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How an 18-year-old murder verdict reflects a racially changed UK

The 1993 murder in London of black teenager Stephen Lawrence revealed systemic racism in Britain, spawning sweeping efforts to root it out.


Doreen (c.) and Neville Lawrence (r.) exit the London court building where two men were convicted earlier this month of the murder of their son, Stephen, 18 years ago.


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When Joseph Ogunshola arrived in London from Lagos, Nigeria, in 1961, he got what he calls a "big, bad welcome."

"You would see signs saying 'rooms available,' but they weren't available when a black man knocked on the door," recalls the retired telecommunications engineer, who has remained in the neighborhood of Brixton since then. "One time a woman screamed at me to leave, saying her mother had never seen a black man before."

Twenty years later, the perceived mistreatment of a black man by police ignited the Brixton race riots of 1981 – which remain the biggest such riots in British history.

But Brixton today is a prime example of how Britain has transformed into a multicultural society, especially in its cities, in the half century since Mr. Ogunshola first moved here.

Now there is little evidence of antipathy between Brixton's diverse ethnic groups, which include a strong African-Caribbean community and a large Asian contingent.

While riots last summer, set off by racial tensions, reached the neighborhood, they did not pit an ethnic community against the authorities.

"Brixton's a different place; Britain's a different place," says Ogunshola, raising his voice to be heard above a steel band playing calypso music outside a subway station.


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