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Preserving stories of the past

ALL CHANGE: Bus conductor in 1977 gives money to a passenger

WHEN JOE Coleman left Ghana to come to the UK in 1968, the then 22-year-old had two goals – further his education and eventually return home.

But for two-and-a-half decades a series of coups in Ghana put paid to Coleman’s hopes of going back home.

“Ghana started to go downhill after they overthrew (President Kwame) Nkrumah,” Coleman told The Voice.

“A lot of people were unable to go back home. We always hoped things would get better but... the instability prevented us from returning so we decided to settle here.”


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GOOD SPORT: A man, with two of his children, tunes his transistor radio at West Ham Park, east London. He was waiting to watch a cricket match between the local police force and West Indians on August 3, 1977. The match was arranged to improve community relations. This picture was found at Brixton Library.
(Photo: Copyright Colin Davey/Evening Standard/Getty Images)

Then a science student, he joined his uncle in south London when he first came to the UK, but soon settled in Newham, east London.

He was drawn to East End, he said, due to the cheap rents and a community spirit that created a homely environment.

“You could buy African food and be among people who shared the same backgrounds and beliefs,” recalled Coleman, now a retired electronics engineer.


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The 66-year-old said: “There were a lot more ethnic groups in east London and life was probably easier here.”

CHALLENGES

But the East End had its challenges. “Racism and prejudice created problems,” Coleman said. “At that time, you were always afraid of being attacked. Believe it or not, white people were scared of black people; you seldom suffered one-on-one racism."

“If it was night time and you walked down an alleyway or dimly-lit street, it wasn’t uncommon to hear five or six men telling you to ‘go back to the jungle’. If you were foolish enough to respond, they would attack you and run away.”


NEW LIFE: Migrants arriving on the Empire Windrush
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“Racism was much worse in those days, but thankfully life has improved and youngsters don’t suffer the things we had to endure when we first arrived.”

Coleman’s story is one of many researchers are hoping to include in an exhibition that will highlight the contribution of black Londoners to the East End.

They want to hear from migrants from the Caribbean, Ghana and Nigeria for new retrospective, the PAST project.

Researchers are seeking those who have lived or worked in east London boroughs Hackney, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Newham since the 1950s and 1960s, who are willing to share their pictures and memories as part of the exhibition.

The project is being organised by the African Heritage Educational Centre (AHEC) and will coincide with the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Christine Borsah, AHEC’s director, said: “This was a very important time in the history of east London.

MEMORIES

“The face of the area is changing more now than at any other time and these memories will be documented, archived and exhibited as part of the London 2012 Olympic Games.”

The project has received the backing of a number of leading black Britons.

Among them is current Olympic 400 metres champion, Christine Ohuruogu. She was born in Newham and raised by her Nigerian parents, less than one mile from the Olympic stadium in Stratford.


ALL ABOARD: West Indian arrivals at Victoria Station in London in 1956
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The 27-year-old said: “I went to school in West Ham and, even though it was only minutes away from my house, I was always late.  It was only when I went to secondary school that I met other people also from multicultural families, and we are still in touch.

“We spent happy times talking about how proud we are of our heritages.  I love living in this multicultural society and think it makes you a more rounded person.”

Politicians Diane Abbott and Lord Boateng have participated in the retrospective. Ms­­ Abbott spoke about the contributions migrants have made to their communities.

The Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP said: “Hackney has always been a centre of migration, and in the 1960s and 1970s many people came here from the Caribbean and faced tough challenges. Migration has really helped the East End and that’s why it’s a diverse place, an exciting place and one which is culturally rich.”

The AHEC, which runs workshops in local communities to promote positive understanding of African heritage and culture, said it wants to record as many memories as possible to safeguard the history of the area, and they are calling on individuals, private or public organisations with stories to share, to get in touch.

To volunteer or participate, log onto www.ahec.org.uk/ or call AHEC on 020 8558 6811.

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