Hannah Ishmael, an archivist at the Black Cultural Archives, reflects on the colleagues, thinkers and activists who have guided her career.
Queen Mother Moore
Without Queen Mother Moore there would be no Black Cultural Archives, and without the Black Cultural Archives I would not be the person I am today. The Black Cultural Archives’ origins are often cited as the convergence of two separate events: the aftermath of the disturbances of 1981 and a visit to Britain by African American activist Queen Mother Moore. Born Audley Moore in 1898 in Louisiana, USA, Moore spent most of her life involved in activism and politics, focusing on the liberation of Black people.
Queen Mother Moore visited the UK in 1982 to discuss her vision for the construction of a monument to Black history. During her trip she met the founding members of the Black Cultural Archives. The inspiraton the founders took from her was captured in the official charity title of the Black Cultural Archives, the African People’s Historical Monument Foundation. As part of our legacy, our building on Windrush Square continues to act as a key monument to Black history.
Throughout the process of writing my thesis, the work and words of cultural theorist Stuart Hall have guided me. My research broadly covers post-Windrush Black settlement, and at every important historical ‘moment’ Hall’s work has offered key critique and contextualisation of the period. I think there is important future work for those within the heritage sector to acknowledge Hall’s sustained engagement as a key voice in arts and heritage. I was never fortunate enough to meet him before he passed away in 2014, but his work remains a key touchstone and important foundation of my work.
Another key thinker who has underpinned my work and helped me reconsider my own collecting practices – foregrounding the agency of the individual and communities – has been Arthur Schomburg. Arturo (Arthur) Alfonso Schomburg was a Puerto Rican-born Black scholar who devoted his life to collecting material on Black history and culture, and whose collection forms the basis of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Centre. Schomburg’s writing, featured in the acclaimed ‘New Negro’ anthology which sparked what became known as the Harlem Renaissance, highlighted another way of thinking about archives and the use of history as a tool for validation.
Kelly Foster and Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski
I met Kelly and Ego through working at the Black Cultural Archives. Kelly Foster is a blue badge guide and part of the Open Knowledge movement, and Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski is an archivist and artist. Both Kelly and Ego have dedicated their time and energies not only to researching and preserving the histories of people, particularly women of African descent, but also to pushing the boundaries of how we engage with history. Kelly and Ego constantly question the production of historical narratives and refocus attention to the voices of those who are often neglected. Through their work they have found creative ways of bringing history and heritage to new audiences, and I am forever amazed by their generosity and knowledge.
Hannah Ishmael is an archivist working at the Black Cultural Archives and is currently finishing her PhD at UCL on the development of Black-led archives in London.