The racist murder of the young Antiguan, Kelso Cochrane, on 17 May 1959 was to become a pivotal moment in the history of racism in Britain. Knifed to death in west London, there was a conspiracy of silence which meant that his killers, to this day, have not been brought to justice.
Kelso had left behind a failed marriage in the United States to start a new life in Britain, where he was working as a carpenter.
Eight months before his murder, in 1958, there had been “race riots” in the Notting Hill area. The police tried to dampen down the issue when Kelso died, claiming that it was a robbery and not a racist attack. But locals knew different, fascist inspired gangs had operated in the area for some time, and some 1200 people turned out for his funeral (click below for video, no sound) .
FUNERAL OF KELSO COCHRANE
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The aftermath of Kelso’s murder was politically charged. The local black community, and white anti-fascists, played an important role in combating the racists. One of the most prominent individuals involved in the defence of local black people was the Trinidad born communist Claudia Jones. Claudia grew up in the New York but after four terms of imprisonment for her political activities, as a result of McCarthyism, was deported from the USA in 1955 and given asylum in Britain.
Claudia Jones was an outstanding activist, who among other things became known as the mother of the Notting Hill Carnival. From 1959 Claudia organised smaller events, which culminated in the first Notting Hill Carnival in 1964. The initial purpose of the events and Carnival being a celebration of Caribbean culture in the face of the hate from the white racists.
But of course there was also a more personal angle to the murder. In 2006 Kelso’s brother, Stanley Cochrane, came to England to try and get the murder inquiry reopened and to find out what he could about his brother’s death. It was the first time he had visited England, as at the time of Kelso’s death he couldn’t afford to come to the country for the funeral.
BBC2 followed Stanley’s journey in a documentary that was broadcast that year. I was in touch with the researchers of the programme at the time, because they needed to look at material relating to Mosley and the fascist movement in the area. Coinciding with the broadcast of the programme I wrote an article for Searchlight Magazine, which you can view here.
Then in spring 2007, nearly a year after my article had been published, something totally unexpected happened. My article was one that Searchlight had put on the internet and as a result I received a letter in the post from the United States which said:
“I am writing to you about an article you wrote in Searchlight Magazine. I was elated with the discovery of a long lost man, my father, Mr Kelso Cochrane… you have helped me solve a life long mystery… Please contact me or at least get me in contact with my uncle.”
Of course I contacted the woman and, via the TV researchers, put her in touch with Stanley Cochrane. As a result, she is now in touch with other family members too.