Records of Black Cultural Archives

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The records of Black Cultural Archives cover the governance of the organisation, for example mission, constitution, committees and policy; financial records; records relating to BCA premises; letters, press cuttings and photographs; policy regarding the collections, records regarding acquisition, and resources on Black history; publicity material generated for BCA concerts, exhibitions, talks and public meetings, records on training schemes, visitors books and feedback, correspondence relating to outreach and partnerships, membership cards, and endorsements of the organisation; human resources records; records relating to projects; and material on Timbuktu books.

Administrative / Biographical History

In the early 1980s, a group of parents based in Brixton formed the African Peoples Historical Monument Foundation (UK) in order to co-ordinate the development of a Black Cultural Archives (BCA) to collect, document and disseminate the history and culture of Black people in the diaspora. Documents state that by the summer of 1982 a twelve member board of trustees was formed.

In the early days, BCA was primarily concerned with educational activities. Among its founders were Len Garrison, who's experience in setting up the Afro-Caribbean Educational Resource project (ACER) informed the team in their mission, and Richie Riley of Les Ballet Negres, Britain's first known Black and internationally renowned dance company. In 1983 the group had applied for educational charity status, and their aim was to have a staff team of a librarian, a researcher and a photographer. The project was supported by the GLC who also granted funding towards the establishment of the new centre which was originally intended to be based on the model of the Schomburg Research Centre. The founders were keen that the organisation recorded not only the traditionally noteworthy, but also the life experiences and "walking archives" of the Black community. Early activities included open meetings, concerts and social events, and fundraising. The focus was on education and educational activities for a number of years. Various documents on the initial aims and mission of the organisation can be found in BCA/1/7/6.

Premises

There have been a number of intended homes for BCA, all based in the Brixton area. The first site was on Somerleyton Road, a campaign to secure this site saw a petition of over 6,500 signatures in support. Planning permission was granted by Lambeth Council on 1 February 1985 but, although plans for the building were produced and a fundraising campaign launched, the project failed due to lack of funding. Planning permission was then refused on 17 February 1997, when Lambeth Council suggested that Raleigh Hall in central Brixton may be a more suitable site. In 1986 the organisation moved to 378 Coldharbour Lane. In around 2000, the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill was suggested as new premises for BCA, but this never happened and BCA moved to Kennington Day Care Centre in 2006. BCA moved to Raleigh Hall on Windrush Square, Brixton, in 2014. Various documents chronicling the development of a home for BCA can be found in BCA/3.

Projects

The National Museum and Archives of Black History and Culture (NMABHC later to be known as Archives and Museums of Black Heritage, or AMBH) was launched on 21st October 1999, with a grant of £344,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which was match funded by BCA and Middlesex University. The project was a collaboration between BCA and Middlesex University and in February 1997 a letter of partnership was signed between the two organisations with the agreement to establish a National Black Cultural Archives which would "collect and arrange for the purpose of research, education and interpretation of cultural materials relating to all aspects of the history of peoples of the African diaspora in Britain, wherever housed to the widest possible audience using all possible means". After its launch in 1999 AMBH was intended to run for two years, but carried on for almost three, a number of exhibitions and educational activities were put on during this time.

Documenting the Archives began in early 2008. It was a Heritage Lottery Funded project to create a catalogue of the material that had been collected by volunteers over the life of BCA. Previous to the project there was no useable catalogue documenting all the material in the archive, this made public access to the collections difficult. A team of three qualified archivists worked on the project and with the help of volunteers produced a full catalogue of the archive, library, and object collections, created in according to professional standards. From carrying out this exercise it is possible to deduce that the archives collected span a period of five centuries and comprise a wide variety of material reflecting the history of the African diaspora and the presence of Black people in Britain. They include personal papers, organisational records, rare books, photographs and objects, and have been used to support our educational and outreach work.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is partially open for research. Readers are strongly urged to contact Black Cultural Archives in advance of their visit. Some of the material may be stored off-site and advance notice of at least a week is needed in order to retrieve this material.

The reading room is open for access to archive materials Wednesdays-Fridays, 10am-4pm. The reading room is also open late every second Thursday of the month, 1pm-7pm.

Please email the archivist to book an appointment archives@bcaheritage.org.uk