Bristol's Black History
Find out about Bristol’s Black History with Bristol Museums. Who were the first Black people in Bristol? What are the city’s links to Somalia? What are the legacies of the Slave Trade? We’re gathering stories and showcasing voices that shine a light on this often hidden part of Bristol’s past.
Compiled by the Bristol Museums Black History Steering Group.
When did Bristol’s Black history first begin? We may never know, but the earliest records show a ‘blacke moore’ gardener (or maybe watchman or security guard) living and working in the city in the 1560s. Bristol later wrote itself indelibly into African history by becoming one of the major players in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
At least half a million Africans were taken into enslavement on Bristol ships alone. The city swelled on the glut of dirty money that flooded the city. We can still see the legacy of this in some of Bristol’s grander architecture and the city’s often fraught relationship with race.
Centuries later, some of the descendants of those enslaved Africans arrived in Bristol as Caribbean migrants. Many settled in Bristol in the 1950s having been invited here to fill the skills gap after the Second World War – the ‘Windrush’ generation.
The bomb-damaged area of St Pauls provided affordable housing for the newcomers and maintains a strong association with Bristol’s Caribbean communities to this day. St Pauls Carnival – a celebration of multi-culturalism and Caribbean culture started by these early migrants – still attracts tens of thousands every year.
In the ongoing struggle for acceptance and equality, Bristol’s black citizens played an important role in changing British laws forever. The Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963 started out as a protest against the company’s racist recruitment policies and ended up influencing the UK’s first Race Relations Act which sought to outlaw such discrimination. Inequality was still rife however and in the 1980s it helped lead to the St Pauls ‘riots’ which put Black Bristol into national headlines.
Since the 1990s, Bristol’s Black populations have hugely diversified with thousands of Somalis arriving as refugees and economic migrants. Somali is now the third most commonly spoken language in Bristol and the city enjoys its own annual Somali festival. In recent years, increasing numbers of migrants have arrived from across Africa, and particularly from Eritrea and Sudan.
Bristol’s Black history is centuries old and yet many of its stories are lost, hidden, or shrouded in myth. We’re attempting to build a resource where a range of voices and stories will be illuminated and a fuller, more detailed, picture will emerge.
Made possible thanks to support from: