The role that women have played in tenants’ activist groups in the twentieth century has received sporadic attention from historians, not least the role of women of colour. Black women played a significant part not only in protesting against slum demolition, but also in demanding for improvements on social housing estates. And yet, within the historical literature on tenants’ activism, the role that discourses of race and racism played in underpinning the aims and methods of many tenants’ groups has been overlooked.
This paper explores the politics of race, class, and gender in Britain’s tenants’ activist groups in the 1970s. In areas such as south Manchester, housing action groups and tenants’ activist groups were made up of both white and Black residents. However, for many of the Black female activists, housing justice was located in the Black Power politics that had grown in England in the decades prior. Black women who stood at the forefront of these groups were calling for improvements not merely through deploying the language of welfare rights, but through a complex discourse that spoke to broader discussions around Marxism and Black liberation. This paper will unpack these discourses around race, class, and gender in Britain to analyse the role that welfare activism played in enabling Black women to make greater claims to citizenship, racial justice, and class solidarity. By examining these themes, this paper contributes to the renewed interest in the links between the anti-racist campaigns of late twentieth-century Britain and the welfare state.
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