Hackney campaigner N’Goma Bishop recalls CLR James library battle and Colin Roach justice fight

N'Goma Bishop outside the CLR James Library.

N'Goma Bishop outside the CLR James Library. - Credit: Archant

N’Goma Bishop knows a thing or two about community campaigning.

As chair of Bema Arts, the 62-year-old writer and activist was instrumental in helping retain the name of the CLR James Library in Dalston when it was being rebuilt in 2010.

N’Goma, who was living in Hackney at the time before moving across the border into Islington, was one of many who fought against the town hall in its bid to rename the library.

Six weeks into the campaign 2,500 professors, academics, students and people around the world had signed a petition against the move – as well as Diane Abbott.

And that wasn’t the first politically driven campaign he was involved in around the area. In 1983, following the death of 21-year-old Colin Roach inside the foyer of Stoke Newington police station, N’Goma joined the fight for answers and was part of the Roach Family Support Committee (RFSC).

Soon after Colin’s death, the Daily Mail described him as a petty criminal with a history of mental illness, N’Goma said the piece made their quest for answers, which have yet to be received, even harder.

He said: “We only ever issued well thought out and previously agreed statements. Statements we naively believed could not be misconstrued or misinterpreted.

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“The Mail taught us when it comes to trying to bring the police to account, anything you say could and would be distorted and used against you.”

N’Goma was later arrested with members of the Roach family for “breaching the peace” during a demo. “Demonstrators, police and thousands of bystanders would have seen me in the campaign truck holding a megaphone and doing nothing more than leading the various chants for justice,” he said. “We were transported to City Road station where James Roach and I shared a cell.

“That is until the police realized that they had locked up the father of the dead man whereupon they apologised profusely but insincerely whilst ushering him out.”

N’Goma wasn’t let out, and eventually served two weeks in Pentonville for assaulting officers.

More recently N’Goma, who grew up in Brent, established the House of AMAU, a not-for-profit Afrikan heritage arts group.

He’s also written poetry and books, and now hosts free creative writing workshops.