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Black History Month at Birkbeck

Birkbeck will host a free public lecture on the African Diaspora in Spain on 8 October, as well as an exhibition exploring first-hand accounts of the Windrush generation, developed by Eastside Community Heritage, running from 14-19 October.

West Indian immigrants hide their faces from the camera on arrival at Victoria Station, London from Southampton Docks. Picture Post, ‘Thirty Thousand Colour Problems’, 1956 (© Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This October, Birkbeck will be hosting a number of events to celebrate and explore black history, heritage and culture as part of Black History Month 2019. These are part of a broader programme of events and performances across the borough of Newham which will this year tie in with the theme ‘recognising the past, shaping the future’.

On 8 October, Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement team will host a free, public lecture by Dr Carmen Fracchia, on the subject of the African Presence in Spain from the 16th to the 18th centuries, as part of the Big Ideas lecture series. Very little is known about the African Diaspora in Spain in this period, since their presence and cultural contributions have been erased from history books.

Taking place at Stratford Library, Dr Fracchia will draw on visual and written examples of how Africans and their descendants were represented in art and literature. She will discuss recently discovered collective poems written in the first ever founded 'black' confraternities of the Western World, and the very little known but fascinating artistic career of the freedman painter Juan de Pareja at the Spanish Royal Court which will reveal the African voice of enslaved and liberated people in Spain. The ways in which Spaniard artists and their wealthy clients depicted their enslaved Africans and Afro-Hispanics in paintings, drawings and sculptures will also be introduced, to illustrate the origins of contemporary racism.

Dr Fracchia said: "People think there were quite insignificant numbers of Africans in Spain during this period, but in Seville, for example, 15% of the population was black. However, it's quite difficult to find paintings and sculptures of them, and this is one of the problems that we are going to confront in the lecture."

In addition, University Square Stratford (USS), Birkbeck's east London campus, will host Eastside Community Heritage’s exhibition on Windrush. The exhibition explores first-hand accounts of the journey, and what it was like for the new arrivals to Britain. Oral histories of those who took the journey will be on display at USS for staff, students, local residents and visitors to learn more about these experiences.

Cheryl Samuels, is one member of the Windrush generation who is featured in the exhibition. Her recount of her experience of arriving in Britain reads: "People there wasn't very friendly at first. When you came to this country. If you said 'good morning' to them then they would be rude or say nothing. They would look at you as if you were mad. In the West Indies we were brought up to say 'good morning' to everyone."

The exhibition will be at USS from Monday 14 - Friday 19 October, including a special celebration event with refreshments on 15 October, and is free for anyone to drop in and read the stories told by Cheryl and many others who were aboard the ship for this life-changing voyage.

Birkbeck's events are just a small part of a fantastic range of celebrations, talks and workshops going on across the London Borough of Newham this month. For more information on the full programme, head to Newham's Black History Month website

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