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Black House: The radical Holloway Road commune at centre of UK black power movement

PUBLISHED: 12:13 05 October 2017

John Lennon, Sammy Davis Jr and Malcolm X were all said to have been befriended by Michael X. Pictures: PA

John Lennon, Sammy Davis Jr and Malcolm X were all said to have been befriended by Michael X. Pictures: PA

Archant

You’d never guess it, but a block of run-down flats above a Holloway Road pub was once the centre of the UK’s radical black power movement.

The Black House, as it became known, was set up by self-styled revolutionary Michael X as a hub for the disaffected black youth. There was meant to be a supermarket, a restaurant and a cultural centre.

Michael, born Michael de Freitas, grew up in Notting Hill and became a pimp and rent collector of notorious landlord Peter Rachman.

He became increasingly interested in the black power movement in the States, and befriended Malcolm X on his tour of the UK, which is when he got his new name. Malcolm X had asked a receptionist at a hotel to save a room for his brother, Michael, and she took it literally.

Following Malcolm X’s assassination, Michael was profiled in the press as the leader of the leader of black nationalism and he converted to Islam, renaming himself Abdul Malik.

But he was jailed under the new Race Relations Act after a speech in which he said: “If you ever see a white laying hands on a black woman, kill him immediately.”

“The police didn’t like him very much,” said Aidan McManus, who runs alternative London tours. “When he came out of prison he moved to Baring Street in Islington and decided to stay away from the west London group.

“He met Nigel Samuel whose dad was a millionaire, and got him to fund it. There was lots of rudeboys from the Grove [Ladbroke] there.

“There were also lots of well intentioned people but Michael X was just a f*****g blagger. He got money out of Sammy Davis Jr, Muhammad Ali and John Lennon gave him £10,000. He was in the papers a lot.”

A lot of the money Michael allegedly pocketed, while a fair whack was spent on his extravagant office. None of the promised services – the supermarket or the cultural centre – ever came to fruition.

As Michael got more dictatorial, a bizarre publicity stunt saw John Lennon and Yoko Ono photographed on top of the Black House with a bag of their hair, which they swapped for Michael’s bloodied Muhammad Ali shorts. One was to be auctioned for world peace, the other for the Black House.

Then came an incident that would spell the end of the Black House.

Aidan continued: “One of the guys that hung out there had a dispute with a guy he worked for and Michael dragged him back to the Black House and staged a bit of a kangaroo court.

“I think they put a slave collar on him to make him atone for the persecution of the black man. As soon as he left he called the police and they all got nicked.”

While on bail he resigned from all his posts in the black power movement, abandoned the Black House and in early 1971 fled to Trinidad.

By 1972 he had been found guilty of murder and within three years he was hanged.

Like the hippie movement Michael X had aligned himself with, his movement imploded in a haze of death and drugs.

A second – very different – unofficially named “Black House” did open further up Holloway Road, lasting until the mid ’70s.

It was nothing like Michael X’s commune. It was actually an Islington Council-funded halfway house for troubled kids called the Harambee Project, but because of its location the two somehow became associated.

Today the building that was once at the centre of a radical counter culture movement looks like every other – there’s no museum, no plaque, no sign. But anyone who wants to see where it was can go to the House of Hammerton pub and look up.

“The other thing that happened in that building was the first Spandau Ballet gig,” added Aidan. “Another crime.”

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