Black History Collection

Archives & Collections has many hidden facets amongst the panoply of resources and materials retained by the section. One such collection is the Black History Collection which is a repository of secondary printed texts relating to the experiences of Asian and Black communities. Follow this link for a more thorough account of the intentions for the collection.

You may initially presume libraries and archives are primarily locations for the storage of dusty and antiquated tomes which are lovely in their own right but this is only one face of our raison d’etre. The following two books published in 2016 have recently been purchased for addition to the Black History Collection and hopefully provide fresh and insightful input to the dialogue and discussion surrounding ethnic identity in modern British culture and society –



London Is The Place for Me. Black Britons, Citizenship and the Politics of Race.
Kennetta Hammond Perry.
2016, Oxford University Press.
ISBN : 9780190240202.
Black History Collection, level 4. 305.896042.



This text, the title of which tips a nod to the calypso song of the same name by Lord Kitchener who was a passenger on the Empire Windrush explores different themes in relation to the formation of a sense of Black British identity and the issues of migration and subsequent immigration controls plus the nascent campaign against racial discrimination. The text utilises a wide range of sources in its discourse such as photography, personal accounts and extracts from popular culture such as song.



Blackness in Britain. 
Edited by Kehinde Andrews and Lisa Amanda Palmer.
ISBN : 9781138840638.
Black History Collection, level 5. A 305.896041.
(Please bring your Birmingham Library card as ID should you wish to view this item).


This book explores via a series of essays the attempt to place Black Studies more prominently on the academic agenda and in the public consciousness by collating a series of scholarly voices on the topic of Blackness in Britain. Topics covered in the text include discussions regards the marginalisation of black people, the appropriation of a sense of black identity via writings, issues surrounding black identity and the teaching of Black Studies in education and the position of black female identity in the UK.

You can view resources from the Black History Collection at any point during the library’s core opening hours of 11 am – 7 pm Monday & Tuesday and 11 am – 5 pm Wednesday to Saturday.

Paul Taylor

The Friends of Charles Parker

The Friends of the Charles Parker Trust will hold their annual general meeting on Thursday 20 October 2016 in the Heritage Learning Space, Floor 4, Library of Birmingham,    3.30pm – 5.00pm.

Phil Maguire, a new Trustee of the Charles Parker Trust will speak about his work as founding chief executive of the Prison Radio Association (PRA). The PRA is a charity set up in 2006 following pilot project based at BBC Birmingham and HMP Birmingham (better known locally as Winson Green prison). In a feature on literacy and publishing in prisons on 17 Feb 2008, the Independent reported that the Prison Radio Association had been launched at Winson Green in July 2006, with the aim of providing training to prisoners to help with communications and literacy within prisons.

H.M. Prisons, Winson Green, Prison Library [WK/W16/123]

H.M. Prison, Winson Green, Prison Library.

The Prison Radio Association aims to contribute to a reduction in reoffending by using the power of radio. The National Prison Radio is the world’s first national radio station for prisoners; made by prisoners, for prisoners. The most important issues faced by prisoners are featured in daily programmes and social action campaigns which focus on issues of particular importance or urgency. Campaigns have included drug and alcohol awareness, smoking, learning to read. Partnership projects have included provision of information and advice on issues of domestic violence, housing, employability, keeping healthy, etc.

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President of the Underground Railroad visits Birmingham

Levi Coffin [Memoirs of Levi Coffin, Black History Collection]

Levi Coffin [Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, Black History Collection ref 326.973]

Between the years 1863 and 1865, American abolitionists became increasingly concerned about the welfare of slaves freed following Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In 1864, Levi Coffin, an American Quaker (1798 – 1877) from Cincinnati, Ohio, acting as an agent of the Western Freedmen’s Aid Commission, decided to visit England.

Having been brought up in a family who were opposed to slavery, Coffin had been involved in helping slaves since he was a young man. Together with his wife, he provided shelter and provisions for runaway slaves escaping northwards to find freedom in Canada. Their home became a crucial part of the Underground Railroad and Coffin came to be known as its president. In a letter dated June 15th 1864 to Benjamin Cadbury and Arthur Albright of the Birmingham Freedmen’s Aid Association, he  explained,

The number of slaves I have had the privilege of assisting in their escape from slavery is over 3000. The most of these I have had the satisfaction of sheltering under my roof and feeding at my table. This has been through the course of more than thirty years past, and mostly before this cruel war commenced.

(Birmingham and Midland Freed Men’s Aid Association,  ref MS 3338/1)

By 1863, Coffin’s work took a different course. Having travelled to the camps where thousands of freed slaves were sent, three quarters of whom were women, children and the sick, Coffin was acutely aware of the destitute conditions in which they were living and their need for bedding, clothing and food. He decided to devote his time to helping the freed slaves, and working with the Western Freedmen’s Aid Commission established that year, he travelled around the country raising awareness of the plight of the freedmen, visiting freedmen’s associations, asking for provisions or money and receiving and forwarding donations to where they were most needed. Continue reading

Henry Gunter and the Campaign for Equality


Cover of A Man's a Man: A Study of Colour Bar in Birmingham. [MS 2165/2/5]

Cover of A Man’s a Man: A Study of Colour Bar in Birmingham. [MS 2165/2/5]

In celebration of black history month I delved in to the archives to find out more about material we hold relating to black lives and black history. Although a number of collections caught my attention, I decided to focus on the Papers of Henry Gunter (MS 2165). These papers provide a fascinating insight in to the life of a black citizen in post-war Birmingham who tirelessly campaigned for positive change.

Henry Gunter (1920-2007) was born in Portland Jamaica in 1920 where he trained as an accountant and also wrote on political and social issues. After working in Panama and the U.S.A. he moved to Birmingham in 1949. In the June 1949 edition of ‘Jamaica Arise! The Political and Labour Guide’, Gunter wrote about some of his reasons for coming to Birmingham saying ‘I have placed myself in the industrial heart of the country so as to meet more of the workers’ (MS 2165/2/1).

Although Gunter had skills in accountancy, he was sent by the Labour Exchange to work as a mate in a brass rolling mill. He lost his job after challenging the shop steward for racist verbal abuse. He then went on to work in other factories in the city as a machine operator and a tool cutter and grinder. Alongside his day job Gunter joined the Amalgamated Engineering Union. He was the first black member of his union and the first black delegate to Birmingham Trades Union Council.

Gunter used the positions he held to write and speak out against injustice and to inspire action. Material in the archive includes Gunter’s writings on the struggles faced by black citizens in post-war Birmingham. In the Caribbean News, February 1953 (MS 2165/2/4) he wrote that landlords either refused to rent out rooms to black people or exploited them by charging rents above the market rate. Although West Indian workers had been encouraged to come to Birmingham during World War Two to work in munitions factories, Gunter wrote about the huge unemployment issues they faced after the War with major firms refusing to employ them.

One of his key publications, which survives in the archive, was ‘A Man’s a Man: a study of the Colour Bar in Birmingham- and an ANSWER’ (MS 2165/2/5). In this document Gunter discussed problems faced by black people in areas of employment, housing, hotels and social activities. He suggested five actions that anyone could take including ‘Take a stand against colour-bar and the spreading of racial prejudice wherever you find it.’ The pamphlet was published by the Communist Party in 1954.

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The Chris Upton Memorial Lecture, 7th November 2016

He loved the past but lived very much in the present, and through his teaching and his writing left a huge legacy for the future.
Rachel MacGregor, friend and colleague.

At 5:30pm on the 7th November 2016, Birmingham Archives & Collections will be hosting the first Chris Upton Memorial Lecture in Room 101, Level 1, Library of Birmingham.



It has been a year since the passing of Dr Chris Upton of Newman University, friend, colleague and advocate of archives and heritage organisations across the region.

While numerous obituaries and accolades have been published about Chris, here at the Library of Birmingham together with Newman University, Birmingham University, Birmingham Conservation Trust, the Black Country Living Museum and many other organisations, there has been a strong desire to commemorate this clever and generous man. Generous, in the sense of sharing the breadth and depth of his knowledge freely and openly, he had a disarming ability to talk to anyone, conveying complex ideas and theories with simplicity and insightful clarity. He was also a model customer of the Archives & Collections reading room, the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research at the Library of Birmingham… but then he had worked in Archives and Local Studies many moons ago! He also frequented all the record offices and archive services in the Midlands to research an enormous range of subjects and areas of interest.

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Birmingham Freed Men’s Aid Association

Invitation to a meeting of the Freed Men's Aid Association, June 1864 [ref MS 3338]

Invitation to a meeting of the Freed Men’s Aid Association, June 1864 [ref MS 3338/1]

The plight of those freed from slavery by the American Civil War first came to the attention of the Ladies Negro Friend Society for Birmingham and the surrounding area in 1862. It called for contributions to be sent from Britain to provide aid. The scale of the need at that time was not well understood, but by 1864 it had become clear to the Society that there were severe shortages of shelter, clothing, hospitals, medical care and free employment for the hundreds of thousands of emancipated slaves who travelled northwards, leaving vast numbers destitute or dying.

At the 39th anniversary meeting of the Society in May 1864, the chair put forward a proposal from a member of the Erdington branch of the Society,

…that a ship should be freighted with stores and sent to the United States.

(40th annual report of the Birmingham Ladies Negro’s Friend Society,  1865, ref MS 3173/2/3)

which would, as Arthur Albright (1811–1900), leader of the National Freed Men’s Aid Union, later described at the 1867 Paris Anti-Slavery Conference, with reference to the cotton workers who suffered in the  Lancashire Cotton Famine (1861 – 1865),

…pay back… those shiploads of corn and provisions sent from the United States to assist in feeding the pinched and patient artisans of Lancashire…

(Paper given by Arthur Albright, Anti-slavery Conference Report, Paris 1867, ref 326.4)

Supported by Birmingham’s Mayor, the proposal was approved and a group of the city’s male abolitionist campaigners established the Birmingham and Midland Freed Men’s Aid Association on 12th May 1864. According to Clare Midgley in her book ‘Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns 1780-1870’, it was to become one of the most important Freed Men’s Aid Associations in the country and worked closely with the Ladies Negro Friend Society, helped by the fact that a number of the members were related. The Association was chaired by Edward Gem, with Benjamin H. Cadbury and Charles Felton as secretary. Although it was a non-denominational group, many of its members were Quakers.

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Science and magick in the stores

Book plate for Natural Magick

This stunning front piece is from an earlier English edition of Natural Magick held in Boston Public Library unfortunately our edition does not contain a similar one.

This week’s blog is about a volume that I stumbled across whilst working in the storerooms last week. I was initially going to write about Micrographia which is one of my favourite books in the Early and Fine Printing Collections. Micrographia was written by Robert Hooke in 1665 and was the first book published by the recently formed Royal Society. It revealed a mysterious microscopic world unseen by human eye with its incredibly detailed etchings of plants, insects and mineral and is a wonderful example of the work from the Scientific Revolution when experiments and empirical data began to be seen as essential to understand the world.


Page from Micrographia, Robert Hooke, 2nd edition, 1667 [Ref: AQ094/1667/13]

Engraving of a fly as observed under a microscope from Micrographia. Robert Hooke, 2nd edition, 1667 [Ref: AQ094/1667/13]


When I went to retrieve Micrographia a volume called Natural Magick stored a couple of shelves down caught my eye and intrigued, I took it down to the office to have a look. Natural Magick was originally written in Latin by John Baptist Porta (Giambattista Della Porta) from Naples. Porta  was   born in about 1535 and was  a polymath who wrote on subjects as wide-ranging as cryptography, military engineering, distillation and agriculture as well as writing  seventeen plays.

Magiae Naturalis (Natural Magic) is his most famous work. We have a copy of the expanded edition written in 1559  and first published in English in  1659. Our volume was printed for John Wright next to the sign of the Globe in
Little-Britain [London] in 1669. Continue reading