Birmingham Museums takes oral histories of local Windrush Generation online

The recordings will be made available via Birmingham Museum’s website for free, providing easier access to researchers and schools.

Pictured clockwise from top-left: Carlton Duncan (© Kate Green BBOHP), Ryland Campbell (© Kate Green BBOHP), Esme Lancaster (© BBOHP), Frank Scantlebury (© Kate Green BBOHP).

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 first came to the UK from the Caribbean between the 1940s and 60s.

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 with recordings and photography.

Ranjit Sondhi from the Birmingham Black Oral History Project said those involved in its creation “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.”

Birmingham Museums’ online library

Birmingham Museums said the recordings 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.

The digitisation project has been made possible with a grant from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

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 said it will continue to work with members of the Birmingham Black Oral History Project, and Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham, to digitise the rest of the oral histories, making them available later this year.

The wider collection of recordings includes the life testimonies of 19 people with over 40 hours of content, previously only available to researchers on CD but now available online via Birmingham Museums’ online library.

An additional oral history recorded in 2016 as part of Birmingham Museums’ Collecting Birmingham project with Mrs Eunice McGhie-Belgrave MBE, who emigrated to England in 1957, has also been made available online.

Jo-Ann Curtis, Curator at Birmingham Museums said the Birmingham Black Oral History Project had 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.

“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.”

The Windrush interviews will also be made available to schools as a learning resource for primary and secondary children.