Tag Archives: Black History

A glimpse into the history of the Indian Subcontinent

Photograph of Gandhi and title page in Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi by Dinanath Gopal Tendulkar (Ref 954.03 GAN)

The Library of Birmingham has a large collection of books in the Black History Collection relating to the history of the Indian Subcontinent, including the South Asian countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The majority of the materials are held in Archives & Collections. An initial open access area for this collection is near the map cabinets within the Heritage Research Area, where customers can read the books as reference material. Further books from this collection can be requested for reference from the “stacks”.

The collections policy underpinning the purpose of the Black History Collection can be found by clicking here. Built up over a number of years, the collection consists of many rare books, covering a broad range of subjects such as the births of nations, the Bengal Province, the Kashmir struggles, the separation of Pakistan, Bombay “The City of Gold” and Calcutta “The City of Joy”, the Maratha Empire, the Maharajas, major official gazetteers, travel memoirs, royal memoirs, the history of Bengal, royal visits to India, Akbar the Great Mogul and many more. It will be of interest to researchers, degree students, organisations and others with an interest in Indian history and the Indian Subcontinent.

With a colleague from the Archives & Collections team, I am currently busy with the checking, updating and uploading of entries from this collection into the library’s online catalogue. This update will make it possible for customers to view more listings online and the project also enables us to learn more about this fascinating collection.  As I am progressing with this project, I am drawn to the many titles by writers with a unique connection to India. Here are few examples: Continue reading

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Windrush Pioneers: learning more about the experiences of Caribbean migrants

One Of Henry Gunter’s publications on racial inequality ‘A Man’s A Man’ 1954 (ref MS 2165/1/3)

2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in Essex in 1948. The ship brought around 500 people from Jamaica and Trinidad to the UK. Many of the new arrivals were employed in state services such as the NHS and public transport filling post-war employment gaps. An article from the Birmingham Mail from the day that the Windrush landed is available to view online.

The Windrush has come to represent the beginning of greater numbers of people from the Caribbean moving and settling in the UK. This is an important part of the history of Birmingham and we see this legacy today in the make-up of the city.

In our archive collections at the Library of Birmingham we hold material which sheds light on the experiences of those newly arrived in the UK between the 1940s and 1970s. In this blogpost I will focus on two collections but there is more to be explored in the archives.

Campaigning against the colour bar

Henry Gunter was born in Jamaica but moved to the UK in 1950 which was only two years after the Empire Windrush arrived. Gunter, as a campaigner against racism and injustice, was at the forefront of issues black people making a new life in Birmingham were facing. Fortunately for us his writings were a key part of his campaigning activity, so these issues are documented in his archive (MS 2165).

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Library of Birmingham’s Black History Collection

During the existence of Birmingham Libraries, the Library of Birmingham has, over the years amassed a large collection of books which has been given the designation of the Black History collection. As the name suggests this collection does indeed contain material relating to black history but it also includes other topics including Asian History, Culture, Arts, the Black and Asian experience in the UK, and other diverse topics such as the climate and topography of the Indian sub-continent. The collection currently contains over 9000 books.  The Black History collection has grown from previous collections held within past departments of the library including Central Lending, Information Services and Archives and Heritage, with the library continually adding material to the collection. The collection is currently housed within the Archives and Collections Department of the Library of Birmingham.

This collection covers diverse subject areas including the history of Black footballers, for example Colouring Over the White Line by Phil Vasili [796.33408900] and Pitch Black by Emy Onuora [A796.334089];

Colouring Over the White Line by Phil Vasili [796.33408900] and Pitch Black by Emy Onuora [A796.334089]

and the history of well-known Asian politicians such as Nehru and Ghandi.

India from Curzon to Nehru by Durga Das [964.035 DAS], and an extract showing Ghandi with Lord and Lady Mountbatten

The collection includes Gazetteers, articles on the religions and customs of indigenous peoples and geographical descriptions and illustrations from numerous countries such as Africa, the Caribbean, India and the Indian Sub-continent, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal etc. For example, this illustration from the book Tunis it’s land and people by Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg from 1882 [961.109] shows the harbour of Tunis.

Tunis it’s land and people by Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg from 1882 [961.109] showing Tunis harbour

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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!

Davinia.

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

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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