Black History Month inspires

While our work on the four films in Whose History? is complete, and we’re now in the new and exciting phase of releasing them (the first, ‘Hey Joe’ went live on the University of Liverpool website last week), we continued to be moved and inspired by stories which resonate with those we set out to tell.

October is Black History Month, and we’re following the celebrations and conversations taking place nationwide. We’d recommend the University of Liverpool’s Black History Month Hub and the National Museums Liverpool programme of events.

Beyond Liverpool, we’ve been enjoying the start of Art UK’s special explorations of the many, diverse and vital contributions and legacies of Black artists and sitters. These include revisiting S. I. Martin’s brilliant 2020 essay, ‘The Neglected History of Black Mariners’, based on Black Greenwich Pensioners, the exhibition he curated at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. This told the story, through visual art, and records held in the College, which was formerly the Royal Hospital for Seamen, of the long neglected contribution made by Black mariners to the Royal Navy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The exhibition profiled remarkable individual stories, while drawing in the fascinating broader historical contexts which these mariners both experienced and shaped. There is a special resonance with ‘Hey Joe’, which takes as its focus the memorial for Black Merchant Seamen in Falkner Square, and is deeply rooted in stories – both national and personal – of the contribution of Black merchant seamen made during the Second World War. You can continue to explore items and stories from Black Greenwich Pensioners online.

Finally, this week in London saw the unveiling of an English Heritage blue plaque on the London home of William and Ellen Craft, a couple who with great courage and ingenuity escaped from slavery in Georgia in 1848, and made their way to London, where they settled in Hammersmith and were instrumental in establishing the London Emancipation Society. It was the national network of campaigners calling for abolition at this same time, in the 1850s, who welcomed Frank and Mary E. Webb. Mary, and her stirring dramatic performances, are the subject of our Whose History? film ‘Let Her Witness It’, which will be released next month.

The public recognition of the Crafts’ heroic achievements and vital contributions to the campaign for racial equality and social justice is a cause for celebration and reflection. But as a story in the Guardian emphasises this week, only 2% of blue plaques in London commemorate the lives, achievements, and legacies of Black people in the capital. The work of recognition and restoration continues.

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