Well I have to start by saying what a momentous, historic and exciting past few weeks it has been. Not only the election of the first Black President of the United States, but the first Black (and youngest), Formula One World Champion.
People have rightly contacted me to say that both President Elect Obama and Lewis Hamilton need to be included on the Black Achievers Wall in the museum (remember you can email the museum with your nominations). But I am also aware that these two fantastic achievements, often against all the odds, expectations and indeed wishes of many who are not too pleased to see Black people achieve, or be in positions of power, were done with the support of other, and often unrecognized, Black achievers. Namely Anthony Hamilton, his father, who has supported him since a young boy and Michelle Obama, the strong and charismatic partner of Barack Obama.
I have also been recently reminded of the many Black achievers that have now passed away but who have played a great part in challenging both personal and institutional forms of racism in Britain. I am referring in particular to Walter Tull, who was the subject of an excellent dramatization recently on TV called Walter’s War.
It was in fact written by ISM advocate Kwame Kwei Armah about Tull’s life and the racism he regularly encountered. Even so, he became the first commissioned Black officer in the British Army and led his troops into various battles before being killed on the Western Front in 1918. Tull was also one of the first professional Black footballers and played for amongst others Northampton Town. In fact Arthur Wharton, the first Black professional football player, is already on our Black Achievers Wall.
Staying on the theme of Black achievers, the museum held a reception recently at the House of Lords, hosted by the indefatigable Baroness Howells of St Davids who was recently voted as one of the greatest 100 Black Britons. Baroness Howells is a well respected advocate of the museum and she brought together a range of high profile achievers from all walks of life (politics, sport and business to name a few) to highlight the current and indeed future work of the museum. Some of the attendees were from Liverpool such as Levi Tafari, one of the country’s greatest poets and the fantastic singer/songwriter Jennifer John. David Lammy MP, who was interviewed for our Freedom and Enslavement Wall, Baroness Amos (the first Black woman cabinet minister); ex footballer and TV pundit Garth Crooks and Doreen Lawrence were also present.
On an aside I think I slightly surprised Baroness Amos when I told her I had once sped past her home village of Wakenaam, a village on an island in the middle of the Essequibo River in Guyana, on a speedboat whilst travelling to Fort Zeelandia as part of the Commonwealth Association of Museums conference I attend earlier this year. Let’s just say it was the type of journey where you felt every bump!
It was great to see such support form prominent members of the Black community. For me it showed just how far reaching the museum actually is, yes, transatlantic slavery is central to the museum, but the recognition, and indeed celebration, of Black achievement, often against all the odds and a plethora of obstacles, is also key to the museum, and something we aim to promote in some small way by having displays like the Black Achievers Wall. Hopefully in the future we will be visited by those who have recently achieved so much. So Michelle and Lewis, if you read my blog, please have a word with your husband or take a nice drive up to Liverpool for the day respectively!
Bye for now.