Known variously as Courthouse Edwards, Baba Berry and Chief Nana Bonsu (the honorary title conferred on him by African Mancunians) Beresford Edwards was one of the founding fathers of the African Caribbean community in Manchester. Trained as a printer, he moved to Britain in 1961 with his wife Elouise and raised a family of four: Beresford Jnr, Mark, Ian and Conrad.
A man larger than life, Berry became well known through a case which set legal precedent, when he took on one of the most powerful trade unions in Britain, the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT – the printers union) and won! Lord Denning turned down the appeal by SOGAT in 1968, stating:
“No trade union can give itself an unfettered discretion to expel a man or to withdraw his membership. The reason lies in a man’s right to work.”
Berry fought racism and defended the rights of black people in the UK ever since he made his home in Moss Side, Manchester:
- Secretary of the national Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, which led to the UK Race Relations Act (1968).
- Chairman of the Guyanese Association in Manchester and helped to found Manchester’s West Indian Organizations Coordinating Committee.
- Secretary of the Manchester branch of the Pan-African Congress Movement. (In 1945 the 5th Pan African Congress met in Manchester. Decisions taken at this Congress led to the liberation of many African Nations).
- Worked with the New Cross Massacre Action Committee in the North West following the death of 13 young black people in a fire in south London, 1981.
- Campaigned against the notorious ‘SUS’ laws.
- Campaigned against deportation laws.
- Established Summer Schools at Carmoor Road, West Indian Centre for black school children and initiated widening participation programmes with Manchester Universities.
- Organised the annual Culture Week at the West Indian Centre and helped develop Black History month.
Berry was voted one of the 100 greatest Black Britons in 2004; see: www.100greatblackbritons.com
Nana Bonsu Oral History Project – Manchester Black History
Ian Johns, Chair of First Cut, said: “We at First Cut are grateful for the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The exhibition will communicate how much British attitudes to racial diversity have changed since the 1960’s and will reflect on how much we all owe to the work of people like Beresford Edwards in promoting equal opportunities.”
Since July 2013, 42 volunteers have taken part in the project, including a series of workshops covering video production, web site development and desk top publishing. Volunteers have received training in oral history recording techniques and have helped to film 23 video interviews of people who knew Berry Edwards. The interviews bring out what inspired and sustained his pursuit for social justice as well touching on his humorous side, personal and family anecdotes.
Tony Reeves, First Cut Coordinator said: “We hope people (black and white) will reflect on the life of Berry Edwards as a role model. Young people today continue to face various forms of discrimination and may perhaps doubt that conditions have improved or can improve. This exhibition is designed to look back at how far we have come, but also to look ahead at how we can move forward. We are calling anyone who cares about the communities of Moss Side and Hulme to work with us – to create jobs, education, training opportunities, healthcare and support for older people.”