Black History Gets Its Own Museum As Home In Brixton Is Secured

By Kate Smith | 13 December 2005
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Shows a black and white photo of three policewomen striding out in front of a line of policemen, at their centre is Sislin Fay Allen the first black policewoman in the Met.

Sislin Fay Allen, the first black policewoman in the Metropolitan Police Force, joined in 1968. From the collection of the Black Cultural Archives.

The enormous success of Black History Month shows the appetite and interest for black history in the UK. But despite the mantra that "black history is not just a month" there is no one accessible public place that acts as a beacon for Black History throughout the year.

Now through the determination of the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) and Lambeth Council, that is going to change. A new Black Heritage Centre is planned for Brixton.

"We are overjoyed to have secured this agreement," explained a spokesperson for the BCA. "This is a major milestone in our history."

Shows a photo of a semi-derelict building the other side of a fence that has murals painted over its windows.

The new premises, Raleigh Hall. © Pringle Richards Sharratt Architects.

Its European material stretches back to 208AD and its records for Britain to the early 1900s. Run by just one permanent staff member and a host of volunteers, it has produced exhibitions and provided facilities for research.

But its small premises have been crowded and easy to miss, with many Brixton residents unaware of its existence.

Now Lambeth Council has granted a 99-year lease of Raleigh Hall in central Brixton to create a new landmark Black Heritage Centre.

Shows an artist's impression of what the new museum might look like.

A vision of what the new museum might look like. © Pringle Richards Sharratt Architects.

This is just a first step - Raleigh Hall has been empty for 10 years and needs extensive repairs, but it's clear that all those involved feel that they have reached a crucial moment.

At a reception to mark the moment Peter Truesdale, who leads Lambeth Council, said "the past is central to who we are as individuals and as a community". Blowing a very loud conch shell to mark the occasion, local resident Joe Benjamin exuberantly expressed his pleasure at reaching this landmark.

The Black Cultural Archive was created in 1981 when black history was little taught or recognised in UK schools. It exists to demonstrate the contribution of people of African and Caribbean descent to the history of Britain.

Shows a black and white photo of a black man seated on a chair with a black woman standing beside him. They are dressed in early 20th century attire.

John and Caroline Barbour-James, pictured in around 1915. From the collection of the Black Cultural Archives.

The founders detected a link between the disconnection of young black people from their history, and the poor school results of many young black children at that time. Therefore the archive has always been about changing the present through knowing the past.

While the new building should open in 2009, the Black Cultural Archives are actively looking for volunteers, advisors and funders to shape the project and bring it to life.

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