The Black Cultural Archives is located in the Brixton area of London. The BCA was founded in 1981 as a response to the race riots that took place in various English cities. According to their subject guide, the riots were caused by “racism and hostility towards Black and ethnic minority communities”, stemming from the large and sudden influx of Black immigrants after World War II. As their mission statement says, the BCA aims to “collect, preserve and celebrate the heritage and history of Black people in Britain.” While their physical location has changed over the years, in the summer of 2014 the BCA finally opened its permanent location in Raleigh Hall, a formerly derelict historic building. According to the website, they are the “UK’s first dedicated Black heritage center.”
The Black Cultural Archives’ opening exhibit was Re-imagine: Black Women in Britain. They are currently running Staying Power: Photographs of the Black British Experience, 1950s-1990s. Staying Power includes photographs borrowed from the Victoria & Albert Museum. The V&A is also running a concurrent display of photographs until the end of May.
While the BCA has no posted collection policy, their FAQ pertaining to donations suggests that their collections concentrate on twentieth century history, with some interest in items related to the 1700s and 1800s. Further, their cultural focus explicitly centers on people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain. Somewhat counter-intuitive to this statement, the BCA has a collection of papers from Alexandre Dumas. While Dumas’s paternal grandmother was an enslaved woman from Haiti, Dumas is predominantly connected with France. Thus, I would conclude that the BCA, similar to many institutions, is willing to keep a good collection even if it does not explicitly fulfill their policy.
Their archives contain materials donated by individuals, as well as collections donated by larger organizations. Significant collections are defined by subject matter. Their website contains a list of personal papers collections organized by person, as well as a list of organizations for which the BCA has a number of collected materials. Another page gives links to subject guides for thematic collections relating to periodicals, arts, representation, education, uprisings, the black women’s movement, publishing, enslavement, and ephemera. The latter of which is currently being organized more closely by subject. The collections are open to the public through exhibits, and also by appointment in their reading room.
They have many great items, some newer than others. For example, in November of 2014, the BCA unveiled an African and Caribbean war memorial, dedicated to those of African descent who served Great Britain in World War I and II.
Another collection revolves around the events that led to the beginning of the BCA: the riots of the 1980s. This collection includes photographs, eye witness accounts, police reports, campaign literature, and newspaper clippings. These riots were a time of great turmoil in the UK and this collection presents that in an effective manner.
So, on your next trip to London, drop by the Black Cultural Archives and see the history of Black Britain at this brand new location.