Project looks at Black history through centuries in port city
Research reveals over 100 life stories including hero of Waterloo and tragic trawlerman
AFRICANS ARE still seen as newcomers – even though they have been in the UK for centuries.
So says Gifty Burrows, whose stories from the Africans in Hull and East Yorkshire project feature on panels on Whitefriargate, in the city’s Victorian Hepworth Arcade and indoor Trinity Market, as part of Black History Month.
Ms Burrows’ research, which began in 2016, found evidence that Africans were in the area at least as far back as 1770. “That was a surprise to me and others.
“The mass conception of Windrush is not helpful at all. It obliterates all those who came before.
“People of African descent have a surprisingly long presence in Hull and within British social history generally because of colonialism and trade.”
Ms Burrows, who moved to Hull 14 years ago, says when she started on the project she knew nothing about Black history – at school there had only been occasional mention of the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King. And there was scepticism Hull would yield much as a city lacking in diversity.
However the stories of more than 100 people soon emerged, covering all aspects of society and including soldiers, clergymen, servants – and lion tamers at Hull Fair.
There was John Lewis Friday, who joined the British Army in the early 19th century, fought at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and received a medal for bravery, before marrying a woman from Hull two years later.
Five years later an AfricanAmerican soldier Richard Lisles, was one of a group from the 52nd ( Oxfordshire) Foot, who left the Citadel on the north bank to bathe in the Humber. Newly arrived, it is unlikely they knew about the fierce currents and the 29- year- old got out of his depth and drowned.
Abolitionists visited from
America, after the UK abolished slavery. Henry Brown, who earned the nickname ‘ Box’ Brown after making a miraculous escape from slavery in a box measuring just 3ft by 2ft, put on a show of over 100 scenes of slavery on canvas at Hull’s Music Hall in 1852.
More recently, 19- year- old Adam Ali, whose father was from Somaliland, died on the Kingston Peridot, the second of three trawlers which sank in the space of just 25 days in 1968, with the loss of 58 lives. The disasters known as the Triple Trawler Tragedy are still remembered every year on Lost Trawlerman’s Day.
History has been brought up to date with 29 contemporary oral histories including those of Radio Humberside presenter Kofi Smiles and rapper Chiedu Oraka.
Ms Burrows said the idea was to reflect the every day, and to see people in an ordinary context.
More than 30 years after Black History Month was established, she says it’s about time Black history became part of mainstream education. “It is ridiculous that it is not a compulsory element in the curriculum because the infrastructure of Britain, and its resources, have a lot to do with the colonies and the colonial contribution made by Black people.”
Peopleof Africandescent haveasurprisingly longpresenceinHull. Gifty Burrows, who created the Black History Month exhibition.