The Development of Black Cultural Archives

Through our collection, gain an insight into how the education movement led to the ideas of a Black archive, today known as Black Cultural Archives (BCA).

Images and reflections, section one: Image and Identity (1979) by African Caribbean Education Resource ProjectBlack Cultural Archives

Len Garrison and Community Education

The ACER project worked in partnership with, and was supported by the Inner London Education Authority and sought not only to fill a growing demand by schools for anti-racist educational resources but also, that Black children also needed to see positive representations of themselves within school curriculum materials in order to increase self-worth and subsequently lead to greater achievement in school. However, unlike the growth of the Black Supplementary School Movement, which provided additional learning opportunities to Black children outside of mainstream schools. The initial aims of the project were to establish a multi-cultural resource library, research and development, the research and development of curricula, the training of teachers in multi-cultural educational skills, the development and distribution of a selective bibliography of multi-cultural resources. The overall purpose of the organisation was “to collect and disseminate material drawn from the African and Afro-Caribbean sources related to the black child’s cultural background for use in the multi-cultural classroom.” 

This issue of 'Images and Reflections' journal explores the inherent cultural bias that existed in schools around the 1970s and the impact this had on students. The articles in it sought to raise awareness about educational inequalities that Caribbean students faced during this time.

Resources for Anti-Racist Education Resources for Anti-Racist Education (1985) by Len GarrisonBlack Cultural Archives

This is a collection of articles about various aspects of education and issues affecting the African-Caribbean child. ACER felt that it was vital that all children, Black and white, should encounter positive representations of all cultures within the mainstream school system

Resources for Anti-Racist EducationBlack Cultural Archives

ACER was funded by the Inner London Educational Authority and based in Wyvil Primary school in South London. Authors in this piece include Len Garrison, Wesley Kerr, Barry Troyna, and Paul Boateng.

Black Youth Annual Penmanship Awards 'Winning Essays 1983' Black Youth Annual Penmanship Awards 'Winning Essays 1983' (1983) by Len GarrisonBlack Cultural Archives

The ACER project also created the Black Youth Annual Penmanship Award, an annual writing competition that was designed to provide a platform for young Black people to engage with writing and literature. A number of Black professionals - including music critic Clive Davis, and novelist and barrister Nicola Williams - received the award in their youth.

Black Cultural Archives (1980) by Black Cultural ArchivesBlack Cultural Archives

From Community Education to Community Archives 

 The direct origins of BCA can be found in the convergence of two separate events; the aftermath of the disturbances of 1981 and a visit to Britain by African-American activist, Queen Mother Moore, in addition to the founders’ focus on education.  One of the catalysts for the uprisings across Britain, including Brixton in 1981 was the poor educational attainment and lack of job prospects highlighted in Coard’s work almost a decade earlier. One of the responses from the community was to continue focusing on education as a catalyst for change. The desire to form BCA was discussed in terms of not only creating a physical monument to Black history within Britain but also to provide educational resources to promote positive self-image and increase pride and historical awareness within the community to continue the work of ACER. 

Architects plans and drawings for Somerleyton Road (1984)Black Cultural Archives

Garrison and the other founders took up Queen Mother Moore’s call to start a monument, forming the African People’s Historical Monument Foundation (APHMF), BCA’s official charity title. The APHMF set about to create an archives project, known as the Black Cultural Archives project, a title that has become our working name. The original Board, also known as the Executive Committee of the APHMF included some of the people who had bought Queen Mother Moore over to the UK and were part of a Rastafari organisation based in Brent, ‘The Tree of Life’ including Askala Miriam and Makeda Coaston. The original board also included Richie Riley, Habte Levi, Ras Cosmo, Sheridan Tomlin, Lambeth Councillor Amelda Inyang, Gloria Cameron JP, Byron Moore (Adviser, UNIA, Jamaica) Pat Clair and Jim Clair.

Drawing of Len Garrison (1991) by Gordon de la MotheBlack Cultural Archives

However, it is Len Garrison who is best remembered within the organisation as one of the founders of the organisation and who was the Chair, steering the organisation until his death in 2003. BCA’s collecting spans nearly 40 years and BCA has a wide range of material. From the outset BCA collected material on a number of different formats, from objects to library books and audio and video formats.

The early part of BCA’s collecting practices were defined by Garrison as undertaking historical recoveries of Black British history, reflecting Garrison’s interest in providing resources to overcome historical omissions and distortions. The early collecting strategy of the organisation was grouped into four categories, firstly focusing on material that reflected ‘Black contemporary life history (1960-present)’; followed by the ‘history of Black people in Britain (1900s-1950s)’; then ‘The Atlantic Slave Trade’; and finally ‘Ancient historic past of Black people in Europe (208 AD-1890s).

The early collections were sourced from antique dealers and second-hand shops in markets and on Portobello Road and formed the backbone of the collection and highlight the contributions of Black communities prior to the 1948 ‘Windrush’ narrative. Some of this early material has created one of the largest existing collections of the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. These early purchases form the basis of the BCA’s holdings, and with the ephemera collection remains one of the largest and key collections within the archive, offering snapshots of cultural and political activity at community level.

Explore the present day Black Cultural Archives site in Brixton, through Streetview.

Queen Mother Moore (1990) by Black Cultural ArchivesBlack Cultural Archives

Queen Mother Moore

Born Audley Moore in 1898 in Louisiana, USA, Queen Mother Moore spent most of her life involved in activism and politics focusing on the liberation of Black people. During the 1920s Moore joined the Garvey movement and although she a friend of Garvey, Moore left the Garvey movement and later joined the Communist Party becoming secretary of the New York branch. Moore left the Party in 1950 when she became unhappy with the Party’s stance on colonialism. 

OWAAD Papers relating to women's issues, immigration and educationBlack Cultural Archives

From the 1960s until her death in 1997 Moore became involved with the Black Power movement, spearheaded the Reparations movement and raised women’s issues in West Africa. Moore gained the honorary title ‘Queen Mother’ whilst on a trip in Ghana.

OWAAD Papers relating to women's issues, immigration and educationBlack Cultural Archives

In 1982 Moore came to Britain on a speaking tour to urge “our Brothers and Sisters here to join in the development and building of a great monument in memory of our lost ancestors and freedom fighters.” Moore goes on to describe the monument as “a comprehensive international depository of African life and culture and a meeting place where we could develop the strategies and resources needed to continue the struggle for liberation.”

Support the Black Archive badge, Black Cultural Archives, 1980, From the collection of: Black Cultural Archives
Show lessRead more

Today at BCA we continue to collect and make accessible our archives following the original mission of our early founders, keeping education at the heart of what we do.

Visit Black Cultural Archives

BCA is the only national repository of Black history and culture in the UK. Our unparalleled and growing archive collection offers insight into the history of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain. Our work recognises the importance of untold stories and providing a platform to encourage enquiry and dialogue. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Black Cultural Archives
A celebration of Black History is a celebration of British History
View theme
Google apps