On Saturday 19th May, the Young Historians Project (YHP) went to the Museum of London Docklands to be part of a day commemorating ten years of the museum’s Sugar and Slavery gallery. We got to showcase some of our previous work on the Black Liberation Front (BLF) and talk about our upcoming project on the lives of African women who have worked within British healthcare. More broadly, the event, which was subtitled ‘Reflections and Responses’, served as an invaluable chance to consider the place of black people within British historical narratives.
While there are places where Britain acknowledges people of African descent as an essential part of its history (the gallery standing for ten years is a testament to that), it’s still far too rare. This is one of the key reasons why YHP exists. Throughout the day we were encouraged to discuss questions with our tables and stick up post it notes with our thoughts. One of the first prompts was to reflect on the 2007 commemorations that marked two hundred years of the Slave Trade Act 1807, which prohibited the slave trade within the British Empire. People described them as “quickly forgotten” and “too short term.”
YHP featured on the day’s third panel, ‘Interpreting Histories.’ We explained that YHP was set up in direct response to the low numbers of young black Brits studying history and showed a trailer of our BLF documentary. The panel gave us a chance to share what we’d learnt about the BLF through interviewing former members. It was also important for us to acknowledge BLF’s legacy within black British activism. While its history may not be mainstream, this is far from a reflection of its significance. In the day’s ‘Plenary Reflections,’ we highlighted how black women have been the driving force of various social movements yet largely left out of their histories. Our next project addresses the particular neglect that African women have faced in Britain’s public record.
We also got our turn in the post it note spotlight with someone leaving the following lovely comment, “Something I have learned today...About the Young Historians Project and how impressive the young people involved are. It is a fantastic and much necessary group.” Getting to hear that people appreciated our work on a day that heavily involved discussing the context behind why we do it was particularly great. In the weeks after the conference, we were excited to hear that we’d left our mark - many other people had heard about us through it and were keen to learn more about what we do.
A major strength of the day itself was the variety of work we got to learn about. The first panel featured BRIT school students who’d come up with creative responses to the gallery. There was a short video highlighting that none of their peers had known about the role that Barclays and Lloyds banks played in the slave trade. In the second panel we got to hear academics describing their work relating to the slave trade. Dr James Dawkins’s presentation on his PhD thesis (about the slave-holding Dawkins family) served as a reminder that the descendants of both enslaved Africans and slaveholders exist in Britain today. Esther Stanford Xosei, who is an activist and currently completing her doctorate, gave an informative talk on the reparations movement in Britain including the annual reparations march that takes place in London.
A final mention also has to go to musician, Tobago Cruscoe, who rounded off the day with a song about the current Windrush crisis (where Caribbean migrants who arrived in the UK between 1948-1971 and are entitled to UK citizenship haven’t been treated as such). It was tongue in cheek with everyone singing along and laughing by the end, but it also served as a further reminder of how dangerous the neglect of black British history is.