Black Cultural Archives unveils new centre in Brixton

In the turbulent spring of 1981, as the streets of Brixton seethed with rioters and the shops burned, a small group of black artists, activists and teachers met in the midst of the conflict. Their common goal was to create an archive that commemorated and educated people on the forgotten history of black people in Britain and offset the violence with understanding and education.

At the beginning there were just eight of them gathered in a small shopfront on Brixton’s Coldharbour Lane. But last week, after a 33-year long battle, the permanent home of the Black Cultural Archives finally opened its doors to the public to a gathered crowd of thousands.

The Archive, built with a £4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and through a partnership with Lambeth council, sits in the heart of Brixton, only a five minute walk from the shopfront that was the organisation’s base for more than two decades, now a fried chicken shop. The total cost was £7m; it was also given £1.2m by the London mayor’s office and further donations from other organisations including Bloomberg and Lambeth council.

It is the only institution of its kind in Britain, a place to bring together objects, documents, publications and oral histories of the black people of Britain over centuries, and, as the BCA director Paul Reid says, enable the black community to tell its own stories and its own history in its own voice for the first time.

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