Small Axe ‘Mangrove’ true story: Who were the Mangrove Nine?

BBC One's new drama depicts a key case in the fight against discrimination.

Mangrove Nine in BBC One's Small Axe

Steve McQueen’s new anthology series Small Axe provides compelling snapshots of pivotal moments in Black British history, one of which being the trial of the Mangrove Nine.

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The criminal charges levelled at the group of peaceful protestors led to the first major judicial acknowledgement of racial prejudice among officers working for the Metropolitan Police.

It’s case that resonates personally with McQueen, who said in a statement: “This is a story that I grew up knowing through my parents, my dad was friends with one of the Mangrove Nine.

“It was crucial to me that my co-writer Alastair Siddons and I put all our effort into research and to retelling this story with as much accuracy and care as possible.”

Read on for everything you need to know about the true story behind Small Axe’s Mangrove.

What sparked the Mangrove protest?

Small Axe: Mangrove on BBC One
BBC

The Mangrove was a popular West Indian restaurant opened in 1968 by Frank Crichlow in the Notting Hill, West London. At the time, renting in the area was relatively cheap which made it popular with the Windrush communities setting up a new life in the city, with Mangrove providing a sanctuary that attracted people from all walks of life.

Intellectuals, activists and artists were known to frequent the establishment, including famous faces like Nina Simone, Vanessa Redgrave, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley. As well as being a friendly place to spend the evening, The Mangrove also provided a place for the Black community to support each other, offering advice on job applications and housing.

However, it quickly became a target of the local council, which stripped away its late night license under false claims of criminal activity, significantly hampering Crichlow’s business. The situation worsened when police began raiding the building repeatedly in search of drugs, despite none being on the premises and no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Fearing that such a beloved institution would not be able to withstand continued harassment, a peaceful protest was arranged to take place on 9th August 1970. Supporters of The Mangrove marched to the local police station in opposition to the discrimination they had been facing.

Despite there being no criminal intent, hundreds of police officers were dispatched to the protest and an altercation eventually began, but it remains unclear to this day what exactly initiated it. Numerous people were injured on both sides amid the ensuing chaos, with nine protesters arrested and charged with incitement to riot and affray.

Who were the Mangrove Nine?

The Mangrove Nine were the nine protestors arrested following the events of the protest.

Steve McQueen’s Small Axe film shines particular focus on restaurant owner Frank Crichlow, activist Barbara Beese, British Black Panther leader Altheia Jones-LeCointe and intellectual Darcus Howe, with the latter two choosing to represent themselves in court.

It was an unconventional move and so too was their careful scrutiny of the jury, with 63 potential members rejected before settling on the final selection, which included two Black people.

The other members of the Mangrove Nine were Rupert Boyce, Rhodan Gordon, Anthony Innis, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett.

Were the Mangrove Nine convicted?

Malachi Kirby and Letitia Wright in Small Axe on BBC One
BBC

With assistance from anti-discrimination and anti-racism lawyer Ian MacDonald, the Mangrove Nine were able to prove their innocence and were all acquitted of the main charge: incitement to riot.

Four members of the group were given suspended sentences for lesser offences, but the case remained a huge victory in the fight against racial discrimination.

In his closing comments, Judge Edward Clarke said: “What this trial has shown is that there is clearly evidence of racial hatred on both sides,” bringing attention to the key issue of racial prejudice in the Metropolitan Police at that time.

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Small Axe: Mangrove airs on BBC One on Sunday 15th November at 9pm. While you’re waiting, visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight, or check out our guide to new TV shows 2020 to find out what’s airing this autumn and beyond.