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BBC Teach - History KS3 / GCSE: Small Axe - Alex Wheatle and the Brixton Uprising

Alex Wheatle


Resource for History KS3 / GCSE: Small Axe - Alex Wheatle and the Brixton Uprising.
In his own words, this is story of Alex Wheatle MBE, who grew up in a children's home and later became an award-winning writer of books for children and young adults.
Alex never knew his family, who were part of the Windrush generation who migrated to Britain after World War Two. They were promised a better life, but for Alex’s family, like many others, it didn’t work out that way. It wasn't until he left the children's home and moved to Brixton in South London that he realised how different he was. Having had little contact with other black people in the children’s home, at first he struggled to fit in and find his identity. Brixton was a hotbed of racial violence in the 1980s, and mistrust towards the police was made worse after the death by fire of 13 young black people in January 1981. The incident, known as the New Cross fire, was treated as a minor fire incident by the police. No arrests were made, despite many in the black community believing the fire to have been started deliberately in a racist attack. Tensions rose further after the police launched an operation called Swamp 81, which involved stopping and searching any young, black man within the central Brixton area. Plain-clothes officers stopped and searched 950 people in just five days, often without any reason. On 10 April 1981, Brixton turned into a war zone. The rioting that followed over the next two days became known as the Brixton uprising. Alex was arrested and ended up serving time in prison. He started reading books by the likes of Chester Himes, Richard Wright, C.L.R. James and John Steinbeck, and found his passion for writing.

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