Power in Print – Black Cultural Archives

For our Revolt and Resistance special, Paper Journal takes an insider look at a selection of pamphlets housed in the Black Cultural Archives collection, which provide a small glimpse into a lesser known history of activism in the black community in the UK during the 1970s and ‘80s.

© Neil Kenlock

From the shut-down of Oxford Street by protesters earlier this year over the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, to the ‘Die-in’ at Westfield over Eric Garner’s death in 2014, #BlackLivesMatter has shown itself to be a powerful banner under which thousands have been able harness digital tools to galvanise a movement here in the UK.

It goes without saying that social media has transformed the potential for resistance and revolt for a new wave of individuals, activists and groups, who, however loosely affiliated, are all united by a desire for change. Aside from the more traditional calls to protest where the immediacy of channels such as WhatsApp and Twitter have been used to rapidly mobilise individuals, social media has also transformed the space for debate and discussion. As part of a series of ‘live roundtables’, at the height of US unrest this August, Boiler Room streamed #BRxBLM debate, with a line up which included perspectives from longtime activist Darcus Howe, musician and artist Dean Blunt and film-maker Cecile Emeke. (I watched the conversation unfold live on my Facebook feed and is right here for a watch back on YouTube archives).

With its 35 year track record of preserving and celebrating the history of black people in Britain, it made perfect sense that the debate was hosted at the Black Cultural Archives HQ (BCA). Founded in 1981 by educationalist and historian Len Garrison and peers, in 2014 the organisation opened the UK’s first dedicated Black heritage centre in Windrush Square, Brixton. Their archive now houses a collection of artefacts, personal papers, organisational records, rare books, ephemera, photographs, and a small object collection, some dating as far back as the 2nd Century. BCA describe the archive as “a ‘living archive’ ever-evolving and changing, not only through research but also through the donation of materials from individuals and organisations alike”.

Each wave of activists uses the tools of its day to ‘fight the powers that be’. In 2016 it may be the ‘live roundtable’, YouTube and Instagram, but during the 1970’s, paper and print were still the dominant tools used in the spread of community information and dialogue. Aside from its 8,000 books, BCA also holds a unique collection of pamphlets, newsletters and flyers, which were crucial in the mobilising of resistance and community organisation on a local level.

Many will be familiar with the work of Emory Douglas, the graphic artist famous for putting his creative stamp onto The Black Panthers party newspapers. However, less is known about the of smaller groups here in the UK who were actively using the creative power of print to spread their news amongst their networks and beyond.

We got an insider look at a selection of pamphlets housed in the BCA collection, which provide a small glimpse into a lesser known, but long standing history of black community activism in the UK.

Acer © Acer/ Black Cultural Archives

ACER was an independent educational charity researching, developing and producing learning materials drawing on the black experience, established by one of Black Cultural Archives’ co-founders, Len Garrison. Home schools were supported by ACER, and links were forged with community schools. The Inner London Education Authority endorsed ACER’s work and their resources and publications were used across the country. The project established the Black Youth Penmanship Awards scheme to enable young black people to be celebrated for their literary achievements.

FOWAAD! © Owaad/ Black Cultural Archives

FOWAAD was the newsletter published by the Black Women’s group called the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD). The organisation acted as a national voice for a number of smaller, more local, women’s group and was first formed in 1978. The first conference was attended by 250 women and covered issues around health education, the law and immigration. Many women who attended the conference became inspired to set up their own groups across the country. As activity spread it became apparent that links should be maintained, and this was done through the newsletter FOWAAD. OWAAD campaigned against virginity testing, women on strike, sin-bins and expulsions, sus and deportations amongst other issues. The organisation was essentially dissolved by 1983.

Tricontinental Outpost © TriContinental/ Black Cultural Archives (c1969-1970s)

TriContinental magazine is archived at Black Cultural Archives as part of the personal papers of Ansel Wong. Wong was born on 4 October 1945 in San Fernando, Trinidad & Tobago; he arrived in the UK in 1965 to study at Hull University. Wong is an educationalist and was involved in the supplementary school systems as the Education Co-Coordinator of the Ahfiwe school, which was a project of the Council for Community Relations in Lambeth, ILEA.

Mbaaku © Mbaaku /Black Cultural Archives

These newsletters are archived at Black Cultural Archives as part of the collection of periodicals. Mbaaku was a women’s group in Black Roof Housing Co-operative set up to empower and create a network of peer support, supporting women into secure housing, escaping domestic violence and providing benefits advice.

Grassroots © Grassroots/ Black Cultural Archives

Grassroots: Black Community News was the newspaper formed by the Black Liberation Front (BLF). The BLF was founded in 1971 and was based at Golborne Road, London, the site included a Grassroots Storefront.

To find out more about the collection, visit the Black Cultural Archives.
With thanks to Emma Harrison at the BCA for additional information.