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lime Events & Activities feature: The Black Cultural Archives

Lime feature- Events & Activities

The Black Cultural Archives

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Lime Contributor

Reporter: Lime Contributor

Founded in 1981, the vision was to build a space dedicated to the history and culture of African and Caribbean people in Britain.

There is no a form of words that neatly rolls-up all the continued support and encouragement into a simple statement and therefore expressing the excitement and curiosity is no easy feat. It really is incredible how quickly people share their ideas and experiences about the importance of the Black Cultural Archives.

Our archive collection appeals to a variety of audiences for different reasons, some people are interested in fascinating narratives. Whilst others delves into the lives of everyday Black people who have accomplished extraordinary things. There are also those in search of the missing chapters in history and those who want to know more about their personal heritage and family history.

The common denominator is the journey of discovery as the general public become explorers of history, all grappling with a different part of a massive jigsaw puzzle. Visitors gain tremendous satisfaction during this journey and it is great to see how enquiry through our archive collection quickly turns into compelling conversation.

For me, my interest is two-fold. I am thankful for the opportunity to help to establish a heritage institution as a lasting legacy, acknowledging those on whose shoulders we stand. But I don’t do this to live in the past, but because I see the functional power of Black history to change lives. This includes a time in my life where race and identity were the single most important thing in the world; everything was viewed through a paradigm of race consciousness. At that point, I did not have the sufficient level of awareness or a language to express myself, there were no teachers to guide me through my journey of self-discovery.

These are crucially important areas for people of African and Caribbean origin. It’s not good enough to create a holding space to preserve the archive collection and consider that a job well done. So, as much as the Black Cultural Archives are handling documents, involved in research and delivering a public programme, we are also working with the fundamentals of personal identity, community and society. We have to do far more than just creating a space and encourage everyone to engage in dialogue that can bring about positive change.

Through sharing historical accounts and connecting visitors with the archive collection, basic assumptions, operating at conscious and unconscious levels, can be challenged. The significance of Black Cultural Archives then is one that influences our values, outlook and impacts our responses. Exploring the lessons of history continues to be vital to the future of our communities and to any understanding contemporary Britain.

We are certainly getting there and a few recent encounters immediately come to mind; the excitement from a young man and his friends who heard for the first time the Black Cultural Archives are opening a space dedicated to Black heritage in Britain. His response was simple, an outstretched fist and the word “touch”. Or the visitor who remained so engrossed that they became almost statue-like, were it not for the turning of pages. Or the Ghanaian family from East London who collectively became researchers of their own history, only to discover important documents covering generations of the family’s history stretching back to the beginning of the Ashanti war to present day Ghana. There are far too many examples to refer to one that marks the moment of when the pennies start falling into place.
Historians, academics and collectors have been championing Black history for many years. We are excited by the opportunity to reveal an inspiring Black heritage that stretches over nearly two thousand years in Britain, and to bring our collections alive for everyone to learn and enjoy. 

On 24 July 2014, the Black Cultural Archives will unveil a brand new heritage centre in the heart of Brixton, on Windrush Square. Located in the heart of Brixton, one of London’s most cultural diverse and vibrant areas, the new heritage centre will be this space for everyone, nationally and internationally, to learn more about Black heritage in Britain.