Tag Archives: Black History Month

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

 

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

 

Blackness in Britain. 
Edited by Kehinde Andrews and Lisa Amanda Palmer.
Routledge.
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

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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.

Continue reading

Black History Month

The Drum - The UK's Premier Intercultural Arts Centre

The Drum – The UK’s Premier Intercultural Arts Centre

It’s still time to get involved in this year’s Black  History Month. There are events running across the City  so why not have a look at what’s on near you. You can find event listings on the Black History Month website and also local listings, for example at The Drum in Aston. So why not learn about and celebrate the diversity of our wonderful City!

Don’t forget you can also use sources at Archives, Heritage and Photography to research Black History – the Connecting Histories website highlights some of our fascinating resources and you can learn more about the Library’s Black History Collection on the Library of Birmingham website.

‘An Unchristian Traffick’

The Quaker belief that everyone is equal in the eyes of God has meant that the Religious Society of Friends has a long history in campaigning for equality and justice which continues to this day. One of the earliest campaigns the Friends were involved in was the campaign to abolish the slave trade, and they were instrumental in initiating the campaign both in North America and in Britain.

Q094-1698-15 F1764 George Fox A collection of epistles

Birmingham Preparative Meeting’s copy of George Fox’s ‘A collection of Epistles, Letters and Testimonies’ (Early & Fine Printing collection)

Quaker concern for the welfare of slaves has its origins in the 17th century in the early days of the establishment of the Quaker movement. In Birmingham Preparative Meeting’s 1764 copy of ‘A Collection of Many Select and Christian Epistles, Letters and Testimonies’ written by George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, there is an epistle he wrote in 1657, ‘To Friends beyond the sea, that have Black and Indian slaves’ in which he highlighted the importance of equality in the Quaker faith. Later, while preaching in Barbados, Fox witnessed the realities of slavery, leading him to call for the better treatment of slaves. This was reproduced in his text of 1676 under the title, ‘Gospel Family-Order, Being a Short Discourse Concerning the Ordering of Families, both of Whites, Blacks and Indians’, which can be seen here. It should be noted that he did not go so far as to question the practice of actually owning slaves.

Opposition to the slave trade in the late 17th and early 18th centuries began amongst a small number of Friends in America but as many of these retained strong links with London Yearly Meeting, the head of the Quaker church both in America and Britain, they were able to pressurize and raise awareness about the slave trade amongst British Quakers.  In 1713 and 1715, Friends in Pennsylvania wrote to the Yearly Meeting requesting that it take a stand opposing the importing of slaves and that it make its position known in all of the plantations. Yearly Meeting took no action at the time, but in 1727, when the slave trade was still a practice which was accepted unquestioningly by the majority of the British population, it did decide that the importing of slaves should not be allowed. Quakers in Birmingham and Warwickshire would have been aware of this as extracts of the most important of the Yearly Meeting minutes were sent out to be read at the Quarterly and Monthly Meetings. In Warwickshire Monthly Meeting’s copy of extracts of the Yearly meeting minutes for 1727, we find the following declaration,

SF-2-1-1-16-1

Extract of the Yearly Meeting minute on the importing of slaves, 1727 (Central England Area Meeting Archives, Ref SF-2-1-1-16-1)

About importing of Negroes

The answer given by th[e] Correspondents here to Friends of pensilvenia & the Jerseys  th[e] 17th  [of the] 6 [mo]nth 1713 by th[e] Yearly Meeting & their Answer to th[e] Friends of Pensilvenia th[e] 3[r]d [of the] 8 mo[nth] 1715 both containing the Sence of this Meeting th[at] the Importing of Negroes from their native Country and Relations is not a Commendable nor Allowed Practice w[hi]ch  Answers  and Sense is approved & th[e] Practice censured by the Meeting & this Minute is ordered to be Sent by Benja[min] Bealing to Friends In the Plantations abroad, as well as to th[e] Several Quarterly Meetings at Home.

Continue reading

The shadow of war

World War One affected everyone living in Birmingham whether at home or serving on the front line.  Our new exhibition Voices of War looks at the impact the war had on the lives of people from all walks of life, age and background.

Birmingham in the early twentieth century was a booming industrial centre.  It attracted people from many countries for the opportunities for work.  Birmingham had a small but significant Black community which we can see glimpses of in the archives.  We know that in there were groups of African American entertainers who would regularly tour the UK.  Some entertainers made their permanent home in Birmingham where there were plenty of employment opportunities available.

Gaiety Theatre playbill for Monday 28th August 1916

Gaiety Theatre playbill for Monday 28th August 1916

More details about the black community can be frustratingly hard to discover however.  Can you help us add any more information about lives of black people in Birmingham in the early twentieth century or before?

Frederick Johnson and the Small Heath Home Defence Corps, 1917

Frederick Johnson of the Small Heath Home Defence Corps, 1917

Men such as Frederick Johnson of Small Heath would be expected to “do their bit”.  Frederick Johnson served in the Small Heath Home Defence Corps who would be the first line of defence in the event of a German invasion.  Unfortunately we do not know anything else about Frederick other than his name and two photographs of him as part of the Corps.

The First World War brought about great changes in the lives of many women who lived in Birmingham.  opportunities to for paid and voluntary employment opened up as many of the jobs previously held by men were taken on by women.  The workforce of the industrial giants mushroomed: BSA employed around 3,000 workers in 1914 and by 1918 they had 13,000 on the books.  The Austin works at Longbridge employed 2,000 at the outset of the war which went up to an astonishing 20,000 by 1918.  Kynoch, another well-known Birmingham firm, also employed a large workforce – many of whom were women – to feed the demand for armaments.

Birmingham Win The War Day 1918

Birmingham Win The War Day 1918

This image shows a black woman on a Kynoch carnival float taking part in victory celebrations.  Perhaps she was one of the many women who did their bit making munitions for the soldiers at the front.

Birmingham Weekly Mercury 31st October 1914

The contribution of troops from all parts of the Empire was recognised by everyone and reported in the local press.  Over a million Indian troops were involved in the First World War effort – many giving their lives for a country that was not their own.

Birmingham Weekly Mercury 23rd October 1915

The press often relied on stereotypes in their reporting of these contributions.

Children too were a key part of the war effort.  Every child would probably know a family member or teacher who went to fight.  Schools were at the forefront of campaigns to raise funds for the war effort and children were actively encouraged to think about how they could play their part.

This class at Nelson Street School in Ladywood, pictured here in 1913, would have been expected to play a part in raising funds.

nelsonstsch

Brick League Album, Nelson Street School (MS 2219/2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These little girls, including the girl on the second to back row who was part of Birmingham’s small but growing black community, would have helped raise money and knit “comforts” (socks, scarves, balaclavas etc) for men at the front.

The Voices of War exhibition looks at a whole variety of experiences of Birmingham’s people in World War One – why not come to the Library of Birmingham Gallery to explore more.  The exhibition runs until the end of December 2014.

Rachel MacGregor, Collections Curator

A thousand trades, a thousand stories

William Westley, 1731

William Westley, 1731

Birmingham is well known as a city of 1,000 trades but it might also be a city of 1,000 nations.  Trade has brought people from far and wide to live and work in the city and a look at the censuses from the nineteenth century reveal people coming from across Europe and the “East Indies” (South Asia) and the “West Indies” (the Caribbean).  In 1871 we find Paul Paulson and his wife Eliza, both singers, living in Coleshill Street near Dale End.  Paul was born in the East Indies – we can only guess as to his heritage.  Meanwhile over in Lichfield Street at the same time John Patnapally, a hawker and his wife Mary Ann,  was born in Mumbai and we can suppose his heritage was probably in part at least  South Asian.  There are equally large numbers of people from the West Indies – sometimes the census gives us a place, as in the case of Matthew, a clerk, and Matilda Hyman who were living with their daughter Lizzie, a teacher, in Albion Street.   He and his family were born in Kingston, Jamaica, part of a large Jewish community in Jamaica where they had settled, felling persecution in Europe from the 1530’s onwards.

The Hyman family shared the house with a boarder, Julius Scott, who was from Prussia, probably part of the Scottish Prussian Community established through trading links in the Middle Ages.  We know that Matthew Hyman was Jewish, as his burial at Balls Pond Road Jewish Cemetery in London is recorded in 1882.

Birmingham has always been a city of vibrant diversity with thousands of stories waiting to be told.

Rachel MacGregor