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Father's black star legacy uncovered

TREASURE CHEST: Grace Quansah with her mother Esther Ackah and her father’s chest

A BRITISH museum storyteller uncovered a remarkable tale of her own last month when she found hidden documents linked to Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line in an old family trunk.

Grace Quansah, 51, was shocked when she opened the shipping trunk belonging to her late father, and discovered carefully packed items revealing the full legacy of his time working with the Black Star Line, a pioneering shipping company inspired by the Jamaican national hero Marcus Garvey.

“Black families often have trunks and chests around,” Quansah explained. “I had just never thought to open this one.”
Although her father passed away in 1976, his death at the young age of 45 caused the family immense grief. It was only last month, as her mother prepared to move from the family home in Hanwell, east London, that her father’s trunk was finally opened.

“The dust was overwhelming - we started coughing and everything,” said Quansah. “Imagine 35 years’ worth of dust!”
Inside were unexpected treasures: photographs, documents and even a sailor’s hat that told the story of Solomon Andoh Quansah, Grace’s father, and his voyages.

The original Black Star Line shipping company was established by Garvey in 1919. Funded primarily by black families themselves, Garvey astonished the world by purchasing the first ship in only four months.


ANONYMOUS ART: A picture featuring Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey and the Black Star Line

Although the original shipping line soon closed, it became a symbol of independent black economic power. When Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to claim independence in 1957, its president, Kwame Nkrumah was so inspired that he started a national shipping company with the same name, and even included a black star in the centre of the Ghanaian flag.

It was this ‘Black Star Line’ where Solomon worked as a radar operator. Mysteriously, his trunk contained a beautiful drawing of a ship with the faces of Marcus Garvey, President Nkrumah and the ship’s captain drawn above it. The artist is as yet unknown.

“We have a number of collections which have literally arrived to us in trunks and suitcases,” said a spokesperson for the Black Cultural Archives, the organisation which preserves and celebrates black heritage in Britain. “Often, archives have limited monetary value but may be of huge sentimental or historical value.”

Ironically, Quansah has spent years encouraging young people to tell their own stories through her organisation, WAPPY (Writing, Acting and Publishing Project for Youngsters) and works as a British Museum storyteller.

In an extraordinary full circle, she felt encouraged to speak earlier this month about her discovery at a reception for Marcus Garvey’s son, Dr Julius Garvey, during his recent visit to the UK.

If you think you’ve found a family treasure, contact the Black Cultural Archives or visit www.bcaheritage.org.uk. WAPPY will be holding an event for Black History Month at Hanwell Library on October 29. For more information, visit www.wappy.org.uk.

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