Birmingham museums take oral histories of the local Windrush generation online

Pictured clockwise from top left: Carlton Duncan (© Kate Green BBOHP), Ryland Campbell (© Kate Green BBOHP), Esme Lancaster (© BBOHP), Frank Scantlebury (© Kate Green BBOHP).

Audio recordings of those who arrived in Birmingham as part of the Windrush Generation are being made available online for the first time by Birmingham Museums.

The oral histories, which were recorded in the 1990s, feature the life stories of 4 people who arrived in the UK from the Caribbean between the 1940s and 1960s.

The recordings are the result of the Birmingham Black Oral History Project, established in 1990 with the aim of preserving the memories of the oldest living generation of African, Caribbean and South Asian migrants in Birmingham with recordings and photographs.

Ranjit Sondhi of the Birmingham Black Oral History Project said those involved in its creation “are delighted that they are now available to the general public.”

“They will greatly enrich and broaden the great wealth of oral histories that define the complex character of post-war Britain.”

Birmingham Museums said the recordings reveal personal experiences of racial intolerance and the events leading up to the Handsworth Riots of the 1980s, as well as stories of community, friendship and acceptance of the UK weather .

The digitization project was made possible by a grant from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Four of the newly digitized recordings have been released online to coincide with Black History Month and feature the stories of a range of people including Carlton Duncan, Britain’s first black school principal and Esme Lancaster MBE, a caregiver and community leader.

Birmingham Museums said they would continue to work with members of the Birmingham Black Oral History Project and the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Research Library, to digitize the rest of the oral histories, making them available later this year .

The larger collection of recordings includes the testimonies of 19 people with over 40 hours of content, previously only available to researchers on CD but now available online via Birmingham Museums Online Library.

An additional oral history recorded in 2016 as part of the Birmingham Museums Collecting Birmingham project with Ms Eunice McGhie-Belgrave MBE, who emigrated to England in 1957, has also been posted online.

Birmingham Museums Curator Jo-Ann Curtis said the Birmingham Black Oral History Project aims to “clear things up” and ensure that the stories of the peoples of the Caribbean and South Asia are documented. and made available as a public resource.

“Now, two decades later, with the digitization of these recordings, the legacy of their stories can continue to be an important resource for understanding the experience of black Britons in the 20th century. Nothing can replace the frankness of first-hand narratives and these recordings are like a time machine. “

Windrush interviews will also be made available to schools as a learning resource for elementary and secondary school children.

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