Our Collections

Thirty years ago, Len Garrison, a co-founder of  Black Cultural Archives, asked the question ‘Where are our Heroes, Martyrs and Monuments?’ From this, he and members of the community started a collection which would seek to redress the historical imbalance of the representation of Black people in Britain. The aim to construct a monument to collect, preserve and promote understanding of Black cultural heritage has been realised and at the heart of this will be the collections.

The community archive that was amassed over all these years was transformed in 2008 through a two-year project called ‘Documenting the Archive’ funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This brought in professional archivists working closely with a large team of volunteers to catalogue  Black Cultural Archives’ collections of books, objects, and archives.

The cataloguing project revealed how the collections document the hidden stories and experiences of Black people either through personal and family journeys or through the rich network of Black-led community organisations.  These both celebrate Black achievements alongside the strong sense of campaigning and resistance to racial inequalities.

In a small selection of collection highlights,  what was discovered was an assortment of enormous breadth and variety. Among the included artifacts is the 19th century receipt for an enslaved women, known only by the name Emeline; letters and photographs about the Edwardian Barbour-James family, gifted by the historian Jeffrey Green; extremely rare community produced campaigning newsletters and journals; a substantial set of material on the classical composer,  Samuel Coleridge Taylor; Professor Michael Banton’s research papers on issues of the ‘colour bar’ and immigration in mid-20th century London;  contemporary coverage of the uprisings of 1981 and 1985 which documents the increased racism towards Black people in Britain; flyers, posters and pamphlets of support groups, arts organisations and social and cultural events and a growing collection of oral histories in which Black people tell their own stories.

The collections are now accessible through our online catalogue or through our reading room which is currently open once a week to all. Since the reading room opened in 2009 we have had over 300 visitors to research the collections. As part of ‘Documenting the Archives’, consultant archivists, Jon Newman and Steve Martin, carried out a scoping exercise that identified important archives for us. This resulted in many people and institutions pledging gifts of archives to coincide with  Black Cultural Archives’ move to the new heritage centre and it also brought in the remarkable papers of Ansel Wong, Mike Phillips, Anton Phillips, the records of BASA (Black and Asian Studies Association) and Hansib newspapers from Arif Ali.

Alongside this, an oral history project of the Black Women’s Movement led to women associated with the project generously gifting archive material to BCA. This includes papers from Stella Dadzie, Jan McKenley, Valerie Mason-John, Martha Osamor, Makeda Coaston, Nefertiti Gayle. Combined with the 36 oral histories we now has very strong holdings on Black feminism.

The major development to the collection in 2011 has been the privilege of acquiring the Runnymede Collection. This extensive collection of books, reports, monographs, pamphlets, official documents, journals and articles documents race relations in Britain, 1968-2000. The subject areas covered include race relations in employment, education and training, housing and the inner-city, immigration and law, racism and ethnic minority communities, women, religion, politics, social services, health, policing and criminal justice.  The extent of the collection is c.5000 books and pamphlets and c.200 boxes of archives and it provides an academic backbone to all the issues of race which run through our entire collections.

In 2011 we have also been delighted to accept the Records of the Griot Foundation Trust; the Commission for British Muslims and Islamophobia Archive; Adele Ruth Tompsett’s collection on carnival, the Archive Resource on Carnival Studies;  the Papers of Sean Creighton; The records of Cultural Exchange Through Theatre In Education (CETTIE) and small collections including a selection of journals from Tuggstar; Papers of Gordon da la Mothe; material relating to ‘Big Up’, a volunteer project which is part of The Gay Men’s Health Charity’ (GMFA); and an oral history life story of the artist and community activist, George Kelly (Fowokan).

We are still seeking the memories which will continue to create a monument to Black presence in Britain and welcome gifts of letters, diaries, photographs, writings, ephemera (including flyers, posters and leaflets), press cuttings and rare publications.

All of this work could not have been achieved without the invaluable assistance of volunteers and community support. In 2010, ‘Documenting the Archive’ was highly commended for its use of volunteers by the first National Archive Volunteering Project of the Year Award. This year we have had the pleasure of working with Charmaine Bynoe, Nathan Edwards, Lisanne Holly, Etienne Joseph, Gillian Mason, Pauline Brooks-Belo and Antonella Thomas who have collectively made a significant difference to our collections. We are always looking for volunteers to contribute to our project, especially as we get closer to our move. Please do get in contact if you would like to volunteer.

If you would like to discuss contributing to the archive please contact Victoria Lane, Collections Manager by emailing  archives@bcaheritage.org.uk or telephone 020 3757 8500.

BCA members campaigning for a space for archives, c.1984

Bill of sale for Emeline, 1843 . Reference: EMELINE

Volunteers for the Black Women’s Movement oral history project

West Indian Union Students Football team



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