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Exhibition “sets the record straight” on black history

HISTORIC: New BCA building invites the public into unique culture experience

THE ARRIVAL of the SS Empire Windrush in Tilbury, 1948, is often considered to be the birth of the black experience in Britain. But a new “captivating” cultural exhibition aims to challenge the belief that black people did not have a presence in the country before this mass migration 6 decades ago.

Set in the Windrush Square in Brixton, the Black Cultural Archives’ (BCA) £7 million project promises, not only to uncover and explore the remarkable, untold history and contributions of black people throughout the centuries, but also to provide new opportunities for black businesses and widen the current Eurocentric curriculum.

Paul Reid, director of BCA, said the opening of the archives, which started out as two houses, represent a great victory and the recognition of the importance of black history.

“Words fail me because it has been a momentous effort to get to this point. After the baton has been passed from one generation to another, I feel so privileged to be in a situation where I can really put this on map.”

The exhibition, Reid said, is “consistent with the vision of the founders” whose aim was to “set the record straight”.

“It begins to confirm the fact that black history goes back to Britain’s origin. Black people have always been in this country. Most people don’t know that and don’t have any evidence base to study. So there needs to be a repository and a focus on that experience.”

He added: “It shows that our presence does not merely amount to time spent here, and it encourages us to really value our experiences and the efforts we’ve made.

“This will not only elevate us as black people, it will change our relationships with everyone because we will finally understand that we are not just passing through, we are a part of the fabric and we are here to stay.”

The state-of-the-art heritage centre is said to be the first of its kind and holds the leading independent collection dedicated to the history and culture of African and Caribbean people in Britain.

Reid described interactive projections, tables, and live re-enactments - which he hopes will “bring the history alive” and give the community “the opportunity to value the extraordinary efforts of ordinary people.”

He said: “If you come past the building at night we want you to see projections of history and culture on the wall. The windows in our buildings are huge and transparent and it is all about inviting people in.

“Once you do get through the doors you will find interactive technology and actors dressed in period costumes. Hopefully this will really connect people to the experiences.”

He added: “It is about preserving people and achievements that will otherwise become invisible or evaporate from our consciousness.”

The BCA officially opened its doors to the general public yesterday with performances and speeches from high profile artists and academics.

The archives will also be working with schools to create learning material for key stages 2, 3 and 4 and present information in assemblies or specific tutorials. Reid also outlined plans to create opportunities for businesses.

“There are all sorts of supply chains attached to the work that we do and so there is an opportunity for businesses to offer us their services.”

Leader of Lambeth Council, Cllr Lib Peck said: “Many people have worked extremely hard to make this happen. I’m confident that it will deliver interesting and stimulating new exhibitions, collections and learning opportunities for all the people of Lambeth.”

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said he was “delighted to be supporting Black Cultural Archives.”

He added: “With a collection that stretches from Roman times to the present day, I hope it will become an important resource for schoolchildren, researchers and scholars, underpinning the role that Black people have played in British history.”

Professor Gus John, associate professor of the Institute of Education - University of London said: “This is the realisation of a dream; a living monument to a vision. A ‘living monument’ in that it is not just a place for storing and exhibiting iconic objects or stories about dead Diasporan Africans.

“It is a space that connects the past with the present and helps to inform and shape the present before it becomes past. So, it is a place for conversations, for creative expression, for critical thought. It is a place that is making history, even as it helps keep our history alive.”

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