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Black History Month: Norma Gregory

15 October 15 words: James Walker

Ever wondered what Jamaicans in Nottingham have been up to for the last century or two? Read on...



What’s it all about? (wha gwan?)  

Research suggests that Jamaicans as a community have been evident in Britain predominately since the start of the 20th century, mainly as armed forces personnel in World War I and II.  Through the valuable work of the Nottingham Black Archives, led by Panya Banjoko, Ioney Smallhorne and their team, they have collated fresh evidence of many Nottingham-based military service personnel in the British Armed Forces. My book gives a flavour of true stories and experiences of life in Nottingham seen through the eyes of Jamaicans /Nottingham residents.

How many Jamaicans are there in Nottingham?
Jamaicans make up a relatively small percentage of the 1.87 million people of African heritage in the UK (ONS, 2011).  With an estimated 10,000 or so African Caribbean citizens in Nottingham from a Nottingham population of around 730,000 citizens, and compared to the UK population of around 63 million people, Jamaicans have made a significant impact (from a relatively small national population of 150,000 considered as Jamaican British) in terms of political, economic, educational, health, enterprise and housing sectors in Nottingham and across the UK.

Tell us how they’ve helped shape Nottingham as a city?
Nottingham has seen four well-known Jamaican sheriffs and three lord mayors and numerous councillors and senior civil servants, such as Eric Irons, the first black and Jamaican JP Magistrate in the UK in 1963. Nottingham has hailed the first black female Reverend Canon in the Church of England, Eve Pitts, who currently ministers between Nottingham and Birmingham and hosts many a marriage and funeral for West Indian families in Nottingham across the UK.  Through artistic endeavours, Pitman Browne has contributed to the development of the city’s BME literary scene as both a mentor and writer over the last 50 years. Pitman is a performance poet and classical pianist, and has written six books about culture and philosophy. He is undoubtedly an unsung literary talent in the city.

How have you told their stories?
The book is a series of oral testimonies and offers first-hand experience of the miners’ strikes, the early Nottingham carnivals and the origins and development of the African Caribbean National Artistic Centre (ACNA), a social and educational focal point of the black community in Nottingham from the mid-1970s onwards.  Milton Crosdale, once the head of the Race Relations Council in Nottingham tells his story of race relations in Nottingham generally.  

The book also mentions the visit to Nottingham by the Jamaican Prime Minister (then Chief Minister), Norman Washington Manley (b. 1893 - d. 1969 and a national hero of Jamaica) in September 1958, following the Nottingham race riots on the 23rd August 1958. His visit was to help improve the work experiences and employment rights of West Indians or other migrants in the city. The foreword by Cllr Merilta Bryan explains that Nottingham has existed and survived as a multicultural city and is a city where Jamaicans and many other diverse groups have always played an active part in its development and character.
 

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Why publish these stories now?
As an individual of Jamaican parentage and African heritage, born in Nottingham in 1969, I felt the need to assist in research activity by helping to document life in Nottingham in a under researched community, ‘as it was and as it is’ for future generations to understand and have access to. As a photojournalist and African history researcher in relation to the British context, I really wanted to capture ‘unheard voices’ from a variety of Jamaicans in Nottingham, from all walks of life and social standings.

The book is a testament to resilience, determination and survival. I believe that understanding and learning about the life journeys of others, of all nationalities, is crucial for the social, economic and mental strength needed to grow and develop in the fast-paced world we live in.

Norma Gregory (2015) Jamaicans in Nottingham, Narratives and Collections, Hansib Publications. £14.99

See Nottingham News Desk website for more information
 

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