October has been Black History Month in the UK since 1987. We’re tempted to say that in Brixton, every month is Black History Month, and the place which is the constant proof for that is a great and unique institution: Black Cultural Archives, 1 Windrush Square.
The heritage centre opened in July 2014, after 33 years of organising by a group of black artists, activists, and teachers, who met during the uprisings of 1981 and decided to “create an archive that commemorated and educated people on the forgotten history of black people in Britain and offset the violence with understanding and education.” (Hannah Ellis-Petersen, ‘Black Cultural Archives unveils new centre in Brixton,’ 29 July 2014)
Dame Jocelyn Barrow, one of the founding members of the BCA and the first black woman governor of the BBC:
“[N]one of the museums or archives really reflected the lives of our community and of African and Caribbean people in this country. So one of the important things was to have an archive that reflects the African and Caribbean presence in this country, for the native population and for the children of African and Caribbean parents to understand why we are here, what brought us here and what are our struggles and achievements. It’s important there is a repository of those achievements. It’s taken years of hard work, struggle and constant pleading to people to get this on the mainstream agenda.”
BCA director Paul Reid:
“I personally believe that history and heritage has a functional role to play in addressing [inequalities and disparities]. It has a functional role to play in how people see themselves. (…) It’s in the oral history testimonies, it’s in the oral tradition, its in art, it’s in sculpture it’s in music. It’s always been there in culture, but it’s also in the records offices, it’s in the cemeteries, it’s in the hard documented evidence. So we want to combine those kinds of tangible and intangible heritage and start to tell fascinating stories through this archive, and I believe if we do that we actually do put something out there to get people to re-think who we are and who we feel we are.”
Dr Hakim Adi, a historian and trustee of the BCA:
“It shows black history is mainstream and is important in telling the story of Britain over the past 2,000 years.”
The first exhibition at the archive, Re-imagine: Black Women in Britain, explores narratives of Black women throughout history. It runs until 30 November. Admission is free, and the exhibition is accompanied by a multitude of talks and workshops, all well worth checking out.
Brixton Pound is proud to feature BCA’s founder, Len Garrison, on the B£1 paper note:
LENFORD (KWESI) GARRISON (1943-2003), Academic, community activist and co-founder of the Black Cultural Archives. Len’s life’s work was to catalogue the development of the black British identity and its history. Len co-founded the BCA in the heart of Brixton Market, Coldharbour Lane in 1981.
It was you, Brixton people, who voted for the Heroes and Sheroes that feature on paper Brixton Pounds, and on both the first and second edition notes, a number of Black Brixtonites are represented. We felt it was a big deal, and it constantly reminds us of the importance of history and representation.
On the B£5 is Luol Deng (born 1985), professional basketball player for the GB national basketball team and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls (now Miami Heat). Born in what is now South Sudan, Deng emigrated as a child and moved with his family to Brixton. There he joined England’s 15-and –under basketball team at Brixton Basketball Club marking the beginning of his basketball career.
On the first edition B£1 is Olive Morris, a radical political activist and community organiser who established the Brixton Black Women’s Group, and played a pivotal role in the squatters’ rights campaigns of the 1970s. Olive was born in Jamaica in 1952 and moved with her family to Britain aged 9. She was a Brixton resident from 1961-1975 and died at the age of 27 from cancer.
On the first edition B£10 is C. L. R. James, the Trinidadian journalist, historian, socialist thinker and anti-colonialist who chose to spend his final years on the ‘front line’ of Brixton.