Black History Month at Bristol Museums

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

by Karen Garvey, engagement officer for events

“I was inspired by meeting Peaches Golding so wanted to create a film that would inspire others.”

This has to be my favourite quote of the year, made by James, a City of Bristol College student, at M Shed’s first Black History Month event this October.

Image of Peaches Golding

The event was Peaches Golding, OBE: my journey to justice, which included a screening of the said film narrating the path she has taken from defying segregation in South Carolina to becoming the UK’s first female Black Lord Lieutenant.

Through a fascinating conversation with historian Dr Madge Dresser, who is leading the city’s Journey to Justice programme, I was amazed to hear Peaches talk about her ancestors: bought into slavery, her father challenging segregation on the buses 10 years before Rosa Parks, the discrimination Peaches faced in the 1970s, and her inspiring rise to successful businesswoman and civic dignitary.

The event kick-starts the museum’s Black History Month programme of events this year; a time for highlighting the importance of Black participation and achievement in history.

Like my colleagues, I strongly believe this should be marked all year round, but it’s good to shine a spotlight in October to emphasise accomplishments and to remember how overcoming struggles against injustice have advanced equality.

Highlighting stories like Peaches’ journey heightens confidence and awareness of people in their cultural heritage – especially when it has been so underrepresented and actually educates and motivates us, revealing the role we play as individuals to create society.

We’re now looking forward to the Kwanzaa family event later in the month, run by Liz Small, one of our Black History Month partners and a member of the steering group set up last year. Liz will be showing families how to connect to traditional African values like unity and collaboration through fun activities like making Kwanzaa cards, mats and candles.

Group of smiling girls at last years Somali Family Fun Day.

We’re delighted to be working in partnership with lead organisations from Bristol’s Somali
Community and the Black South West Network to host the launch of the Bristol Somali Festival later that same day.

Sister to the London Somali Festival, this year’s celebration has an emphasis on identity and belonging, so we are honoured to welcome keynote speaker Dr Osman Mohamed Ali, founder of the Somali Museum of Minnesota, (first Somali Museum outside of Somalia), followed by a fascinating panel discussion and poetry readings in Somali and English.

Image from the Somali Family Fun Day.

The celebrations continue the next day at M Shed with a Somali family fun day to discover Somali history and culture.

Visitors can blend their own spices with the Somali Kitchen, handle objects and dressing-up clothes with Omar, have a go at craft activities based on Somali culture and traditions, and simply chat to learn more.

Previous events at our sites this year have included a talk about Black GIs in Bristol during WWII,  a dance performance ‘Ila’ by Adesola Akinleye’s dance company inspired by African objects in our collections, a popular walk led by Dr Edson Burton on the History of Old Market, Silu Pascoe’s talk about ‘Black Lives in a White Man’s War’ at the Radical History Festival; and artist Ros Martin’s ‘Daughter of Igbo Women’ films screened at the Georgian House Museum to remember Fanny Coker, a Black maidservant at the house.

An Assyrian relief in our collection.In November we are looking forward to the National Caribbean Museum joining us for the Celebration of Migration event at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. We also have Spoken word: Writers on slavery, when three Black writers will be responding to the history of the Georgian House Museum with readings in different rooms.

Colleagues are promoting Black History in other ways too – through access to our collections, new exhibitions and displays and an exciting virtual Black History Tour of St Paul’s is being produced by Tanja Bah, a UWE MA student placement who is herself mixed German and Malian heritage.

For me, Black History Month is a special time of reflection that creates a firm foundation for learning and awareness, but it’s not simply a case of only looking at the past. As the quote about Peaches Golding OBE reveals at the start of this blog, it’s a time to unlock tomorrow’s opportunities.

Bristol Museums would like to thank Black History Month event sponsors:
University of Bristol and UWE Bristol.

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