Monday, 17 February 2020

Croydon and All That Jazz

When I was in Sheffield on 31 January I ignored BREXIT and went to hear the Fergus McCreadie Trio at the Crookes Social Club. A friend is a member of the committee of the non-for profit Sheffield Jazz organisation run by volunteers which organised the evening.

The Club hall was packed with over 160 people seated at tables. Elsewhere is the building was a quiz night. All in all an excellent evening for the Social Club which used to be the Crookes’ Workingmen’s Club.

Sheffield  has a lively jazz scene. There is also Lescar Jazz, as well as jazz played at the Auditorium at the Sheffield University’s Students’ Union and the Crucible Theatre Studio. 

The McCredie Trio

The McCreadie Trio from Scotland write their own material influenced by the landscape etc of Scotland. They have released one CD so far and a second will be on sale later this year. I was impressed with the technical excellence and interpretative range  and showmanship of the trio.

They will be at the 606 Club in Chelsea on 4 March as part of a tour around the country. Croydon is not on that tour.

It got me thinking about other jazz connections and the jazz scene in Croydon.

Jazz and Coleridge-Taylor

The old Fairfield Halls put on jazz. Two memorable performances were during the 2012 Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival. On  31 January a lunch-time concert included original compositions by students of the Croydon Music & Arts Piano Centre run by Fred Scott . Jefferson Tawaba performed  stunning jazz piece The Changed Story inspired by Deep River, a one-off improvisation. There were also lyrical performances of Miles Davis’s Freddie Freeloader and All Blues. The inclusion of jazz came about from a discussion Fred and I had.

Soundpractice Music run by Fred organised in February a performance by the John Law Trio. It included some jazz versions of the composer’s compositions presented. Fred is a co-founder of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network, who now runs the Phoenix Piano Academy at the re-opened Halls.

You may be puzzled at linking jazz and Coleridge-Taylor, who was a composer in the classical tradition.

Possibly  the best performance of Coleridge-Taylor’s Deep River is by jazz pianist Julian Joseph, which can be seen on You Tube at:
Joseph went to Allfarthing School in Wandsworth, as did years later Soweto Kinch.

In Dahomey and Southern Syncopated Orchestra

Coleridge-Taylor was enthusiastic about the smash hit West End African American show In Dahomey. William Marion Cook of the show went on to run the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, which helped introduce jazz into Britain after the First World War. Its members included Sidney Bechet. The teenage Ted Heath, whose father ran the Wandsworth Town Band,  joined one section of the Orchestra on one of its tours to Europe, and later backed Nat King Cole in the States.

Sidney & Daniel Bechet

Bechet was honoured in 2014 by a Nubian Jak Community Trust plaque unveiled by his son Daniel.

Daniel also performed at events organised by the jazz promoter Ra Hendricks. He arranged an excellent show at Le Quecum Bar & Brassiere in Battersea High St, an appropriate venue as Ra had been at school at St Walter’s St John’s just up the road.

The Rejected Jazz Package

Ra and I put a proposal for a jazz package of events involving Daniel and other leading jazz musicians for Croydon’s Ambition Festival to e beheld in 2015. It involved concerts of the songs that had been performed by sung by Ella Fitzgerald,  a Gary Crosby and Daniel Bechet concert, a play about Olaudah Equiano play (Total Insight Theatre Company), talks about Equiano, and Carmon Munroe in conversation. A  combined event bringing some of these elements together in  Voices of Slavery and Resistance including Crosby/Bechet performing jazz pieces on slavery and resistance including Bechet’s Voices of the Slave , and jazz versions of some of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s 24 Negro Melodies, inc. Deep River, spirituals and new jazz works inspired by Equiano. Musical elements of the programme would also be aimed at schools. It was rejected. We then offered it to Fairfield Halls management: rejected.

Other Nubian Jak Plaques

Other members of the Southern Syncopated Orchestra have also be honoured with plaques: Frank Bates 

and Peter Robinson: 

Previously Nubian Jak had put up the plaque to Coleridge-Taylor in Waddon as one of the final events of the 2012 Croydon Festival  commemorating the centenary of the death of the composer.

I worked with Jak on a schools project about John Archer Coleridge Taylor’s friend, black rights activist and Mayor of Battersea (2013-4) which led to a plaque on the building where his shop and flat used to be on Battersea Park Rd. Later I helped with another school project on Black Music in Britain 1900 from Coleridge-Taylor to the Southern Syncopated Orchestra.

Croydon’s Jazz Scene

It is difficult to find on the internet much happening on a regular basis, apart from at the Oval Tavern, and the lunch time jazz at the Clocktower Café on Thursdays between 12.15 and 2.15pm.

The nearest specialist venue near Croydon is The Hideaway near Streatham Station:

There are occasional jazz performances at Stanley Halls, like  the free one-day event on 20  November 2016 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. On 21 June 2018 Croydon's Gill Manly performed at the Halls and on 21 December last year the Lambeth based Endurance Steel Orchestra.  

Gill Manly

Katie Rose wrote about Manly’s formation of the South London Jazz and Blues Club in 2016. This initiative, however, did not last. Paul Dennis wrote about Manly in 2017

Gill Manly was involved in the Croydonites Drama Festivals in 2018 and May last year, details of which can be seen at

Her current CD - "Everything must change" is a collection of songs made famous by Nina Simone.

Manly is just one of several Croydon based jazz musicians whose details can be seen at:

Croydon Citizen remains a valuable collection of reviews about a variety of music events  including jazz at:

British Black History Seminars

I met up with Ra again last month at the first of the new British  Black History seminar series. Ra’s comment on the event was: ‘A larger auditorium is a must to cope with the fully engaged response to this initiative at the South Bank University . Both Professor Hakim Adi and Dr. Marika Sherwood were able to give an historical perspective from their many decades of struggle. As the late Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem constantly advised comrades: 'Don't Agonise! Organise!'’

My assessment of the seminar can be seen at:

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Reflections on the current state of British Black History. Part 4 - Responses to Parts 1-3

The following are responses to the three previous postings.

Martin Spafford

'Thank you so much for these, Sean. This is a really important piece of mapping out so much past and present work: so glad you’ve done this and I hope it goes far and wide.'

Additional Information to Part 3:
Stephen Bourne for Mother CountryThe Motherland Calls and Black Poppies.

The Africans in Yorkshire Project:

Image of the Black in London Galleries. From objects and subjects of economic capital to creators , developers and definers of cultural capital. The Image of the Black in London Galleries tours highlights the black presence to be found in the national art collections in London.

The John Blanke Project (Imagine the black Tudor trumpeter)

Professor Charlie Foy (re. Black Mariners)
Nelson Mundell (Glasgow University, Runaways project)

Fiona Rocher (Dales Countryside Museum):

David and Roxanne Gleave (Historical Roots): David and Roxanne are members of the Croydon Local Authors Group which I (Sean) co-ordinate.

Hans Klootwijk (Caribbean Aircrew in the RAF in WW2 website):

There are also increasing references to British Black history in the arts; e.g.

·   Jazz artist Soweto Kinch’s new album Black Peril focusing on the ‘race riots’ of 1919: 

Gazebo Arts’ upcoming March production of ‘Wanted’ featuring Olive Morris:;

·    ‘The Gift’ at Stratford Theatre Royal, about Sarah Forbes Bonetta:  

     Noor Inayat Khan appearing as a character in Nazi-occupied Paris the current series of Doctor Who:  

·    The 2014 film Belle, about Dido Lindsay 

Equiano Bust At Houses Of Parliament

Monday 29 April.  5pm. Putting Africa First Exhibition

Launch to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the African Remembrance Day Committee by Onyekachi, Chidi and Manassie Wambu and the 230th anniversary of the publication of The Interesting Narrative of The Life of Olaudah Equiano: or Gustavus Vassa, The African.

The African Remembrance Day Committee and the Equiano Society, in association with the British Library. Hosted by David Lammy, MP.

Upper Waiting Hall, House of Commons, to attend

Includes a reading from Equiano's Epigrams: The Interesting Narrative in Poetry' by author,  poet and writer John Agard, and selected excerpts from The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano: or Gustavus Vassa, The African read by the actor and director, Burt Caesar.

Tribute will also be paid to the late Bernie Grant MP, David Lammy's predecessor as Member of Parliament for Tottenham, whose vital support of and encouragement to the African Remembrance Day Committee must always be acknowledged in the narrative of the annual August 1st assembly. There will also be a reception.

(Thanks to Audrey Dewjee, Ra Hendicks, Michael Ohajuru, and Martin Spafford  for providing me with the information above.)

Audrey Dewjee

Audrey notifies me about happenings in the North so that I  can publicise them nationally.  She keeps in touch with people she meets at WHHBH Conversations and feel these meetings are a valuable source of contacts.  From time to time she exchanges information with other researchers in Britain and abroad.

Her comments on the blog are as follows:

I agree a new equivalent of BASA needs to be set up and with it a new BASA Newsletter, so that people can contribute articles and submit snippets of useful information such as parish record entries, as they did previously.

To me, the most important thing about BASA was its inclusivity.  Contributions from academic historians, independent historians, academics from fields other than history, county record officers, family historians and many others were welcomed.  BASA provided an opportunity for people to network and share information which no longer exists.  I think that we all owe a great debt of gratitude to Marika Sherwood and her colleagues for their past work.

I agree with Sean about the value of The Legacies of British Slave-ownership project at University College London.  The most amazing aspect of this project was that academic historians reached out to non-academics for assistance.  They treated those members of the public who responded with respect, and credited their efforts.  Directors of future University Black History courses may find it productive to engage with the public in a similar manner.  [In this connection, it is much to be regretted that the Legacies of British Slave-traders project proposed by Lancaster University was recently refused funding.]

I also agree with Sean that there is an important interface between African-Americans/African Canadians and Britain.  Many African-Americans came to Britain to escape slavery and racism and I feel it would benefit research on them (on both sides of the Atlantic) if more and stronger links could be built between historians in North America and Britain.

Sean’s comment that “While a lot of material was found in the archives and libraries across the North East during the 2007 Tyneside Remembering Slavery and Abolition project….it was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the interconnections with colonisation of the slavery business, the presence of people of African heritage, and the abolition movement,” resonates strongly with me.  The same applies to the work done in 2007 by the Dales Countryside Museum in North Yorkshire, for which I was lead researcher.

I would like to query Sean’s assertion that Asian groups moved away from the understanding that ‘Black’ was a political concept covering African, Caribbean and Asian history and culture,  so now most Black History Month programmes lack any Asian culture and history component.   Did Asians actively “move away” or were they not encouraged to remain?  Either way, I would like to see British Asian History included in any new BASA equivalent organisation.

I would like to add “lack of funding” to Sean’s comments on the problems of voluntary activity.  So much more could be achieved if more sources of funding were available for history projects.

At the recent meeting, lot of the discussion seems to have focussed on the teaching of Black History in schools and at universities.  But older people should not be forgotten.  They also need access to a more accurate version of British History if intransigent attitudes to race and empire are to be shifted. 

Black History in the North of England:

Many exciting events happen in London – such as the recent first event in the IHR Black British History Seminar Series (which I would have loved to attend).  Unfortunately the cost of transport and accommodation in London prohibits many of us in the North from taking part.  However, we create events of our own which are probably not known about in other parts of the country.  Several important exhibitions were produced in the last few years – for example Black Salt: Britain’s Black Sailors (based on the book by Ray Costello) which was on display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum from September 2017 to December 2018, and the African Stories in Hull and East Yorkshire exhibition Our Histories Revealed which opened in Hull in 2017 and later toured to Beverley and Goole.  More recently there was the War to Windrush exhibition in Bradford in 2018 and the highly successful Eulogy exhibition put on by the Jamaica Society in Leeds Central Library in 2019.

There are a number of very committed Black History researchers in the North who keep in regular touch with each other, exchanging items of mutual interest.  These include members of Diasporian Stories Research Group (Allison Edwards, David Hamilton, Chris Power, Joe Williams and myself), Gifty Burrows (African Stories in Hull and East Yorkshire project), Bill Hern of Historical Roots, Ray Costello, and John Ellis (who researches 18th and 19th century Black and Asian military musicians and soldiers and Royal Navy sailors), to name but a few.  Joe Williams has recently won several accolades, including a Points of Light award, for his Heritage Corner Black History Walk in Leeds.  I believe a good deal of work on Black History takes place in Scotland, but we rarely hear about it in England.

One would expect WISE (the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, Hull University) to be playing an important part in teaching about British Black History, but it seems to be concerned only with modern slavery at the moment.  Despite the importance of work on modern slavery and emancipation, surely WISE should also be encouraging research into the experiences of past enslaved people, especially those who settled in Britain

I try to notify people about happenings in the North, in the hope that people from other parts of the country may attend if they happen to be in the area.  I keep intermittent contact with several other researchers, both in Britain and abroad, to exchange information and this has resulted in some very rewarding joint discoveries.  

Co-operation really works – so I look forward to the birth of a successor to BASA and its newsletter, and the subsequent unearthing of much new British Black and Asian History.'

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Reflections on the current state of British Black History - Part 3

BASA on the internet

BASA was set up in 1991 as the Association for the Study of African, Caribbean and Asian Culture and History in Britain. In 1997 the Association changed its name to Black & Asian Studies Association (BASA). It ceased to be a viable organisation and its last newsletter was published in 2012.

BASA remains visible in two ways. Its website remains on the internet. It contains downloadable files of its activities on education, museums and libraries and commemorations. It also has a section listing the newsletters – the last being July 2012. The last few are downloadable. There is also a list by Marika Sherwood of the contents of the newsletters up to 2007.

A Video of a seminar in December 2018 reviewing BASA can be seen at:

There is also the parallel continuing BASA Jiscmail group.

Signifiers for Optimism

(as mentioned at the Seminar and some additional ones added since, inc. some longer-term continuing initiatives)

(1)    The History Matters Conference which Hakim Adi and others had organised in 2015 had led to initiatives like the Young People’s Project.
(2)    the MRES – History of Africa and African Diaspora programme Hakim leading at the University of Chichester attracting mature students.
(3)    Young Historians Project
(4)    the work carried out for the OCR GCSE module on migration.
(5)    the number of people campaigning on the issues on social media
(6)    the continued networking that takes place.
(7)    The What’s Happening in British Black History (WHBBH) conferences held twice a year.
(8)    The use by pupils in some schools of oral history to record the reminiscence of their grandparents before their stories are lost.
(9)    ‘The Black Curriculum’ – young Black British graduates promoting Black British history in schools.
(10)  Fill In The Blanks (Advocacy Academy) – south London sixth formers who took direct action.
(11)  The award-winning Our Migration Story website - – led by Claire Alexander, Professor of Sociology, at Manchester with an Advisory Board and contributors including Hakim, Marika, Martin, Miranda, Michael, and Ryan, Gemma Romain, Onyeka Nubia (Narrative Eye), Black Cultural Archives., Nick Draper (Legacies of British Slave-ownership) Margot Finn, and Madge Dresser ; it is rich in Black British history.
(12)  TIDE/Runnymede Beacon Fellowships in 2019 that worked with secondary history and English teachers who developed units of work on migration and empire which they then taught in their schools.
(13)  The TIDE/Runnymede report launch in Parliament which has the support of the MPs Helen Hayes and Dawn Butler.
(14)  Miranda Kaufmann’s workshops with secondary history teachers developing classroom work based on Black Tudors that teachers taught in their schools, shared in workshops at the Historical Association and Schools History project national conferences and wrote up in the HA’s Teaching History magazine.
(15)  The work done by Abdul Mahamud and Robin Whitburn writing the AQA Migration and Empire GCSE textbook and their Justice to History project – added by Martin since the seminar.
(16) Journey to Justice
(18)  The Black History Curriculum 2020 initiative:
(19)  Memorial 2007
(20)  Material about slavery, abolition and the black presence on the North East Labour History Society Popular Politics database which I edit at

Part 4 - is comments in response to the first three parts and additional information 

Reflections on the current state of British Black History - Part 2

Academic Initiatives

There have been encouraging developments in a number of academic institutions but we need to be cautious about their sustainability. Middlesex University axed Hakim’s previous Black History course and it took some time for him to set up the MRes course at Chichester. Over the years the Institute of Commonwealth Studies breathed hot and cold towards BASA.

Decisions are taken on whims like the recent Sunderland University scrapping its history department because few students were enrolling, justifying it to be in line with a new “career-focused, professions-facing” approach. This ignores the value of historical study to a range of jobs including Committee administration, research and policy jobs, which was the bedrock of my career. They could re-shaped the content to attract a more diverse intake. 

This contrast with Durham whose Black History Month programme I contributed to last year and later this month I will be working with the 90 students on its Violence and Memorialisation module.

Some institutions have been contributing for some time. Professor Alan Rice at the University of Central Lancashire undertakes interdisciplinary research across literature, visual Arts, film and history about the Black Atlantic and has published Radical Narratives of the Black Atlantic (Continuum, 2003), and Creating Memorials, Building Identities: The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic (Liverpool University Press, 2010. He is an example of the many academics who are engaged in broader community history activity, in his case in the Slave Trade Arts Memorial Project in Lancaster (2005) and event commemorating the mutiny of African American GIs in Bamber Bridge (2013).

The Legacies of British Slave-ownership project at University College London has been crucial in developing our knowledge of the involvement of Britons in the slavery business, how much compensation they were paid and what they invested in after the end of slavery in the British West Indies. It has also thrown light on the children of many white slave owners with their slave women. The major updating of its database adds considerably to our knowledge and will encourage further work at local level.

Recent welcome initiatives have been the appointment of Olivette Otele, who had been active in BSECS, as Professor History at Bath Spa University last November, joining David Olusoga who had become Professor of Public History at Manchester, and Dr Kennetta Hammond Perry as Director of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre at De Montfort University in Leicester. There was also Newcastle’s commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the award on an honorary degree to Martin Luther King.

There have also been positive developments since the September 2012 Blackness in Britain Conference held in Birmingham. Its promotional explanation stated: ‘People of African ancestry have a long history and tradition in the United Kingdom. This history has been hallmarked by a number of struggles for recognition and against discrimination. In the present context of global uncertainty, and the reshaping of the British welfare state, as well as the UK’s attempts to reposition itself in relation to Europe, it is essential that we examine the place of the Black population and the challenges that lie ahead in the future.

Academia should play a central role in researching and entering into the necessary debates about the future of Black Britain, however our voices have largely been marginalised within the British academy. The aim of this conference is to bring Black academics who are engaged in the essential work of researching the past, present and future condition of the Black population in Britain. We hope that this will be the first conference of many and aim to build a network of Black academics in the UK.

As this is the first conference we are purposely keeping the call for papers open to cover any topic that either has impacted or will impact on the Black population in Britain. Potential topics could include, but are by no means limited to: Education, Health, Black identity, Black spirituality, theology and religion, Migrations/Emigrations, The impact of austerity, Arts and culture, Black Europe, Black Britain in the global context and Black feminism.’

One of the organisers was Dr Kehinde Andrew, who has gone on to be Professor of Black Studies and Director of the Centre for Critical Social Research at Birmingham University, and a founder of the Black Studies Association. He was the keynote speaker at the WHBBH Conference in October 2016. Having had a chat with him at the end I emailed commenting on some of the issues discussed at the later Conference

‘The need for a solid foundation of Black History is vital if students are to understand the context of the non-historical black studies they will be exploring.

Your emphasis on the Diaspora is crucial. There is confusion over the issue of learning about African-American history and figures like Luther King. There is an important interface between African-Americans and Britain. The Diaspora interconnections also include African-Canadians, whose story apart from the Black Loyalists is little known about over here.’

I referred to the talk I gave on this at the 2015 Canadian Black Studies Conference organised by Prof Afua Cooper (Dalhousie) a talk with her in London at the Institute of American Studies, and a talk on the 18thC aspects at the BSECS in January 2016. 

‘If these aspects of the Diaspora are neglected then we will fail to understand the complex nuances.’

Andrew has been busy speaking around the country, such as his Back to Black talk in November 2018 at the University of Bristol. In last year’s Black History Month (BHM) took part in a series of events on decolonising the curriculum organised by the University of Sheffield’s BAME Staff Network and Sheffield Hallam University’s Race Network. He also gave the National Union of Journalists Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture. He will be lecturing on Race in the UK and in the current political climate at the University of Chester on 9 March.

None of these were included in my BBH blog postings because I did not receive details from anyone on my network. No mention was made of his work and activities at the Seminar, nor of that of Otele, Olusoga or Perry.

What can other Universities do?

A number of issues arose during my involvement in last year’s Durham University BHM activities and about which I shared my thoughts with University staff. Interestingly I was not told that Jason Arday, an Assistant Professor in Sociology, was involved in the Black History Curriculum 2020 project which published its report in January.

While a lot of material was found in the archives and libraries across the North East during the 2007 Tyneside Remembering Slavery and Abolition project for which I was the project worker, it was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the interconnections with colonisation of the slavery business, the presence of people of African heritage, and the abolition movement.

The University Library’s Special Collections has a wealth of material that has not yet been fully looked at. There are therefore different ways of exploring the archive material, such as looking at the most relevant collections such as the Grey and Huddleston papers, at listings that have not yet been digitised, and sampling uncatalogued material. The archive material on the funding of the University and the colleges in the 30-40 years following from the foundation may reveal benefactors to be researched to see how they made their money. A member of the academic staff had already started to do this with one benefactor. Material may also emerge from examining the funding of the civic society organisations from the charities, the churches, the Assembly Hall, etc.

These investigations could be carried out as part of student projects. This does not have to be limited to history students, it can encompass medical students looking at material such as by the abolitionist Dr Thomas Winterbottom, science students looking at steam engines, sugar milling, etc; and environmental students looking at issues around fertility of the West Indian islands which influenced the productivity of the enslaved and the valuation differences between islands in the compensation process. English literature and other culture students could look at the cultural life of the City and the County, and the contemporary books and tracts published in the region about slavery and abolition. Religion and theology students could look at the different Protestants sects, the differences in their attitudes towards slavery and involvement in the abolition movement, and the work of the local branches of the missionary societies in relation to the West Indies and Africa.

Durham was unique in that it had a link with Fourah Bay College culminating in published work about the relationship, especially the Africans who were awarded degrees and what they did afterwards. Some came to the University to study, such as George (later Coleridge-) Taylor.

It will take time to undertake all this work. During the process the following actions could be considered: talks in the year long University lecture programme to which the public is also invited; talks by the students in their Departmental seminars; offers of talks relevant to local history and community organisations across the County. Exhibitions can be mounted which should be kept for use in future years. A web area would put up research findings, and the text of talks. Articles could be included in relevant University magazines. Provision of information about these aspects of the history of the University should be provided to new students and staff, along with induction sessions for new students and staff as part of a promoting diversity understanding. Creative writing using the material that has been researched should be encouraged. Crucially is the need to catalogue unlisted material in the Archives, and ensuring that relevant print listings of the Collection are digitised, along with digitisation of key archive material.

Co-ordination of this diverse range of initiatives could be done through appointing: a Professor or Senior Fellow to have an overview of the whole range of research, to co-ordinate Departmental, College and Archive contributions, mentoring lecturers and students involved. That person would be supported by a Committee of staff, the Diversity Team chaired by a very senior member of staff e.g. a Vice-Provost.

Given the link between the former Sierra Leonean student at the University George (Coleridge-)Taylor, and the past interest of former music students in the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor consideration could be given to including in the music curriculum an examination of the latter’s life and music within the context of the whole range of British music during his life-time, the role of Black musicians, singers and dancers in Britain, the influence of Black music on him, and his activity for Black rights and anti-colonialism. His music should be performed in concerts sponsored by the University. A member of staff could be appointed to specialise in the music of the period.

These ideas may have relevance to the way other Universities begin to engage.

Given the work Miranda Kaufman and Michael Ohajuru have been seeking to encourage at the Institute of Historical Research, and the appointment of staff at other Universities, the question arises as to whether there should be a number of networked hubs, based on existing University initiatives at Birmingham, Central Lancaster, Leicester, Bath, and Newcastle/Durham.

The Problem of Networking

A key concern about the future development of BBH is whether the different strands of BBH activity can ever be completely linked together. Of course the lack of unity is also the product of personality disputes and hostilities, differences in activists’ theoretical and ideological attitudes, and over strategy and tactics.

In the 1970s and 1980s ‘black’ was a political concept covering the African, Caribbean and Asian history and culture as reflected in BASA’s original name. Asian groups moved away from that understanding, so now most Black History Month programmes lack any Asian culture and history component.

We should continue to share information, network and build on the ways we can mutually support each other in the important work of re-telling British history, recognising the long Black presence and contribution and its importance in combating the racism which will continue to increase as a result of BREXIT.

Part 3 details BASA on the Internet and initiatives and projects which are signifiers for the optimism discussed in Part 1 and is at

Reflections on the current state of British Black History - Part 1

There was a general mood of optimism about the current state of British Black History (BBH) at the first of the new series of seminars held on Thursday 23 January. The field is in a much healthier state than a few years ago as BBH themes are increasingly being reflected in films and plays, taught in many schools, better recognised in several Universities, and there are many more resources available on the internet.

In conversation with Marika Sherwood and Caz Bressey Professor Hakim Adi was particularly optimistic while recognising that there are still problems to be overcome. The details for the optimism cited by him and several members of the audience, especially Martin Spafford, are set out below.

Hakim stressed that history is about the study of change and that ordinary people are agents in the process of change. He could not understand why some historians were not involved in the process of influencing change alongside their research and writing.

Problems to be overcome

He suggested that problems to be overcome included:

(1)    the continuing lack of teaching BBH in many schools despite the opportunities provided by the national curriculum, and in many Universities;
(2)    the unpopular view of history among African and Caribbean pupils because they do not see it as relevant – history is raised as the third least popular subject for Black school leavers in the UK;
(3)    the small number of black academics;
(4)    the continuing embargo on the public release of any surviving Government files on black activists of the past;
(5)    the lack of recognition and low level of funding of Black Cultural Archives; and
(6)    the lack of a national successor organisation to the Black & Asian Studies Association.

I would add to this the problems of all the Academics and Free Schools that are not required to follow the national curriculum, the problems of getting access into schools to support the teaching of black history, and the fact that so many teachers do not have the knowledge or the confidence develop their own resources. Lucy Mackeith added that there remained problems with museums over labelling exhibitions.

The importance of BASA

Hakim, Marika and Audrey Edwards, all Committee members of the former Black &  Asian Studies Association (BASA), argued for a new equivalent to BASA to be set up. Audrey is Treasurer of Memorial 2007.

In the course of the conversation Hakim and Marika mentioned some of the BASA initiatives in relation to influencing the national curriculum and museums and archives, some details of which are set out in Part 3.

There were several other former BASA members at the seminar including:

·    Kathy Chater whose book Untold Histories about black people in parish records continues to sell well;
·    the former teacher Martin Spafford who was particularly important in the work on the curriculum and who worked with Hakim, Marika and Dan Lyndon on the OCR GCSE Migration project, and who actively supports the Journey to Justice project;
·    Lucy MacKeith who continues to work on BBH in the South West;
·    Miranda Kaufmann whose work on Black Tudors has been very influential and who is one of the joint organisers of the What’s Happening in British Black History project with Michael Ohajuru of the John Blanke project who was also present. Both are advising the Institute of Historical Research on developing a BBH programme.
·   Caz Bressey, the seminar Chair who runs the Equiano Centre at UCL and who has worked on such subjects as Black Victorians.

BASA was important in many ways. It was inclusive, it enabled networking, it encouraged the sharing of information e.g. through its newsletters and encouraged people to submit information they found especially in parish records.

BASA - just one strand

While I owe BASA a big debt to my development within BBH activity, and served on the Committee and was Secretary for a while, BASA was only one important strand. When it was set up in 1991 the foundations had already been laid by a range of teachers, community groups, academics and publishers (e.g. New Beacon Books and Hansib Press), many of whom are still actively involved. Black Cultural Archives already existed. Peter Fryer’s Staying Power was a breakthrough in 1984 making large amounts of information as well as analysis widely available, and which has remained in continuous print. In 1987 the Greater London Council supported Akyaaba Addai-Sebo’s development of Black History Month.

Other important groups that have contributed to specialist BBH topics include The Equiano Society and the Windrush Foundation which were set up in 1996 under the initiative of Arthur Torrington and others. The Commission for Racial Equality published Roots of the Future. Ethnic Diversity in the Making of Britain in 1997. In London the Mayor’s Commission on African and Asian Heritage included Hakim, Caz, and Patrick Vernon and Colin Prescod, published its report Delivering shared heritage in 2005, whose recommendations should be re-visited. There have been BBH groups and projects in various parts of the country. Such as Northamptonshire’s Black History Association Sharing The Past. Northamptonshire’s Black History (2008).

Many local organisations took advantage of the funding available in 2007 to research and tell the real story of the slavery business and the black presence during the remembrance of the Act abolishing Britain’s official involvement in the slave trade. Jak Beula of Nubian Jak Community Trust has been the driving force behind the dozens of plaques to black people, the African & Caribbean war memorial in Windrush Square and the book Remembered In Memoriam, An Anthology of African & Caribbean Experiences WW1 & WWII. Jeffrey Green’s articles on aspects of black music led to a number of books including Black Edwardians (1998), on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (2011) and Black Americans in Victorian Britain (2019). Stephen Bourne has been a prolific author on Black actors and singers on British film and TV, and the Black contribution in both World Wars.

The contribution of others

Others attending the seminar included:

·   Ra Hendricks, the jazz promoter whose presence reminds us of the importance of Black music down the centuries, and who was a key figure in the erection of the plaque to Sidney Bechet.
·   Ryan Hanley, one of the convenors of the seminar series, who has worked with others to ensure that the nature of the slavery business and BBH has become an important part of the programme of the annual conferences of the British Society for 18thC Studies (BSECS) and at the International 18thC Studies Congress in July last year. The BSECS programme last month included papers among others by Miranda, Montaz Marche, Andrew H Armstrong. Nicola Westwood and Caroline Koegler.

Mention also needs to be made about:

·    Steve Martin whose work has included the black presence in Lambeth, leading history walks and novels for teenagers on black history themes.
·   Patrick Vernon whose contributions have included the 100 Great Black Britons website which had national impact, the declaration of the annual Windrush Day, and the campaign against the Windrush Scandal.
·   Audrey Dewjee, whose contributions include on Mary Seacole and BBH in Yorkshire.
·   Oku Ekpenyon, who was the BASA lead on the picture of Ira Aldridge placed on display at the Old Vic, and who chairs Memorial 2007.
·   Martin Hoyles readable books on William Cuffay, Ira Aldridge and Ottobah Cuguano (published by Hansib).
·   Robin Walker, whose When We Ruled (2006) about Ancient and Medieval African history was ground breaking, runs Black History Walks and co-authored Black British History. Black Influences in British Culture (1948 to 2016) (2017), a book of teaching and learning material for parents, guardians and teachers of secondary school students.

There are many other individuals and projects I could mention, who continue to share information and ideas, organise activities and network. New people and groups join all the time.

The Problem of Voluntary Activity

One of BASA’s fragilities was the nature of its members contribution as volunteers. This is a weakness of the organisation of WHBBH and is shared by thousands of community and voluntary groups regardless of what their field of activity is. If institutions, like Universities, major libraries and archives, and museums are genuine about wanting to make a positive contribution to develop extensive and robust networking and information dissemination they need to provide resources that will enable, for example, the details sent to interested individuals to be added to WHBBH’s database, and to supply support for the development of a news page.

It would also be valuable if there was a research project documents the research, publication and campaigning about BBH across all its strands, individuals and organisations, within the wider social-economic and political developments that influenced them.

Part 2 - the next posting considers issues relation to academic institutions at