Liverpool's Black Community trail

The Liverpool Black community is the oldest in Europe. Follow the trail around the Museum of Liverpool to find out more.

By National Museums Liverpool

View over Sir Thomas Street from the Municipal Building, Liverpool (2002-04-18) by Peter Williams, English HeritageHistoric England

In the 1750's Black settlers included sailors, freed slaves and student sons of African rulers. Despite challenges, Black presence has grown and contributed to all aspects of Liverpool life. 

Black People in Liverpool (1976)National Museums Liverpool

African Connections

When the British slave trade was abolished in 1807, palm oil, timber, ground nuts and rubber were traded instead. Liverpool was a huge imperial port. African sailors like the Kru, originally from Liberia and Sierra Leone, settled here. 

The first known picture of Black people in Liverpool, 1776.
Courtesy of Liverpool Record Office, Liverpool libraries

Dick BensonNational Museums Liverpool

A seafaring tradition

Liverpool’s Black community has a strong seafaring tradition. Whilst some local people faced discrimination at the docks, others, like carter Dick Benson were well respected and enjoyed long careers working there. 
Image: Courtesy of the Benson Family

Dick mentored many young carters in their work. One such protégé Harry Wooding said, ‘Old Dick Benson taught me a lot. He showed me all the short cuts and how to load the timber, cotton, jute, iron, spades, how to load your flat wagon, how to go to the stables…the different railway stations.’ See in the Great Portland Gallery on the ground floor.

Black People in Liverpool (1976)National Museums Liverpool

The items on display here, including carved tusks, Nigerian costume, plaited mats, and jugs and pots all connect Liverpool and Africa in different ways. Some were brought to Liverpool by people who settled here. Others were made in Africa and traded, or brought home by Liverpool merchants. See in Global City Gallery.

Enslaved Africans worked in sugar production (1970)National Museums Liverpool

The Transatlantic Slave Trade

By the 1780s Liverpool was considered the European capital of the transatlantic slave trade. Vast profits helped transform Liverpool into one of Britain’s most important and wealthy cities. Liverpool ships sailed to West Africa and exchanged goods for Africans who were brutally transported across the Atlantic and sold. The slave ships then picked up sugar, cotton and tobacco grown on plantations by enslaved Africans and took these goods back to Britain. 

Supporters promoted racist attitudes to justify their brutal trade. Their racist legacy affects people in Liverpool today. Items on display include a slave branding iron (replica) and sugar cone. See in Global City Gallery.

Albert James and SistersNational Museums Liverpool

Early Communities

Some Black families can trace their Liverpool history back over 200 years. Imagine the 18th century port, home to the children of African rulers, freed enslaved Africans and Black veterans of the American War of Independence. Later, in the 19th century West African seafarers working on Elder Dempster Line ships settled in the city, enabling the already established Black population to grow. See in Global City.

Image: Albert James with his siblings, courtesy of Ray Costello 

Kingsman Harrison, Boxing (1982)National Museums Liverpool

The King’s Regiment

Kingsman Harrison was one of several Black boxers in the successful boxing team that won several army championships during the early 1980s. Black soldiers have served in the King’s Regiment as long ago as the First World War. See on Floor One.

Kingsman Harrison, out-boxing Private Flinter at the Army Inter Unit Boxing Championships, 1982.

Coloured Men InsultedNational Museums Liverpool

Racial Tensions

After the First World War around 5000 Black people lived in Liverpool. As servicemen returned home looking for jobs, community tensions grew. Riots broke out and a mob attacked a Black seafarers’ boarding house. 24-year-old Charles Wooton was chased to Queens Dock and murdered. See in Histories Detectives gallery.

Courtesy of Liverpool Libraries and Archives.

Toxteth Riots (1981)National Museums Liverpool

‘Liverpool 1981’ and the Toxteth Riots

In 1981 getting a job or moving outside of the Liverpool 8 area was hard if you were Black. In this edited version of a film made by Liverpool filmmaker Bea Freeman in 1984, Bea takes a closer look at the Black and white residents who fought back against unemployment, racism and police harassment in riots in Liverpool 1 and 8, later known as the ‘Toxteth Riots’. See in History Detectives gallery.

Claire DoveNational Museums Liverpool

The right to work

In the 1980s Claire Dove faced racism in her hunt for a job. Her response? Claire co-founded the Women's Technology and Education Centre (WTEC) to provide training for low paid and unemployed women. Today the centre, now Blackburne House, has helped around 20,000 women. Alongside Claire's Story, see Blackburne House represented in Mike Jones' painting 'Unemployment on Merseyside – campaigning for the right to work'. See in People's Republic gallery, floor two.

Anthony Walker (2005)National Museums Liverpool

Anthony Walker

In 2005 promising student Anthony Walker was murdered in Huyton, on the outskirts of Liverpool because he was Black and walking with his white girlfriend. His mum and sister, Gee and Dominique Walker, established a special Foundation to celebrate Anthony’s life and challenge racism. 'Colour Blind' was filmed in Liverpool to be shown in local schools to spread the anti-racism message in Anthony’s memory. See in People's Republic gallery, floor two.

Image: Courtesy of the Anthony Walker Foundation 

Glynn George Pratt (1980)National Museums Liverpool

Glynn George Pratt - Liverpool’s First Black Councillor

An ambassador for city politics, Glynn Pratt paved the way for others when he was elected in 1980. He later became chairman of Merseyside Association for Racial Equality, shop steward for Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and went on to join their board. See in People's Republic gallery.

Image: Courtesy of Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

Finding a voice - ‘The Other’

Discover more about Liverpool’s past with this film by Derek Murray and Curtis Watt (2011). They explore how discrimination based on religion and ethnicity has shaped the city for more than 200 years.

See in The People's Republic gallery.

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