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NUJ pays tribute to Lionel Morrison

1 November 2016

The NUJ is sad to announce the death of Lionel Morrison, an activist of many decades who was elected as the union’s first black president in 1987. He passed away peacefully at home with his family last night (31 October 2016).

Lionel will be long celebrated for activism that combined kindliness and forgiveness with sure-footed persistence. His ability to retain constructive relations whatever was the issue of the day was often put down to his background in a conflict far deadlier than of which most British activists had any direct experience.

Born in South Africa in 1935, he was a member of the African National Congress and was the youngest detainee in the treason trial of 1956, at which Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were also tried. He sought exile in 1960 after the Sharpville massacre and five months detention in prison.

He worked as a reporter, sub-editor and editor working for numerous newspapers including the Sunday People, Evening Standard, Sunday Mirror and Sunday Telegraph.  He also contributed to many publications aimed at black readers such as Flamingo, West Indian World and Asian Herald.

Lionel later worked as principle information and public relations officer for the Commission for Racial Equality. Numerous community and social organisations also benefited from his activism among them the Notting Hill Housing Trust.  He was awarded an OBE in 1999.

Journalists will remember Lionel best, however, for his tireless work on behalf of the NUJ over many decades. When the NUJ voted to create a Race Relations Working Party (RRWP) in 1974, Lionel was its founding chair. A year later the union agreed to incorporate into its code of conduct the requirement that members should not: “originate material which encourages discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, creed, gender or sexual orientation”.

He was no less active when the RRWP became the Black Members' Council in 1990, a body he continued to be active in right up until his death.

Lionel was passionate in his commitment to ensuring wider representation of black and ethnic minority journalists in the wider industry, and chaired the NUJ’s charity The George Viner Memorial Fund, which provides bursaries for aspiring journalists, for many years.

He is survived by his wife Liz and sons Sipho Morrison and DumisaTshabalala.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“Lionel made an enormous impact to the NUJ over many decades, and continued to do so right up until his death. His passion and commitment to journalism and to social justice and equality were inspiring and infectious.

“Within the union he loved, he served as a reminder of the necessity to demand equality and to fight prejudice, intolerance and ignorance. The greatest tribute we can pay Lionel is to renew our commitment to fight racism and to demand fairness and justice for all. He was much-loved and will be missed by all who knew him.”

Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said:

“Lionel was the first president of the NUJ I ever met. He visited the now defunct Athlone and District branch and delivered a compelling address which inspired me, a new member and assistant branch secretary. He conducted a mini-nationwide tour and made a remarkable impression on all who met him.”

Tim Dawson, NUJ president, said:

“Lionel has made his presence felt at NUJ events and meetings throughout my period of activism.  Long before I became part of the union’s leadership, he would occasionally take me to one side, either to offer advice or to suggest that a fresh approach that might provide better results. What shone through most of all, however, was his commitment to black journalism and to black journalists playing an effective, high-profile role in the NUJ. His star will shine bright in our union’s firmament for many decades to come.”

Jim Boumelha, NEC member and fellow trustee of the George Viner Memorial Fund, said:

"A great chapter of NUJ history closes with the sad loss of Lionel Morrison. From the fight against apartheid to championing race equality in journalism and the NUJ, he will be remembered for the countless struggles he led. He dedicated his life to serve and advocate for the rights of others, and spoke solidarity and humanity as a passionate and eloquent voice for the cause of justice."

A fuller appreciation will appear here in a few days. Members who wish to share memories and remembrances of Lionel are invited to email them to

Other tributes

Lionel Morrison: feature in the Journalist

Guardian obituary: Anti-apartheid activist in South Africa who moved to Britain in the 60s and went on to become the first black president of the National Union of Journalists

Tags: , lionel morrison, obituaries, obituary, black members' council, tributes, george viner, African National Congress