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14 Oct 2021

Hidden Histories of Birmingham’s Windrush Generation Made Available To All

• Recordings chronicling the lives of Birmingham’s Windrush generation now available online for the first time
• Life testimonies also made available as a free resource to schools.

Audio recordings of people who arrived in Birmingham as part of the Windrush Generation are being made available online for the first time by Birmingham Museums. The oral histories, which were recorded in the 1990s, feature the life stories of 4 people who came to the UK from the Caribbean in the 1940s to the 1960s.

Deposited in the City Sound Archive at Birmingham Museums in the nineties, they were previously only available to researchers on CD. Two decades later the recordings have now been digitised and catalogued and can be listened to via Birmingham Museums’ online library at dams.birminghammuseums.org.uk

The recordings were the result of the Birmingham Black Oral History Project, established in 1990 with the aim of preserving the memories of the oldest living generation of African Caribbean and South Asian migrants to Birmingham by recording, preserving and maintaining an archive of oral history and photographic material. The wider collection of recordings includes the life testimonies of 19 people with over 40 hours of content.

The Windrush interviews capture the personal experience and memories of people who emigrated to Britain from the Caribbean. Their stories explore the places where they grew up, their journey to Birmingham and their lives in the UK. They reveal the personal experiences of racial intolerance and the events which led to the Handsworth Riots in the 1980s, as well as stories of community, friendship and coming to terms with the Great British weather.

Jo-Ann Curtis, Curator at Birmingham Museums said:
“In the 1990s the Birmingham Black Oral History Project aimed to ‘set the record straight’ and ensure the stories of Caribbean and South Asian people were documented and made available as a public resource. In doing so they created a valuable and rich record of the experiences of post-war migrants to Birmingham.

“Now two decades later, with the digitisation of these recordings the legacy of their stories can continue to be an important resource in understanding the Black British experience in the 20th century. Nothing can replace the directness of first-hand accounts and these recordings are like a time machine.”

Ranjit Sondhi from the Birmingham Black Oral History Project said:

“Those of us who were so deeply involved in capturing the extraordinary stories of the earlier migrant-settlers in the UK are delighted that they will now become available to the wider public. They will significantly enrich and widen the great wealth of oral histories that define the complex character of post-war Britain. We remain grateful to Birmingham Museums for making this possible.”

Four of the newly digitised recordings have been published online to coincide with Black History Month and feature the stories of a range of individuals including Carlton Duncan – Britain’s first Black head teacher and Esme Lancaster MBE, a carer and community leader. 

Birmingham Museums will continue to work with members of the Birmingham Black Oral History Project, and University of Birmingham, Cadbury Research Library, to digitise the rest of the oral histories to be made available later this year. An additional oral history (recorded in 2016 as part of the Collecting Birmingham project) with community hero Mrs Eunice McGhie-Belgrave MBE, who emigrated to England in 1957, has also been made available online.

The Windrush interviews will also be made available to schools as a learning resource for primary and secondary children. The free resources will include profiles of each individual and suggested activities to use with students created by Birmingham Museums learning and engagement team. View the Schools Resources on Black History.

The digitisation of the Birmingham Black Oral History Project has been made possible with a grant from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Links to the Birmingham Black Oral History recordings:
Esme Lancaster
Carlton Duncan
Frank Scantlebury
Ryland Campbell
Link to the Collecting Birmingham recording: Eunice McGhie-Belgrave

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