Radical black publisher and pioneering social activist, Buzz Johnson, leaves lasting legacy
PUBLISHED: 14:44 24 March 2014 | UPDATED: 14:44 24 March 2014
A pioneering, radical Black publisher and social activist who challenged neo-colonialism, injustice and discrimination has suddenly passed away aged 62.
Norris “Buzz” Johnson founded Karia Press in the 70s, which went on to publish Chris Searle’s Grenada Morning, about the Grenada Revolution, and A Blindfold Removed, about Ethiopian literacy, as well as a report on the Broadwater Farm riots.
Mr Johnson was also responsible for “re-discovering” the forgotten civil rights activist Claudia Jones, penning and publishing her compelling story in the book, I Think of My Mother.
Born in Tobago, he moved to Hackney in the 70s to study a degree in mechanical engineering and pure maths, living in Stoke Newington, Clapton and Homerton since that time.
He founded community institutions like the Claudia Jones Organisation in Stoke Newington which supports women of Afro-Caribbean heritage, supplementary schools to help boost educational attainment before it was de-rigueur, and community advice and drop-in centres to tackle issues like workers’ and welfare rights, school exclusion, deaths in custody, youth training, and pensioner isolation.
Educationalist and writer, Chris Searle, said: “The thing about Buzz was that within a short period he published material that was very important, epochal, really, covering diverse subjects - politics, poetry, autobiography, and reports like The Broadwater Farm Inquiry, about the Broadwater Farm riots in the 1980s, which was chaired by Lord Anthony Gifford.
“What is extraordinary is that he did it under his own steam with no money, but managed to publish so many important books – I don’t know how he did it.
“He helped to make some important careers because he published work that other publishers would not touch because the stuff was considered too radical.”
Ngoma Bishop from the Black and Ethnic Minority Arts Network (BEMA) added: “Perhaps the most beneficial lesson I learned from Buzz, and one that continues to inspire BEMA, is that one should preserver with a worthwhile cause.
“The difficulty of your struggle and the intensity of the opposition faced is usually the reason that you must strive for success and that failure is not an option.”
Mr Johnson had returned from a trip to visit his mother in Tobago when he died suddenly from an arterial haemorrhage on February 11.