Back in 1981, in the midst of the Brixton riots, a small group of activists came together in a bid to create a place where the forgotten history of black people could be told.
That year, they founded Black Cultural Archives (BCA) – a collection which includes historic records, publications, objects, oral histories and photographs to celebrate the rich ancestry of black people – in a temporary venue on Coldharbour Lane.
Now, 33 years later, the dreams of those founding men and women has finally been realised as the new permanent home of BCA – the UK’s only black heritage centre – opened to thousands on their launch night in Windrush Square on July 24.
Hoards of celebrities, including Sol Campbell, Zadie Smith and Baroness Floella Benjamin, turned up for the chance to catch the first glimpse of the completed headquarters.
The custom-built £7m building will house the historic collection, which has been amassed over the years through donations from volunteers and local organisations.
Highlights from the collection include a coin depicting the black Roman emperor Septimius Seversus, who ruled from 193 to 211 AD, and a selection of photographs of a black Edwardian family.
Paul Reid, artistic director of BCA said: “It’s important that black people can tell their own story in their own voice,” he said.
“After a 30-year journey 3000 people came to support our opening. That shows that the BCA is symbolic of something bigger than the building itself. It speaks to people that have struggled with bigger societal problems – of race relations or battling to get a project off the ground.
“By gaining a greater access to history we can change the way we see ourselves. By seeing what our community has overcome in the past we can propel ourselves into the future.”
The BCA is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm. The first exhibition, Re-imagine: Black Women in Britain, will run until November 30 and admission is free.