We’ve been working on the Ann Adeyemi collection recently, a family archive of photos and personal ephemera, donated by Ann in 2011 alongside a series of four oral history interviews in which she tells us about her grandparents, her parents and her own life, in her own defiant and inimitable style. This post is just a potted history – I highly recommend reading the interviews for yourself, and having a browse through her archive, to get the full and fascinating story.
We don’t have a photo of Ann’s maternal grandmother Ellen Carey, an Irish Catholic who came to Manchester as a young child in the 1880s. Ann talks about her as a major influence, teaching her to cook, to sing Irish rebel songs and to be self-reliant. Ellen ran a Chandlers at Salford dock and would look out for the Black seamen who arrived in the city ‘help them find lodgings and look after them, make sure they didn’t spend all their money or get ripped off’. This is how she met Ann’s grandfather, a Liberian seaman, during the First World War.
As a White woman married to a Black man, Ellen must have faced prejudice:
I always thought she was brave, for doing what she did, coming over from Ireland and having to raise a family and start a business, and also being brave enough to marry outside of your own group, particularly at a time when there were very few Blacks in the country. But I don’t think it bothered her. ‘I’ve done what I’ve done’ you know ‘it’s not my problem’ kind of thing.
This defiant attitude is perhaps the greatest thing Ann inherited from her grandmother.
Mary Dixon (later Adeyemi), Ann’s mother, was born in Salford in 1920. Ann remembers her talking about two instances of prejudice she experienced whilst growing up. As a Black woman she was barred from working in the munitions factory during the Second World War in case she was an enemy alien (‘You know like, “please!”’ scoffs Ann), and as an Irish Catholic being pelted with stones and mud by Protestant children during the Friday Whit Walks.
Ann’s father, James Adeyemi (also known as Micky), was born in Liberia but, because of tribal conflicts was raised in Sierra Leone. As a young man he travelled extensively with the merchant navy, finding himself in Manchester in the 1930s. Ellen, along with some other White women who had married Black men, had by now set up a support group for Black seamen arriving in Salford, which included putting on social events and dances for them to meet local girls (‘interested in having a serious relationship, not prostitute types’). It was at one of these dances that Mary and James met.
When Ann was born in 1951 her parents and grandparents lived on Stock Street in Cheetham Hill:
In the 50s it was very mixed, multicultural before multicultural became multicultural. There were Jewish, there were Polish, Irish, Italian, African and a sprinkling of Asian people … My two best friends at primary school were Kathleen Taft who was Irish, and Anthony Simonitz who was Polish. We just like hung out together. We’d go to school and go and run on the bomb sites down on Salford, because you could get from Cheetham Hill down to Strangeways and most of it was a bomb site … and that was like ‘oh look, fun’
Ann went on to study history and spent her professional life as an educator. She reflects on the deep influence her parents had on her:
They were historians, because they held the information about their experiences and the experiences of possibly some of the people of their generation and they passed that, you know, ‘you are your parents, your grandparents, you carry your ancestors with you so you have to respect them.’ So they taught me to be a historian before I became a historian. Yes, because it was like ‘hidden histories’. I’ve always been obsessed with hidden histories.
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