Take an online visit to Brixton-based Black Cultural Archives

// Thérèse Mullan, local Clapham Park resident and Community Producer with Clapham Park Creative, writes about exploring the Black Cultural Archives and history from home //

The killing of the unarmed citizens George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police in the United States in 2020 sent ripples of outrage throughout the world and the resonance in the UK provoked both protest and conversation around racial injustices. Here in London, thousands of people gathered in the city and at local levels to kneel in solidarity with their black brothers and sisters. From discussing racially motivated police brutality to historical racism, the Black Lives Matter movement encouraged the world to converse and protest against the many forms of black racial inequality which people face every day.

Olive Morris, a British Black Panther and Brixton resident. You can see a special digital exhibition by Linnett Kamala commissioned by Black Cultural Archives celebrating Olive Morris .

Here in Clapham Park, with such close proximity to Brixton, we’ve had a well-documented journey with racism. With climactic moments such as The Brixton Riots of 1981, 1985, 1995, 2011, the racially motivated bombing of Brixton market in 1999, the Windrush scandal of 2018 and more recently the disproportionate amount of black and minority people in our community dying during the current Coronavirus pandemic, this particular area of South London has faced challenges in coexisting equally. 

“If the commitment is to transcend beyond social media into real change, everyone, from all communities, need to embrace Black History Month as a starting point for exploring, discovering and celebrating Black history, heritage and culture – both past and contemporary. From the incredible achievements and contributions to the many untold stories and barriers to progress – the day-to-day reality of institutionalised racism.”

— Catherine Ross, BlackHistoryMonth.com editor

Catherine Ross, editor of BlackHistoryMonth.org believes Black History Month is an important time for us all to learn and celebrate. We are most fortunate in Clapham Park to have one of the richest sources of black history and culture in our locality. The Black Cultural Archives stands in a beautiful building on 1 Windrush Square in Brixton. The uprisings in Britain in 1981 as a response to poor educational attainment and lack of employment focussed the movement on education as a catalyst for change. The formation of the Black Cultural Archives during this time of national unrest, created both a physical monument to black history whilst also providing resources to promote historical awareness, black pride and positive self-image.

Some of the Subject Guides in the Black Cultural Archives collection

The Black Cultural Archives mission is to ensure that black history is properly recorded and available to all and to correct “the historical omission” of black people of African descent from Britain’s official history by ensuring that their true contributions are documented and celebrated. In achieving this, Len Garrison believed these initiatives could become part of the integral basis for achieving a fully multicultural British society. 

“The past is what all people build their present and future on: without this they sit in a void waiting to reclaim their history, suspended in a bottomless pit.”

— Black Cultural Archives poster

Today the Black Cultural Archives stands as the only national archive of Black history and culture in the UK. It continues to grow and give insight into the history of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain. The archive currently contains over 2,000 records reflecting the long history of the Black community in Britain; the Subject Guides are a good place to start. Materials span back as far as early Roman times with records of the North African Emperor Septimus Severus and pre-colonial maps of Africa. You will also find records from WW1 and WW2 documenting the contribution of African and Caribbean soldiers along with more recent records of resistance movements and groups. Black Cultural Archives recently partnered with Google Arts & Culture to produce a really interesting interactive timeline and exhibition highlighting their archive.

It’s well-worth a visit on one of these never-ending lockdown afternoons.

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