57yrs on, Malcolm X’s heroic walk on Britain’s most racist street has turned it into a home of mixed cultures

Stephen Nartey November 22, 2022
Marshall Street/Photo credit: Express/Getty Images

Over 50 years ago, Marshall Street in Smethwick in Britain was considered one of the most dangerous streets on earth for any person of African or Asian origin to walk on alone. The possibility of being attacked was extremely high.

It was an unpredictable and lonely stretch to be on as a person of color. It was known for its dark atrocities against Black and Asian people. Today it is farfetched from what it used to be in the 1960s following an epic act undertaken by civil rights activist Malcolm X, half a century ago, according to Sky News. It is blistering now with multicultural vibes with individuals of different nationalities briskly moving to and fro.

Marshall Street was known to be a notorious street in Britain. At some point, the inhabitants pressured the local council to buy empty houses and only rent them out to white families. The bars and pubs on the stretch prohibited the sale of drinks to any Black or Asian person.

But, there was one man who dared to challenge the abuses targeted at ethnic minorities at the time. He was Avtar Singh Jouhl, then a key member of the Indian Workers’ Association. He dreamt of a day when the barriers of social inequality mounted there would collapse. One significant step he took was to write and invite Malcolm X to Smethwick.

He wanted Malcolm X to witness firsthand the racial segregation on Marshall Street and speak about it. When the civil rights activist accepted his invitation, many were expecting a showdown. Jouhl recounted that Malcolm X was picked up at the airport by one of the members of the Indian Workers Association who drove him straight to the street.

He said the atmosphere was quite tense for the about 20 people gathered there with the media when Malcolm X arrived in 1965. He added that they briefed him about the intention of the local council to purchase the empty houses on the street in order to deny any person of color the opportunity of renting a place on Marshall Street.

Jouhl recalled that after Malcolm X had been briefed, he sought to test the degree of racial segregation on Marshall Street with the decision of walking on the stretch alone. He said they offered to escort him on the street but he said he required no such assistance, he wanted to do it alone. Malcolm X told them that if there was any difficulty too, he was capable of handling it.

After Malcolm X made it successful through Marshall Street with the anxious stares from its locals, he told the West Midlands Campaigner the level of racial segregation was much worse than what he had witnessed in the United States. Jouhl said the historic visit by Malcolm X collapsed the invisible barriers that had barred persons of color from using Marshall Street.  

Malcolm X did not only walk on the street but he also visited a local bar at the end of the street which had never seen a person of color walk through before. Jouhl recalled that the moment they walked into the pub the air suddenly became tense but Malcolm X went ahead to order a couple of drinks.

The bartender however turned down their request and told them they do not serve persons of color. Malcolm X asked why. He was made aware that the owner of the place said it was an offense to serve a person of color at the pub.

But, since that eventful day, there has been a shift in the culture on Marshall Street. It is now occupied by people of mixed cultures. Today there is a blue plague that was mounted in recognition of Malcolm X’s visit.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 22, 2022


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