St Ann’s Stories – To Be Forgotten

Windrush Day 2020 seems a fitting moment to share this powerful instalment from St Ann’s Stories – a very special newspaper created by and for the people of St Ann’s.

Windrush Day was launched to recognise and celebrate the amazing contribution of the Windrush Generation and their descendants but how do we make sure this goes from being a gesture to a part of making real, lasting, ongoing change?

In this piece on Black History Month, Sooty asks:
“In Nottingham we celebrate Black History month in October, but do we celebrate Nottingham’s Black History?”

“They count as quite forgot; They are as men who have existed not;
Theirs is a loss past loss of fitful breath;
It is the second death.”

In Nottingham we celebrate Black History month in October, but do we celebrate Nottingham’s Black History? If you visit St Mary’s Church, located on High Pavement, in the heart of the city’s historic Lace Market district, you will find a marble plaque on the North Wall that is a memorial to James Still.

Sacred to the Memory Of LIEUTENANT JAMES STILL; R.N. Who in the 22nd. year of his age, fell a victim to the ravages of the Yellow Fever, on Board His Majesty’s Ship, THE PHEASANT, while stationed off SIERRA LEONE, on the 12th of October 1821.

For four successive years he had been employed in the fatal service of enforcing obedience to that sacred Law, which, to the honour of his Country and in the spirit of Christian Love forbade the Traffick in Human Blood.

That he possessed the best feelings of the heart was manifested in his unwearied watchfulness over those whose aid he was in sickness and who, withering like the blighted shoots of Spring, left their blessings upon him:

That he was endued with the spirit of Enterprise was proved by the testimony of those who had witnessed his skill, and admired his gallantry:

That he was characterized by suavity of temper and prepossessing manners was apparent from that regard, excited in every breast, which held him forth as an Ornament of Social Life.

How beloved a Son! How endeared a Brother! How esteemed a friend is evidenced in the poignant grief of his sorrowing Family, in the unfeigned regret of many who cherish the remembrance of his worth, and in the heartfelt Tribute of him who dedicates this tablet to the Memory of his Virtues.

A city of second chances
Lieutenant James Still R.N was not an atypical man, Nottingham has always been a progressive city and a city of second chances, so when the Slave Trade Act 1807, officially An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, was finally passed it was not unsurprising that a Free man community sprung up just outside the city limits, in the area of Beacon Hill.

That community of former slaves, their friends and their families, played a productive part in the ensuing years of Nottingham’s turbulent history, for indeed the 19th century in Nottingham was a turbulent time, a time of riots and reform, a time of hunger, poverty and the struggle for social justice. The political movement of that era had strong roots in the abolitionist movement, and had strong allies in the freed men that had once suffered the injustice of slavery.

Many of the freed slaves of that era found domestic work through the Servants’ Register Office in Chandlers Lane, an employment agency founded by another freed slave, George Africanus, others found employment at the foundries at the back of what is now Victoria Park, just off Bath Street and Beacon Hill.

The free man community flourished and indeed, during the famines of the 19th Century, as people lay hungry and dying in Nottingham’s great market square, the residents of the community marched up High Pavement to bring food, alms and relief to the suffering of our city.

To me this is a moment of Black History that should be enthusiastically celebrated in our city, a moment where Black & White came together, a moment where lives were saved, where we were all brothers, a time where we fought side by side for social justice and to improve conditions for everyone, yet there is no plaque where that freed man community once stood, there is no celebration of the relief those residents brought, and beyond George Africanus just about every black face from that period in our history has been erased.

I was brought up on this history, because this is part of my own family history. I have forebears who were slaves, I have forebears who lived in that settlement, I have forebears who marched along High Pavement, to feed the poor and needy, but every year Black History Month rolls around and I have no opportunity to celebrate them, beyond the personal tribute that I make in my heart.

I love this city, this city is my home, it is a home of freedom, of liberty, a city that fights against social injustice, a city that is often overlooked by the elites of Westminster, but does not let that fact phase it, instead choosing to strive to overcome.

This is a city of rebels, of renegades, a self-made city with a history to be proud of, it is a multicultural city, and a city that has always been a melting pot, a city with open arms, that

welcomes all. I just wish some would honour that a little more and maybe by sharing this personal history, maybe just maybe, it might open a few eyes and get us to do just that.

Black History is a wonderful concept, but it fails until it truly honours all of Black History. Six years from now it will be the 100th anniversary of Negro History Week, maybe it’s time to fulfil its purpose.

Maybe now those who fought against slavery can be truly honoured, and maybe those that suffered as slaves can be rightly remembered, and thanked for their productive participation in shaping this city’s wonderful history, instead of being forgotten.

“They count as quite forgot;
They are as men who have existed not;
Theirs is a loss past loss of fitful breath;
It is the second death.”

Sooty’s article also includes a look at the origins of Black History Month…

Black History Month is an annual observance originating in the United States, with its precursor created in 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week”.

At the time of Negro History Week’s launch, Woodson contended that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society:

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization.”

Negro History Week was met with enthusiastic response; it prompted the creation of Black history clubs, an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites. Negro History Week grew in popularity throughout the following decades, with mayors across the United States endorsing it as a holiday.

Black History Month, in its modern form, was first proposed by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, from January 2, 1970 to February 28, 1970. Six years later, Black History Month was being celebrated all across America in educational institutions, centres of Black culture and community centres, both great and small, when President Gerald Ford recognised Black History Month, during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial. He urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history”.

In the United Kingdom, Black History Month was first celebrated in 1987. It was organised through the leadership of Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo.

About St Ann’s Stories
The Renewal Trust has worked in partnership with the well-known Nottingham writer, storyteller and performance poet, Panya Banjoko, and local Creative Engagement Curator, Bo Olawoye, to produce St Ann’s Stories – a one-off newspaper celebrating the strength, diversity and true spirit of this amazing community. Find out more

Got a St Ann’s story to share?
You can still share your stories and images or anything else about St Ann’s by emailing us and we’ll add them to our website. Anyone of any age is welcome to get involved including children, so why not get creative, celebrate St Ann’s and stay connected to your community online.

Many thanks and stay tuned!