Black history in Leeds is ‘underrepresented’ say activists

November 12, 2018

Black History is underrepresented according to some Leeds activists.

By Elaine Kimeiywo and Jaimie Kay

One Leeds University building was involved with the freedom of those involved with transatlantic trade.

The Leeds Black history walk was set up in 2009.

The walk brings together African history into British life and culture in the city.


Joe Williams, the founder of the Leeds Black History Walk.

Joe was born in Leeds to Jamaican parents. He attended Leeds University in 2011 and became an activist for black history after perfoming auditions as an actor stating “I was sick of auditioning for robbers, muggers and misogynists”. Joe still performs today.

“Share my knowledge”

Joe said “There are monuments in London dedicated to animals who contributed to World War Two but none for those who dedicated three or four hundred years of service as workers the information behind the blue plaques in Leeds is invisible”.

Joe said that those without control of their history it is easier for those with agency to exploit and speak on their behalf.

‘Virginia Cottage’ was once owned by a Quaker Abolitionist called Wilson Armstead who would invite the freed to this building to escape the lives they led.

Virginia cottage building.

‘Virginia Cottage’ now a university building.

In 2006 a lecturer at the University of Leeds was criticized for claiming that on average black people are less intelligent than whites. Many students at the University called for the lecturer to be sacked.

The walk begins at the Parkinson Building at the University of Leeds and teaches how the building was opened by The Princess Royal. History shows how she had links to slave trade through Leeds’ aristocratic families such as those at Harewood House.

Princess Royal

The Princess Royal opened the Parkinson building in 1951.

‘Just more grief’

The enslaved were compensated after they were freed nothing and this caused extreme economic hardships across the Caribbean.

Joe reminisced in the walks about growing up witnessing riots in areas such as Chapeltown which has a high number of Afro Caribbean people.

“I remember a group of the big lads when I was twelve or thirteen rocked a police car onto its roof and then spun it with the officers inside”.

Joe’s parents were part of the Windrush generation and the house he grew up in is now a Leeds University building on Clarendon road.

It was often true that in these generations you could tell the people that lived there based on certain derogatory signs and conditions of the doors.

Some houses had signs stating ‘No blacks no Irish no dogs’

Clarendon place sign

Clarendon Place was the home Joe grew up in, it is named after a parish in Jamaica.

Danny Friar, who writes for a Leeds West Indian carnival website said “Leeds black history is not represented very well at all not even within the black community”

The carnival takes place every year and aims to highlight Caribbean culture and communities in Leeds.

‘A blue plaque is long overdue’

“It was the 50th anniversary last year and the Notting Hill carnival already has three or four plaques”

Mr Friar says that the history will soon be lost if action is not taken within the next ten years.

“There is a problem with subconscious racism a lot of white people won’t attend black history events because they feel they won’t be welcome or even allowed to attend”.

St George's field.

St George’s field has 100,000 bodies buried around the park, several prominent black people are buried here.

The walk ends with Joe performing a monologue of Leeds’ first recorded black circus owner, Pablo Fanque, who is buried in St George’s field  and how degradation is not the only reflection of African history.

Mr Friar said “People like Joe Williams are doing a lot to improve the situation but a permanent space in the museum is what is really needed.”



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