Panya Banjoko, who had worked in museums, founded Nottingham Black Archive in 2010. It was acknowledged that there was a need to develop an archive that documented black history, heritage and culture in the city of Nottingham. In an article for LeftLion published in 2015, James Walker, of the School of Arts & Humanities, University of Nottingham, wrote about the influence of Nottingham Black Archive’s work and the influence of George’s activism. He has given permission for this article, written for LeftLion, to be included here in full.
photo, Nigel King
NBA was founded in 2009 by Panya Banjoko and Laura Summers, two heritage professionals who, at the time, had a combined 26 years of museum experience. They both recognised a gap in local museums’ provision relating to the formation of the BME communities’ cultural identity. This gap was further highlighted after the commemoration of the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 2007, when a lack of knowledge and information on the black presence was realised.
In 2008 Panya conducted research into the Attitudes and Perceptions of the African Caribbean Community at Nottingham Castle Museum, finding that African-Caribbean people did not feel as though their history or culture was being represented in Nottingham’s museums and that black history was only viewed through the prism of slavery. Panya set out to rectify this imbalance and NBA was born with the remit of “researching, collecting and preserving black history, heritage and culture in Nottingham, from the earliest time to the present day.”
The archive includes some of the earliest documents relating to the formation of black community organisations in the city, including full transcripts from the first generation of Caribbean elders to reside in Nottingham, transcripts from WWII RAF ex-servicemen, photographs, articles, newsletters and political letters dating back to the sixties, and a growing collection of books by local authors. In 2011 local filmmaker and Mouthy Poet Ioney Smallhorne joined the team, bringing in an audio-visual dimension to the archive […]
One person in particular is worth a mention: Oswald George Powe (1926 – 2013), who, incidentally, features as the last literary figure in the Dawn of the Unread [...] In 2011, Powe became the first person to donate newsletters, letters and pamphlets to NBA. Born of Chinese and African descent, he arrived in the UK in 1943, aged seventeen.
In the forties, Powe experienced widespread racial discrimination and fought against it by joining the Communist party. He later joined the Labour party and in 1963 was elected as a Labour District Councillor in Long Eaton, Derbyshire. He divided his time between political campaigns and helping people with immigration problems. He also played a leading role in setting up the Afro Caribbean National Artistic (ACNA) Centre, created to give a home to ‘coconut art’ and to fight racism, industrial and racial inequality, and all of the other various malaises that affected his community. It aroused a tremendous response from African-Caribbeans, with people taking time out of paid work to volunteer at the centre, recognising that the community finally had something they could call their own.
In between his political campaigning and community activism, he wrote Don’t Blame the Blacks, about the racial discrimination people from the Caribbean and Africa were experiencing in post-war Britain and warned against simplistic narratives of divide and rule. But it was his willingness to share his story as a radar operator during WWII that acted as a catalyst for others to come forward and share their experiences of fighting in the war which is the jewel of the archive.
“It is through narratives like George’s that we know that the ‘British’ did not stand alone against the might of Hitler’s Germany,” explains Panya. “During the war thousands of Commonwealth troops died, and many more were wounded or spent years as POWs. Yet for the past century, their sacrifice has been largely ignored and it still remains difficult to find out about the contribution black people made during the war. These narratives are now being recorded and made accessible in my book No More Tears for Me My Mother. Hopefully this will begin to correct this imbalance and promote multiple stories.”
Extract from Nottingham Black Archive’s website
Nottingham Black Archive (NBA)
The idea for a resource that made Nottingham black history available to the wider public came about in 2009 and in 2010 the Nottingham Black Archive was founded. The aim of the archive is to research, collect and preserve Black history, heritage and culture in Nottingham, from the earliest time to the present day. The collection holds some of the earliest documents relating to the formation of Black community organisations in Nottingham, as well as, a growing archive of oral histories, including many from the first generation of Africans and Caribbean’s to reside in Nottingham. The archive also holds photographs, articles, newsletters, books and political letters dating back to the 1940s.
Keeping the past in the present
Nottingham Black Archive is dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of people of African descent in Nottingham. The NBA programme of exhibitions and events provide a platform from which to share the diversity of cultures originating from Africa and the Caribbean, past and present. The collection promotes the teaching, learning and understanding of African Caribbean peoples’ contribution to Nottingham and provides an accessible permanent record of the richness of the Black experience in Nottingham.