A review from our book reviewer Jo, this time from her own blog Floralia (which is well worth following!).
My Name Is Leon is a beautifully written story of mixed race fostering and adoption, set in 1981; a year of heightened tension between Britain’s black communities and the police, that led to uprisings in Toxteth, Handsworth and a number of other cities, including Manchester’s Moss Side. Fascinating to read this moment in history through young Leon’s eyes.
This book isn’t in our collection, but is available at most of the Manchester Libraries sites.
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal, Penguin Books: 2017 (first published by Viking: 2016)
Sometimes all that ten-year-old Leon possesses is his name.
So, much of his time is spent accumulating or enumerating the items that actually belong to him. But this is no mercenary acquisitiveness. He needs things with which to build a new life together with his baby brother, Jake, who is adopted into a new family – without Leon.
As the momentum of the novel picks up, with its gritty realist detail and layering of overlapping worlds, these items range from the toys he receives as Christmas presents, mainly from social workers (Dukes of Hazzard Racing Set, Meccano set, Action Man Cherilea Amphibious Jeep with trailer) to household provisions that he gathers together himself – baby food, tins, a bag of sugar, a blanket.
The novel charts a year in Leon’s life in which he…
As soon as I opened the ‘Adventure Play’ folder of the Elouise Edwards photograph collection I knew I wanted to write about these pictures. Although the folder also included photos of children horse riding, ice skating, river-wading and bouncy castle-jumping, the photos of the adventure playgrounds are what had me hooked. I have so many questions! Who built them? Where were they? Were they safe? Did that even matter?
The photos show enormous wooden and metal structures, usually near a large housing block or in large empty space, with children leaping, hanging and balancing on the various platforms, slides, planks and ropes – smiling for the camera as they go. It struck me just how different playtime was for children in the 70s than it is today – not a screen in sight (just dizzying heights and a couple of splinters instead).
From my experience, using the Centre is like an adventure into the unknown in terms of the richness and quality of the resources at our disposal. Whilst it’s true navigating the databases to find material relevant to one’s particular area of interest can sometimes be tricky, that’s more than made up for in the quality of input and guidance provided by the staff tasked to make our time in the Centre both enjoyable and optimal.
I’m mindful of course that these may just be my own opinions. So I’ve been interested to find out whether other users agree with my assessment by checking out their feedback.* In this blog post, I’m sharing what I found with you.
For me, photographs are such a valuable aspect of any archive. This is not only because of the stories they tell and the memories they preserve, but also because they transcend any language or literacy barriers and can be appreciated by everyone who sees them. We are lucky enough to have had thousands of photographs donated to us over the years, and they are by far my favourite collections to look through.
The Elouise Edwards Photograph Collection is our largest collection of photographs, featuring everything from sporting events and political demonstrations to photos from the Abasindi Black Women’s Collective and Roots Festivals. Most of the photographs are shot beautifully in black and white, and show members of various communities around Manchester in the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in Moss Side and Hulme. Elouise Edwards is a longstanding resident of Moss Side herself, after moving here in 1961 from Guyana where she was born. Although Elouise was at first unhappy in England, she soon found her passion in the promoting, defending and empowering of her community. If these photographs are anything to go by, she helped make a lot of people happy!
While the majority of the boxes in our archive contain uplifting material about the lives and experiences of black and minority ethnic people and their histories, there are inevitably some boxes that are far from uplifting. Though difficult to read and controversial in content, this smaller and lesser-known part of the collection reminds us that racism has always existed and should not be excluded from our collective memory.
This is one of the reasons I decided to take a look in our box labelled ‘Scientific Racism’, a certain type of racism that claims to be backed up by scientific research. The other reason is the unwelcome fact that scientific racism never truly went away, and is once again rearing its head in an increasingly mainstream corner of America, according to several recent news articles. A small group of political scientists is attempting to revive the types of findings that are recorded in our archive, which are then being used to a certain degree by members of the ‘alt-right’ to justify their nationalist and racially discriminatory politics. Searching through the box I noticed that the material in our archive and the claims made in the past few years are alarmingly similar, but so are the methods of scrutiny, backlash and protest against them. I hope this blog post will remind us that racism never disappeared and is still a threat to racial equality today.
Anti-racism cartoon from Science for the People, Vol. 14, No. 2, March/April 1982
Our archivist Jo Robson reflects on our Hulme Study collection
The Hulme Feasibility Study was undertaken between 1987 and 1990 to formulate proposals with a view to improving the environmental, commercial, employment and social conditions in Hulme and the Moss Side District Centre areas of Manchester. Professor Valerie Karn of the University of Salford was appointed as an independent chair to the Supervisory group. The Hulme Study Archive held at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre is made up of the papers collected by Valerie Karn during her time as Chair of the group.
The Study was innovative in its management which was tri-partite being jointly supervised by The Department of the Environment, Manchester City Council and tenants representatives. The aim of the Study was to provide an independent account of the social, physical and economic conditions on the estate. In addition it aimed to identify opportunities for improvements and recommend short and long term strategies which the three parties could use to develop an action plan for the area.
This is a timeless book that will not age, like the works of James Baldwin, Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison. ‘This is required reading,’ Morrison herself has said, in a quote that foots the cover of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ bestseller, Between the World and Me.
Between the World and Me is written in the form of a letter addressed to Coates’ teenage son, a veritable prayer that is drenched in love and born out of struggle. It should make America sit up and take notice.
The 14th November is the birthday of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister since the country became independent from imperialist Britain in 1947. In India, this day is celebrated as ‘Bal Diwas’ or Children’s Day, in remembrance of Nehru’s belief that children should be lovingly nurtured as they are the ‘future of the nation and citizens of tomorrow’.
A close follower of Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru believed in the fight for independence from Britain but also the prevention of religious division. He joined the Indian National Congress and was eventually elected as its president. Nehru worked alongside Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India elected by Britain, and became Prime Minister on 15th August 1947. He is widely considered to be the architect of the modern India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic republic.
To commemorate what would be his 129th birthday, I decided to take a look at Nehru’s inspirational speech ‘A Tryst with Destiny’, a physical copy of which can be found on our Politics shelf here at the AIU Centre.
At the beginning of this year we were (and still are!) very pleased to announce that our collection of publications from the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) were made available digitally, meaning numerous pamphlets, reports and policies are now online for you to look at – Click here to view the collection, and click here to read a blog post about the digital process! I have decided that these are especially worth a look this month, as it was 42 years ago in November that the CRE was first created.
One document I came across was the ‘Training Handbook for Social Services Departments’ working in multi-racial areas (see below). The Handbook explains that the CRE was formed under the Act of 1976, with the hope of eliminating racial discrimination within England, Wales and Scotland. This 1976 legislation replaced the previous 1965 Race Relations Act, which failed to address racial discrimination within housing, employment and the legal system. Almost half a century later, racial discrimination still exists in our society – which causes me to ask: Did the 1976 Act succeed in its aims? How is racial discrimination characterised now in comparison to how it was perceived in the 1970s?
To kick off our final week of Black History Month events, we screened Generation Revolution, a documentary directed by Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis in 2016. The event took place in connection with UoM History Department and the Race, Roots and Resistance Collective, and was followed by a Q&A with the directors and historian Dr Kerry Pimblott. Watching the film and listening to the audience’s responses was an incredible insight into race relations in Britain, but also reinforced the necessity and value of our collections here at the AIU Centre.