Tag Archives: Black History

The Drum

The Drum Archive in the stores at the Library of Birmingham

Hi! I’m Davinia. I’m studying for a PhD in Sociology at Warwick University. I recently joined the archives in the new, voluntary position of research associate, and I’m working with the newly formed archive from The Drum arts centre, which sadly closed just over a year ago, at the end of June 2016. My project’s working title is called Learning from The Drum: Toward a decolonization of the arts in the UK.

The Drum

For any who may not know, The Drum was originally conceived in a series of conversations in 1986, then existed in a number of iterations in The Cave and The Big Peg until it was established in its Newtown building in 1995. The building was originally endorsed by the City Council as part of a series of ventures, intended to achieve social and economic gains for that part of the city. It was also created to provide an inclusive creative space for the city’s African, Caribbean and South Asian populations. In 2015 it celebrated 20 years of service to its local community and to the arts of the UK. But in March 2016, six months into this PhD and, incidentally, half way through Arts Council England’s creative case for diversity, The Drum closed its doors, and the consequences of this are yet to be fully comprehended.

The Drum closing its doors

Why Am I in the archive?

My project, now half way through, has changed a lot since it was proposed in 2015. Originally, it was to focus on how The Drum was working as an arts centre. I was to collaborate with Drum staff in using the archive of ephemera within the building to create an online platform that would help to connect the local population with The Drum’s history. I would then conduct interviews and workshops with staff, artists and audiences to discover whether and how engagement with that history served to connect people in the city to the place in which they live. Given the changes that have occurred, my project now aims to preserve the history of the organisation. I also want to understand what happened at the Drum, including its closure and the broader implications of this for the arts of Birmingham and the wider UK. This is where the Archive comes in.

Collating & Housing an Archive

When the Drum was closing, the staff, including me, were in constant contact with Corinna Rayner, Manager of Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, and together we embarked on the project of boxing up and labelling the Drum’s ephemera for storage. It came to over 200 boxes! Archives & Collections thankfully agreed to house The Drum’s archive, and the boxes arrived into the loading bay; a time of incredible relief for me. The Drum’s loss would leave a huge gap for many people, myself included. Once the archive is catalogued and made public, hopefully there will be a way of remembering all of the great work that it created and showcased over the years.

Following storage of The Drum’s archival material, my project is now also concerned with how the collection could best be made accessible to the centre’s former local and national audiences, and with connecting the history of the organization to other local histories, as well as to wider national and international histories. Thinking through this process is part of my project’s analysis.

Stay tuned for future blog posts on what I find as I root through the archive!



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

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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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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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,


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.

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