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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.

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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.

MacGregor/Reuters

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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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