law at Middle Temple, Howe left the law for journalism. He returned to Trinidad where his uncle and mentor, CLR James, inspired him to combine writing with political activism.

He had a brief spell as assistant editor at the Trinidad trade union paper, The Vanguard, before returning to the United Kingdom where he served as editor of the magazine Race Today from 1973 to 1985. His successor as editor, Leila Hassan, eventually became his third wife.

Howe became a member of the British Black Panther Movement, and in the summer of 1970 took part in a protest against the frequent police raids of the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, where he worked on the till. The restaurant had become a meeting place for black people, serving as what Howe called the “headquarters of radical chic”. Howe and eight others—the Mangrove Nine—were arrested for riot, affray and assault.

He and four of his co-defendants were acquitted of all charges after a 55-day trial in 1971. In 1977, Howe was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for assault, after a racially motivated altercation at a London Underground Station, but was released upon appeal after protests over his arrest. In 1982, Howe began his broadcasting career on Channel 4’s television series Black on Black, later co-editor with Tariq Ali of Bandung File and later White Tribe, a look at modern- day Britain and its loss of “Englishness”.

In October 2005, Howe presented a Channel 4 documentary Son of Mine, about his troubled relationship with his 20-year-old son Amiri, who had been caught handling stolen passports, shoplifting, and accused of attempted rape. He was a keynote speaker at the 2005 Belfast Film Festival’s “Film and Racism” seminar and presented his documentary Who You Callin’ a Nigger? at the festival.

On October 19, 2005, Howe got involved in an angry debate with American comedian Joan Rivers (now deceased) on the BBC Radio 4 programme “Midweek”, where he appeared to promote this documentary.

The dispute began when Howe suggested that Rivers was offended by the use of the term “black.” Rivers objected strongly to the suggestion that she was racist and accused Howe of having a “chip on his shoulder.” Howe was married three times and had seven children. His daughter Tamara was a director of production for London Weekend Television.


"End of an era"

More in this section