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The vast archives include everything from a small silver coin, depicting Septimus Severus, the black Roman emperor, dating back to AD, a collection of photographs of the affluent black Barbour-James family from the Edwardian era and the entire back catalogue of black lifestyle magazines such as Drum and Flamingo, which date from the s. It also houses the entire collection of the race relations thinktank the Runnymede Trust, as well as the private documents of Ansel Wong, a key figure in setting up Black History Month.
Dame Jocelyn Barrow, who was one of the founding members of the BCA and later became the first black woman governor of the BBC, said the archive occupied a vital place in shaping Britain's history.
It's important there is a repository of those achievements. It's taken years of hard work, struggle and constant pleading to people to get this on the mainstream agenda.
It was a very emotional moment for me and I was despairing that we would ever get to this particular point. The original founders of the archive fought two failed campaigns to try to raise funding for a permanent building for their ever-growing collection. For Reid, who joined the organisation as director in , the journey of the organisation from a small shopfront to a multi-million pound archive and exhibition space has been long and fraught.
Yet, he said, the success of the opening which was attended by figures from Benjamin Zephaniah to Sol Campbell and Zadie Smith, below left, proved that the telling of black history, and moving it into mainstream consciousness and conversation is as important and relevant an issue now as it was when the Black Cultural Archives first came into being. It has a functional role to play in how people see themselves, whether or not they are reflected positively, whether they are bombarded by negative representations of themselves.
These are the big indications of what it is to be black and so history and heritage has a wonderful way of countering some of those representations.
When we look into the history book and we have access to some of this material, we can see ourselves in different ways, achieving, doing great things, having overcome great barriersand obstacles. We have it if we look for it.
It's in the oral history testimonies, it's in the oral tradition, its in art, it's in sculpture it's in music. It's always been there in culture, but it's also in the records offices, it's in the cemeteries, it's in the hard documented evidence. So we want to combine those kinds of tangible and intangible heritage and start to tell fascinating stories through this archive, and I believe if we do that we actually do put something out there to get people to re-think who we are and who we feel we are.
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