Marshall Street in Smethwick, England, was once considered one of the most dangerous streets on the planet for any person of African or Asian origin to walk alone. The chances of being attacked were extremely high.
As a person of color, it was an unpredictable and lonely stretch. It was notorious for its heinous crimes against Black and Asian people. According to Sky News, it is far from what it was in the 1960s, following an epic act undertaken by civil rights activist Malcolm X half a century ago. It’s hot now, with multicultural vibes and people of various nationalities rushing back and forth.
Marshall Street was a notorious street in the United Kingdom. At one point, the residents put pressure on the local council to purchase empty houses and only rent them to white families. The bars and pubs along the stretch forbade the sale of alcohol to anyone who was Black or Asian.
But there was one man who dared to speak out against the atrocities committed against ethnic minorities at the time. Avtar Singh Jouhl was a key member of the Indian Workers’ Association at the time. He imagined a day when the barriers of social inequality would crumble. One significant step he took was to write to Malcolm X and invite him to Smethwick.
He wanted Malcolm X to see and speak about the racial segregation on Marshall Street firsthand. Many people expected a fight when the civil rights activist accepted his invitation. According to Jouhl, Malcolm X was met at the airport by a member of the Indian Workers Association, who drove him straight to the street.
When Malcolm X arrived in 1965, he said the atmosphere was tense for the approximately 20 people gathered there with the media. He also stated that they informed him of the local council’s intention to purchase the vacant houses on the street in order to deny any person of color the opportunity to rent a place on Marshall Street.
Jouhl recalled that after Malcolm X had been briefed, he decided to walk down Marshall Street alone to test the degree of racial segregation. He stated that they offered to accompany him on the street, but he stated that he did not require such assistance and preferred to go it alone. Malcolm X assured them that if there was any difficulty, he could handle it.
After successfully passing through Marshall Street, despite the anxious stares of its residents, Malcolm X told the West Midlands Campaigner that the level of racial segregation was far worse than what he had witnessed in the United States. According to Jouhl, Malcolm X’s historic visit broke down the invisible barriers that had previously prevented people of color from using Marshall Street.
Malcolm X not only walked down the street, but he also went to a local bar at the end of the street that had never seen a person of color before. Jouhl recalled that as soon as they stepped into the pub, the air became tense, but Malcolm X went ahead and ordered a couple of drinks.
However, the bartender refused their request, stating that they do not serve people of color. Malcolm X inquired as to why. He was informed that the owner of the establishment had stated that serving a person of color at the pub was illegal.
However, there has been a cultural shift on Marshall Street since that fateful day. It is now inhabited by people of various cultures. Today, a blue plague has been erected in honor of Malcolm X’s visit.