This weekend saw the 51st edition of London’s famous Notting Hill Carnival. Hundreds of thousands of people attended the festivities, proving that no amount of misfortune or political tension can ever prevent Londoners from celebrating its core qualities – diversity and unity.
The carnival’s beginnings date back to a very troubled time – the late 50s and early 60s – when Notting Hill became one of the symbols of cultural change in Britain. Being one of the poorest London neighborhoods at the time, it was home to a large number of West Indian immigrants who were treated with suspicion and even open hostility by many of their working class neighbors. The pressure and intolerance grew to encompass violent and deadly clashes which divided the public even further. Eventually, the racially motivated murder of Antiguan carpenter Kelso Cochran acted as a wake-up call for the community and prompted Trinidad-born journalist and activist Claudia Jones to propose a “Caribbean Carnival” held in St Pancras Town Hall. Its aim was to dissipate hostility and find common ground through the experience of Caribbean arts, music and cuisine, and although it was a small indoor event, it proved very successful. It was not until 1973, however, that the Notting Hill Carnival became the major happening we know today, under the management of Leslie Palmer, a Trinidadian community activist, writer, and teacher. Palmer is widely celebrated for “getting sponsorship, recruiting more steel bands, reggae groups, and sound systems, introducing generators and extending the route” or, in other words – for transforming the carnival in what it is today – Europe’s biggest street celebration of diversity as a whole and Caribbean culture in particular.
If you, just like me, wish that you could have been around to experience the first ever major Notting Hill Carnival – wish no further! Thanks to a rare footage from 1973 you can travel back in time and take a good look at the festivities of the past. They might seem tame by today’s bombastic standards but they are nevertheless a sincere and beautiful portrayal of what the carnival has always stood for – vibrancy, love, and acceptance.