Olive Morris was a Black community activist working during the late 1960s and 1970s in South London (Brixton) and Manchester. Born in Jamaica in 1952, she migrated to the UK at the age of nine to join her parents and siblings. During her childhood she lived in Battersea with her family and attended Lavender Hill Primary School. She left home aged 14-5, was temporarily in foster care and lived with friends. She attended Dick Shepherd Secondary School, and continued her education taking O and A levels at evening classes, and taking a course at the London College of Printing. Olive Morris became involved in community activism around 1968, as the British Black Power Movement was gathering momentum. Olive was a member of the Brixton core of the British Black Panther Movement, where she was part of the Youth Section together with Linton Kwesi Johnson, Neil Kenlock and Clovis Reid, and the BPM Sisters Collective with Althea Johnson, Leila Hussain and Beverly Bryan.
Olive Morris was central to the squatters’ campaign of that decade. Together with Liz Obi they opened the 121 Railton Road squat in 1973, resisting 3 illegal evictions. 121 Railton Road went on to host Sabarr Bookshop (the second Black bookshop to open in Brixton) and in the 1980s became a well known anarchist centre, remaining squatted until 1999. Olive squatted also at 65 Railton Road and later at 2 Talma Road.
In 1975 she enrolled to read social sciences at the University of Manchester and received her degree in 1978. While in Manchester she became involved with community groups in Moss Side, and was an active member of the Manchester Black Women’s Cooperative (later to be re-formed as Abasindi Women’s Coop) and the Black Women’s Mutual Aid Group. During her years at University she also worked with the National Coordinating Committee of Overseas Students campaigning for the abolition of overseas student fees. She travelled to China in 1977 with a group of students on a trip organised by the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU). After returning to Brixton in 1978, she started working at Brixton Law Centre at their Juvenile Unit. Shortly after, she fell ill during a cycling holiday in Spain. She died at the age of 27 at St Thomas Hospital, London, from Hodgkins Lymphoma. Olive Morris is buried in Streatham Vale Cemetery.
Black women’s struggles were at the heart of Olive Morris’ work, and she was co-founder of the Brixton Black Women’s Group in 1974, and the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) in 1978. After her death, the Brixton Black Women’s Group organised several tributes including memorial services at the Abeng Centre in 1978 and 1979, and were involved in the dedication of 18 Brixton Hill as Olive Morris House in 1986.
In 2006 Brixton-based artist Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre initiated the project Do you remember Olive Morris?, launching a blog in collaboration with Liz Obi on the 1st October 2007 at Minet Library, as part of Black History Month 2007.
In 2008 the Remembering Olive Collective (ROC) - a group of women of diverse ages and backgrounds - was formed in Brixton with the aim of creating public memories of Olive Morris and the campaigns and organisations she worked for.
In 2009, Olive Morris was chosen by popular vote as one of the historical figures to appear in a new local currency launched by Brixton Transition Town, the Brixton Pound.
Mike McColgan, Olive’s partner, kept a selection of her personal papers after her death, adding to it testimonials and letters of condolence received at the time. In 2000 Liz Obi contacted Mike McColgan to retrieve information about Olive Morris with a view of creating a memorial exhibition about her life and times. Mike McColgan handed over Olive Morris papers to Liz Obi, who added additional material copied from archives and libraries, and produced the exhibition Remembering Olive Remembering the Times, shown at Brixton Library in 2000.
The oral history interviews, summary, transcriptions and associated materials were compiled by the Remembering Olive Collective between June and October 2009, as part of the Do you remember Olive Morris? Project, supported by an award from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Olive Morris Collection was launched with an event at Brixton Library on Wednesday 21st October 2009, as part of Black History Month 2009.
ROC had disbanded by the beginning of 2012.