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Contribution of Africans shown in Hull’s history exhibition

OBJECTIVES: (L-R) Dr Carolyn Conroy, Dr Lauren Darwin, Gifty Burrows

A MISSION to explore the presence of Africans in one northern city has proven that black people have helped to put the “Great” into Great Britain.

A burning desire to show the true picture of diversity in the North East led one woman to start a project that has become a successful exhibition and uncovered some extraordinary family histories. When Gifty Burrows founded the William Wilberforce Monument Fund in 2013 her main objective was to raise funds to light the Wilberforce monument in time for the Hull UK City of Culture 2017.

The project also saw the gilding of the scroll in Wilberforce’s right hand to bring to prominence the significance of the act to abolish the slave trade.
But determined to show that people of African descent were living in the city long before the Windrush era, Ghanaian born Gifty and her team were granted £39,100 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to delve into the history of the area from the 1750s to 2007.

“The African Stories project evolved from wanting to bring a greater understanding of black people’s contribution to this region’s social history, especially to those people who aren’t familiar with people from a different background.

“Too often, history is concentrated on a narrow view and our project has always aimed to broaden that and to show the true face of the people that make up this space,” Gifty said. Working with three other team members: Dr Lauren Darwin (lead researcher); Dr Carolyn Conroy and Thomas Burrows (web managers), Gifty has managed to make her dream a reality.

The African Stories in Hull and East Yorkshire Project has been showcased at Hull History Centre since September and features educational resources, narratives and photographs. But what has really engaged the wider community has been the collation of oral histories cataloguing the experiences of
individuals from the area.

Such as that of Hilda Mainprize – her father was an English seaman who travelled the world and would often visit Africa where he met her mother.
They eventually settled in England in 1964. And there is Aubrey George Bowers, a Jamaican sailor from Kingston who settled in the port of Hull during the early 20th century.

DETERMINED

When she first began the project, Gifty ignored claims that there was no such history to uncover...”but that determination I had to do this has proved them wrong. It is just a case of looking. In fact, we have discovered the presence of African people way back to the 1750s.”

“Many black people fought in both the First and Second World Wars and we have examples of that.

“The West Indians soldiers that came here were trained in Filey, which is a very small seaside town. Up to 4,000 men from the Caribbean were there at one point in a former Butlin’s camp. Now that would have created a stir back then.

“There was also a black person that fought in the Battle of Waterloo and he lived in this area. People wouldn’t think that any black people fought in those wars but they did.”

The project will now go on to host another exhibition, Our Histories Revealed, at The East Riding Treasure House in Beverley. Running from May to June, the ongoing research findings will again be available to the public and Gifty is once again appealing for the community to come forward.

“We are constantly looking for more stories. So, we are encouraging people to come forward with any information or anything they find that is pertinent to the collection, such as old photographs.”

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