Black history and anti-racism

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There is a wealth of material in the archives relevant to the fight against racism and anti-semitism from all parts of the world and periods of history, from the resistance against slavery to modern movements leading up to #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. These resources document the different forms of oppression and how they have been challenged and, to a certain extent, overcome, as well as exploring the ideological origins of such oppression as a capitalist/Imperialist construction.

CONTENT WARNING: These are original historical documents which use the language of their time, including terms which are considered offensive today, such as “negro”, “coloured”, etc.

Key collections and resources on these topics include: 

Paul Robeson

Robeson (1898-1976), the great African American singer, actor, footballer, lawyer, and political activist, was a leading figure in the US Civil Rights movement. MML holds many items relating to his life and work, such as this autographed souvenir programme of his British tour in the summer of 1931:

Paul Robeson UK Summer Tour 1931 souvenir programme with words of songs

Title Text: 
Paul Robeson souvenir programme

Williamson collection
John Williamson was a prominent member of the Communist Party of the USA who was imprisoned there and later deported to Britain where he worked at the MML. He was active in many US workers’ campaigns from the 1920s to the 1950s, and this collection contains many books and pamphlets relating to the civil rights movement in the USA, such as “A trade union programme of action for negro workers”. It also contains material written by or about Paul Robeson (above), including Robeson’s 1950 pamphlet “The negro people and the Soviet Union" and this leaflet celebrating his homecoming in New York in 1949, containing his speech "For freedom and peace:"

For Freedom and Peace Paul Robeson

Title Text: 
For Freedom and Peace

There is also a 1942 reprint of formerly enslaved freedom fighter Frederick Douglass on "Negroes and the National War Effort:"

Negroes and the national war effort Pamphlet by Frederick Douglass

Title Text: 
Negroes and the national war effort by Frederick Douglas

The MML also holds  the archives of Williamson’s son Robert, a leading geneticist who has been involved in  various campaigns including the Anti-Apartheid Movement and other anti-racist struggles. These collections include posters, pamphlets and other ephemera from these campaigns dating from 1950-1980, such as documents relating to police handling of a National Front demo and counter-demo in Glasgow in 1975, and papers relating to the Anti- Apartheid Movement (AAM) in Glasgow.

Abhimanyu (Manu) Manchanda collection
Manchanda was a political activist from Lahore in India (later Pakistan)  who   settled in Britain after partition, where he became involved in many campaigns along with his partner, the  Trinidad-born communist and activist Claudia Jones. Jones was a leading figure in anti-racism campaigning, as well as being a founder of the Notting Hill Carnival. This collection contains material relating to Jones, including photographs, letters, postcards and other ephemera, as well as photographs of demonstrations by the Indian Workers' Association in opposition to the Vietnam War, Apartheid, and the Ian Smith regime in Rhodesia.

Billy Strachan
Born in Jamaica in 1921 to formerly enslaved people, Strachan was an influential Black British war hero, lawyer, communist and civil rights campaigner, and one of the founders of the Movement for Colonial Freedom (now  Liberation). The MML holds some of his writings including "Sugar: the story of a colony", and a set of unique wooden printing blocks made for The Caribbean News.

Anti-apartheid Movement (AAM)
MML holds many striking examples of campaign material from this hugely important, successful  global movement to end racist apartheid in South Africa. These posters, pamphlets, and  books from the height of the struggle in the late 20th century give an overview of the movement and its connection to other international campaigns against racist oppression. 

We also have material from the African National Congress (ANC) and other organisations that were heavily involved in AAM, such as: ACTSA - Action for Southern Africa, international trade unions  (including material from the World Federation of Trade Unions Against Apartheid), International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa, and the UN Centre Against Apartheid (UNCAA).


International solidarity: Black volunteers in the Spanish Civil War 
Charlie Hutchison (1918–1993) was a communist activist and soldier, and the only British member of the International Brigades who was of mixed heritage. He also fought in the second world war and was involved in many anti-fascist activities including the Battle of Cable Street. MML holds this questionnaire he completed about his experience in Spain; scroll down this page to see his portrait photo.

Salaria Kee: 
The Pamphlet “A Negro nurse in republican Spain” documents this African American woman’s work in the Spanish Civil War, and includes details of other African American soldiers who volunteered with the International Brigade. 

Black Lives Matter

There are numerous other items in the collections relating to the civil rights struggle in the USA. This Daily Worker pamphlet from 1946 details the infamous case of two African American brothers and second world war veterans, Charles and Joseph Ferguson, who were murdered by a white policeman. The leaflet, "Dixie comes to New York: The Story of the Freeport GI Slayings" was published as part of the subsequent campaign for justice. 

Other archival collections show how racism was opposed in twentieth century Britain, for instance in photographs of important anti-fascist and anti-Nazi resistance such as the Battles of Cable Street and Brick Lane, and Rock against Racism.

Many items in the collections show how people of colour have played an intrinsic part in British workers' struggles for improved pay and conditions, for example in these photographs from industrial disputes in the 1970s and 80s. For more details of our holdings on this subject, see our Workers' Rights and Unemployment guide.

Writers against apartheid
The leveller
Searchlight South Africa
Discussion [South Africa]    
Afro-Asian and World Affairs        
Africa South
West Indian Gazette and Afro Asian Caribbean News
The Negro Worker
Race and Class

The photograph below shows Charlie Hutchison, British volunteer with the International Brigades:

Black and white photograph of Charlie Hutchison, a young man of mixed heritage wearing army uniform.