In what appears to be a goodwill gesture towards Britain’s black communities, London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson announced this week that the UK’s Heritage Lottery Fund and the Mayor’s office would be financing the development of a Black Cultural Archives centre in Brixton, south London.
The lottery fund will provide £4m and the Mayor of London will contribute £1m to help house the Black Cultural Archives.
The mayor’s office said in a statement, “… this investment will turn currently derelict Grade II Raleigh Hall in Windrush Square into a permanent home for BCA’s wide-ranging collection of historical material relating to black Britain and the African Diaspora.”
According to Johnson, the centre, “will house a wealth of historical material about the contribution of black people to British society. It will be a wonderful new cultural centre for London, but also for the UK, giving scholars a greater understanding of our country’s rich heritage and inspiring people of all ages and communities.”
This latest move by Johnson is likely to be regarded as a conciliatory gesture towards Britain’s African-Caribbean, Black British and African communities. Earlier this year he came under fire for slashing funding for a series of high-profile multicultural events, including Black History Month and Africa Day.
The Guardian cited figures that purportedly show the mayor had cut a series of events staged in October to celebrate Black History Month and black culture in London from £132,000 to £10,000. A grant of £100,000 from the London Development Agency earmarked for Africa Day celebrations was axed. Black History Month is held annually in the UK in October.
Ironically, a day after the Guardian revealed the mayor had slashed funding for Black History Month, ten teenagers from schools in Islington, north London, were invited to the White House to meet with Michele Obama after winning a Black History Month essay contest, in which they wrote about the experience of African and Caribbean migrants in Britain.
The BCA archive collection is estimated to number over 10,000 historical documents, spanning five centuries, and will include letters, personal papers, periodicals, ephemera and photographs.
The project is a joint venture between the BCA and Lambeth Council and will provide permanent accommodation for black cultural artefacts and archives in a controlled environment within the UK for the first time. Lambeth Council will chip in with £910,000 over five years, and has granted a 99-year lease for Raleigh Hall which will be refurbished to facilitate the project. The plan is to create new exhibition space, a visitor centre, an interactive orientation area, a reference library for students and the general public, as well as conservation spaces and a new extension to provide integrated storage.
Chairman of the Black Cultural Archives, Matthew Ryder called the plan to create a new home for the BCA “an historic moment” and said it would enable the centre to become a global resource and a leading heritage site in London.
Councillor and leader of Lambeth Council, Steve Reed said black people would be able to “come and explore their own history” at the new centre, “while people of other backgrounds will be able to come and celebrate the major contribution Britain’s black communities have made to our national life and our shared culture”.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is on a roll. He has announced a series of Black History Month celebrations and long-term engagement with Britain’s black communities. To mark 50 years of African Independence, the Mayor gave his support to a weekend of live music celebrations in Trafalgar Square, a lecture chaired by Dr Hakim Adi and an Ambassador’s reception with representatives from all the African states.
He also announced plans to travel to venues across London to hold a series of “community conversations” with the residents, particularly black families, to discuss knife crime and other key issues and to get more black men involved in his new mentoring scheme which aims to recruit 1,000 males to mentor young black boys.
News of the impending creation of the Black Cultural Archives centre comes at a time when there is widespread concern about the UK government’s plans to cut funding to the arts by up to 25 percent.
Nevertheless, indications are a wide variety of interests are joining in celebrating Britain’s Black heritage and culture, if only just for October.
The national website of the NHS has created a dedicated site http://www.nhs.uk/blackhistorymonth to put the spotlight on black health heroes. It also profiles individuals from within the African and Caribbean community who are dedicated to improving the health and lives of others.
Cricketers from the West Indies who left their mark on the game in Hampshire are being recognised at a special Black History Month exhibition. Among those honoured were Gordon Greenidge and Malcolm Marshall who played for the county.
The recent airing of the movie “I Am Slave” on the BBC channel 4 may well have helped to motivate and inspire supporters of Black History Month ahead of the celebrations. The 90-minute film tells the story of Malia (Wunmi Mosaku) who, at the age of twelve, is taken from her home in the Sudanese Nuba mountains by Muharaleen raiders, sold as a slave in Khartoum and, six years later, is trafficked to the UK and ends up being enslaved in London. It was inspired by the true story of the Sudanese woman Mende Nazer who suffered similar atrocities. The film brought the British populace face to face with the reality that domestic slavery still exists in London and possibly other parts of the country. It was written by Jeremy Brock who won recognition and awards for “the last King of Scotland” and directed by Gabriel Range.
[I am a slave caption – Wunmi Mosaku; stars as Malia in I Am Slave, Channel 4’s harrowing tale of modern slavery in Britain Photo: Channel 4]