Our task was to investigate the Black presence within Britain before the so called “Windrush period”. HMS Windrush was a British passenger and troop ship which in its own right had a remarkable history. The ship had actually been a German World War II passenger, was captured by the British and then used a passenger and troop ship.
On June the 22nd 1948 the HMS Windrush landed at Tilbury docks carrying 493 passengers including 430 plus Jamaican Men (Phillips. M and Phillips. T 1999) and 60 Polish women who had remarkably wandered through Siberia, India and Australasia and somehow had embarked the ship in Mexico. In the modern British collective psyche this arrival of 430 Caribbean citizens was the beginning of multicultural Britain and the Black presence within the country but this is not actually so.
There have been Black communities within Europe for hundreds if not thousands of years. The challenge of this project was to investigate the black presence within Britain, not as Black heritage but as the real British heritage – for a mixed group of young people, elders from different communities to learn about British Heritage together as a group. We felt that it was important that this project was not seen as a “Black” project but as a British project to investigate the facts, contributions, culture and heritage that been affected by the Black presence within Britain over the ages. This is not history for Black Britons for all the British people because we firmly believe that awareness of the contributions of Black people to British society throughout the ages will benefit all communities and culture within Britain. So in fact this project was going “Beyond the Windrush” into the near and far distant past to discuss Britain’s multicultural heritage.
HMS Windrush and Arrivals and arrivals record card in 1948
What we discovered during the project
This project became bigger and bigger the more we did research. We set out with the objective of covering a conclusive history the Black presence within Britain and what we found was the information regarding the Black presence within is vast. We visited the Black Cultural Archives in London and went on an investigative trip to historical sites within the City of London. We also visited the Black archives at Birmingham Library. During the workshops we decided to focus on a number of individuals
throughout he ages and learn more about them instead of doing in-depth research on different areas because the amount of information was to vast to focus on all those different aspects.
We discovered a number of things during this project:
- There have been Black people in Brittan throughout the ages from the Roman period right the way through to modern era. There soldiers, artisans, traders, musicians, servants, sportsmen, dancers, politicians, medics, and even community activists in almost every age of British history.
- People such as William Coleridge Taylor, Ira Aldridge, Marcus Garvey, and Mary Seacole were Black people who were active, respected and influential within British society regardless of racial heritage and contributed to the development of British society.
- The enormous contribution of Black soldiers from the Caribbean and Africa during the World War I and II effort cannot be understated and the contribution of Caribbean states. Indeed Marika Sherwood pointed out at the Discover Black History Seminar that “people don’t know that the island of Trinidad contributed a significant percentage of all the oil that was used by the British Army and the most in 1938 during the war (WWII)”
- There is a thirst from all people to learn about the Black British presence. On our trips to the London archives we were over- subscribed and at the seminar at the Drum Arts Centre in Birmingham we expected a turnout of approximately 200 people
- but in actual fact 375 people attended the event. The audience was also very mixed between very young youths, elders and people from all cultures.
- There is so much more research, processing and dissemination of information to be done in this area. The knowledge base is vat and the society is very unaware of the information. I myself who have a BA in Religion and studied at Masters Level in Community Cohesion was surprised by the all the information we learned on the educational visits, during the workshops and the presentations during the seminars. It was our objective to produce something conclusive but what we discovered was the project would need to run for longer and be much more in-depth to achieve this plus there is a lot more research to be done.
What was done during this project?
- We visited the Black cultural archives in London and the Black archives at Birmingham library.
- We delivered a number of workshops where we discussed the information we gained at the visits and related to information we could find in books and online materials.
- We invited a group of young people and elders to produce an exhibition coordinated by Pauline Bailey in different workshops about the Black presence in Brittan. Materials used included wood, metal paints and paper.
- We organised a seminar and invited the public for free and we had Dr Marika Sherwood and Dr Robin Walker to come and make presentations which were brilliant. Then we had performances by local poets, rappers and singers around the theme of Black history. The seminar was a roaring success and we had 375 youth, elders and people from different communities attend.
- We have created a Beyond the Windrush page on our website to decimate the information to the wider public.
- We have uploaded footage from the seminar to encourage and facilitate further learning.
This is an independent review of the event which was done by a blogger and visitor to our event on the 31st of August at the Drum Birmingham. http://truestoryreview.wordpress.com/discoverblackhistory/
All in all this project been a massive success for our organisation, we have involved youngsters and elders to learn together, we have discovered revealing facts about British heritage together, produced and exhibition, held a seminar and had fantastic turnout. We are very proud of this project and we hope to build on the foundations of this project in the future and to once again share our process of research and findings with the wider community.
Images from Beyond Windrush Exhibition
(left to right.) Pauline Bailey, Dr Clive Harris, Dr Marika Sherwood, Sicnis and Dr Robin Walker. Artist Malik MD7
Trip London Black Cultural Archives
Beyond the Windrush workshop - Discover Black History Audience
In the latter half of the 18th century the population of England and
Wales was calculated to be about 8 million; it was estimated that between
15,000 and 20,000 were people of African origins or descent, but no basis was given for this calculation. It is the earliest estimate of the size of the Black population of Britain.
When and how had these people of African origins (or descent) arrived in Britain? As far as we know at the moment, according to written records they first arrived with the Roman armies, which included a North African regiment. Many of these men stayed in England at the end of their
service – it was a long walk back to North Africa; and some had married here. Whether any of the Africans who ruled Al-Andalus (‘Moorish Spain’
– ie most of the today’s Spain and Portugal) from 711 until 1492 ever came to Britain has not been researched.
The first picture we have of an African is in the Abbreviated Domesday Book, dated 1241.1 We do not know who he was, or how many Africans were living or visiting here then.
From the 16th century, we have many records. For example, there were Africans in the service of James IV of Scotland (ruled 1488 - 1513); John Blanke was a Black trumpeter serving Henry VII and later Henry VIII; in
1501 Catherine of Aragon, coming to be married to Henry VIII, landed in
England with a number of African attendants; Elizabeth I of England (ruled
1558-1603) employed Africans; and when William of Orange arrived to take over the throne in 1688, he had 200 Africans among his troops. The first mention of Africans in parish records (that is, records of births, deaths and marriages kept by the Church of England for the government) is in the
1590s. These records also show many marriages between Blacks and
Whites. Africans, described as ‘Moor’, ‘Blackamoor’, ‘negro’, ‘black’ and
‘Ethiopian’, appear in these records throughout the whole of England. So far the first such record for Birmingham is in the records of St.Martin’s which note the burial of 'George Pitt Charry a bachelor, a Black' in 1774.2
Whether slavery was legal in Britain was disputed in many court cases. The judges were undecided. From the records it appears that while some Africans were deemed to be slaves, most were free. There was a widespread belief (not based on law) that a Christian could not be a slave, so many newly arrived Africans converted to Christianity. Occasionally there were advertisements in the English press offering rewards for the return of (Black and White) runaways. Many of these
runaways were children; for example, 20 shillings was offered for the return of 'a guinea negro boy, about 8 years old, named jack'. (London Gazette, 5-9 June 1690) such advertisements appeared from about the
1690s for the next 100 years or so.
As far as we know at the moment, Africans came as domestic slaves/servants, brought by their owners/ employers; as soldiers and as seamen, both on merchant and Royal Navy vessels; a few came as students and merchants, and there were one or two ambassadors. Before the 20th century we have records of a light-house keeper, a town council’s employment agent, a newspaper editor and a coal-merchant; of shopkeepers, musicians, civil servants, clergymen, divers, writers, teachers, and political leaders and activists. By the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century we had Indian Members of Parliament and African-descent county/town councillors and town mayors.
Campaigners against the trade in enslaved Africans and against slavery visited Birmingham, where there were two active abolitionist groups, the Birmingham Anti-Slavery Society and the Ladies' Negro's Friend Society. The two most famous campaigners, Olaudah Equiano and Frederick Douglass were among the visitors. Equiano gave a lecture in 1790 and sold copies of his very influential autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Douglass, an African-American seeking British support against slavery in the USA, visited Birmingham in 1846, shortly after the publication of his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written By Himself. A local newspaper advertisement shows that Douglass gave a speech in Ebenezer Chapel on Steelhouse Lane on June the 29th 1846.3
Various regiments in the British Army recruited local Black men from the 18th to the middle of the 19th century. In the 19th century Britain had to protect her growing empire and wanted to increase her international trade. This resulted in the growth of the Royal Navy (RN) and the merchant marine, so more Black seamen were recruited – and continued
to be paid unequal wages. During World War I some of the seamen found shore jobs and others came from the colonies to aid the ‘Mother Country’. As by then there was a colour-bar in the British military, they ended up working in factories. When the war ended in 1919 there was rioting against Black workers in all the port-cities, Whites claiming Blacks had taken their jobs – and were far too attractive to White women!
More traders and students arrived, some of whom, on qualifying, decided to practise (mainly as doctors and lawyers) in the UK. Others came just looking for work, including various entertainers – singers, dancers, musicians and actors. They formed and joined organisations to support each other and to struggle against various forms of repression,
both racial and social class. For example, William Cuffay (1788–1870) became one of the leaders of the Chartist movement, which struggled for voting rights for all men. Cuffay was born in Chatham, Kent; his father, from St.Kitts, had served in the RN and retired there. As an undesirable political leader he was imprisoned and then transported to Tasmania. Dusé Mohamed Ali (1866 - 1945), born in Egypt, came to Britain to study medicine, but had to abandon this when his father, serving in the
Egyptian army, died. He became an actor, a playwright and a political activist. In 1911, after attending the First Universal Races Congress held in London began publishing a newspaper with financial help from some West Africans. The African Times and Orient Review, was a political, cultural, and commercial newspaper, advocating Pan African-Asian nationalism.
We do not know the size of the Black population in Britain, or Birmingham – even now. That there is a photograph a Black girl at the Nelson Street Girls School in Birmingham in 1913 is at least an indication of of widespread settlement.4
Black organisations began to be formed in most cities. Some were purely local, others became nation-wide organisations, such as the African Progress Union (1918-1925). A large campaign was mounted against the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935 by what became the International African Service Bureau (IASB) when Abyssinia succumbed. The IASB then established the Pan-African Federation which organised the 1945 Pan-African Congress held in Manchester. Among the organisers was form the just-arrived PhD student, Kwame Nkrumah. Many Africans (other than Nkrumah of the Gold Coast/Ghana) and West Indians who were to lead struggles for independence attended: for example, Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya); JaJa Wachuku and Obafemi Awolowo (Nigeria); Garba Jahumpa (Gambia); Hastings Banda (Nyasaland/Malawi); Ken Hill (Jamaica); John Rojas (Trinidad).
After World War II, there was a great labour shortage in Britain, and the government decided to recruit workers from the Indian sub-continent and the Caribbean. Learning that work was easily available in the ‘Mother Country’, many paid their own way to come to the UK and help rebuild
war-torn Britain. Among these were men who had served in the armed forces in WWII and could not find employment at home.
? The Domesday Book was a sort of census carried out in 1086.
? www.questia.com › ... › The Birmingham Post (England))
Books on the history of Black peoples in Birmingham.
Borough of Sandwell, West Africa, West Indies, West Midlands, 1982. Sandwell
Ian Grosvenor, Rita McLean and Sian Roberts (eds), Making Connections, Birmingham City Council and
Birmingham University, 2002
SCAWDI, History Detectives, 2010
SCAWDI, A Day in the Life: A Black Heritage Trail of the West Midlands, 2011
There is much material held at the archives section of the Birmingham City Library.