Monday, July 4, 2022
Monday, March 28, 2022
Library fines have been scrapped!
Thursday, February 17, 2022
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Steel City Queer History film screening
Delivered online through Zoom
Book through Eventbrite
New Queer Kidlit for the New Year
Book through Eventbrite
Book through Eventbrite
All the titles are available to borrow from Sheffield Libraries. Why not see how many you can read by the end of 2022?
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
For information on our other Black History Month events, see here.
Thursday, September 30, 2021
Désirée Reynolds has been the Writer in Residence at Sheffield City Archives for five months now and in that short time, she has uncovered some fascinating and hitherto unsung histories of Black Sheffield residents in the archives. Although her work has focused on hidden lives and marginalised voices, she has also revisited more widely known stories from living memory. One such account took her back to the 1960s, a time of rapidly changing culture, values and behaviours - particularly among young people. The University of Sheffield’s Students’ Union was, by this time, becoming more political, with protests against the Vietnam War and high-profile speakers such as Malcolm X drawing large audiences.
Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little, 1925 -1965) was an African American leader in the civil rights movement and a vocal advocate for Black empowerment during the 1950s and 1960s. Formerly a member of The Nation Of Islam, he left this organisation to forge his own path; the fight for civil rights would not have been the same without him. He was invited to speak at the Students’ Union in Sheffield on 4th December 1964 - one of only three places outside of London where he spoke. In his speech Malcolm X declared: “We are not fighting for civil rights; we are fighting for human rights. Freedom is a valuable thing. To get it I would use any means necessary, any time.” Afterwards, the Students’ Union gazette, Darts, wrote enthusiastically about his visit, describing in detail the hour-long speech, given to one of the largest audiences ever seen in the Union.An original copy of Darts from 1964 - somewhat yellowing and brittle - still survives in the annals of Sheffield Local Studies Library - one of the few surviving accounts that recalls Malcolm X’s visit to Sheffield. This would have been the end of the story if Désirée hadn’t dug a little deeper: ‘there must be more.’ A trawl through the newspapers revealed a number of unsettling articles in the local press. ‘Row feared over Malcolm X visit’ warned The Star, ‘visit likely to cause racial troubles.’ In the Sheffield Telegraph the following day an inflammatory article claimed: ‘over 700 angry students hissed Malcolm X at Sheffield University last night’. The student body took exception to this, arguing the report grossly misrepresented what took place.
In Désirée’s words:
‘Malcolm X visits Sheffield Dec 1964. A headline predicts trouble, there wasn’t any. The Sheffield Telegraph make up a story that he was hissed at by 700 students. They didn’t. A petition is made against the paper’s misinformation. Even then.The story is in the story…
They tried to draw him into a comment about, by this time, a dead Kennedy. Malcolm refused to be baited.
“I believe in the brotherhood of the human race and don’t care to know anybody who is not prepared to be my brother.”’
A mass protest in the form of a petition was hand delivered to the Star and Telegraph offices and a separate protest was made by the Secretary of the Union who wrote to the Telegraph expressing his dismay at the ‘violent distortion in the report, which he felt was especially ironic in view of Malcolm X’s opening remarks, in which he had stressed the danger of an irresponsible press’.
The Telegraph news editor, ‘though obviously disturbed’, declined to comment further.
Malcolm X visited Britain once more - in February 1965 - to speak in London and Smethwick. A few short weeks later, following his return to the U.S., he was assassinated. This story is thought-provoking on many levels. It points to a prevailing racist culture in Britain; Malcolm X’s visits were met with hostility and lies from the press, underlining the national race row which challenged what it meant to be British in the post-war years. It reminds us, too, that when we look at historical records, we must ask: whose truth are we reading?
Désirée Reynolds and archivist Cheryl Bailey will be talking more about the hidden histories, silent voices and important discoveries they have found in Sheffield Archives at their Off The Shelf event:
Millennium Gallery, Thursday 21st October 2021, 12:30pm - 1:30pm
Darts, No.247, 10 Dec 1964 (Sheffield Local Studies Library)
The Star, 1 Dec 1964 (Sheffield Local Studies Library)
Sheffield Telegraph, 5 Dec 1964 (Sheffield Local Studies Library)
Thursday, August 19, 2021
This is not the first time she has looked to the archives for narratives. In 2019, she wrote Born on Sunday, Silent, a powerful short story (published in ‘The Book Of Sheffield’ by Comma Press) about the unmarked grave of an African child dating from the early 1900s. The story is told by a child spirit called Kai Akosua Mansah who wanders through Sheffield’s libraries and archives uncovering her own past, searching for lost truths. As she found, Sheffield’s own archives don’t always reveal the full tale - “looking for Sheffield’s past is not easy” says Désirée, “the things that get left out tell a story all of their own.” Moreover, as one reviewer noted, one of the uncomfortable truths the story highlights is “the city’s shameful collusion in a racist and imperial past”.
This is an important area that has come under scrutiny in recent months culminating in the Race Equality Commission which is examining the nature, extent, causes and impacts of racism and race inequality within the city. Among the many recommendations, academics have pinpointed the need for greater archival research into Sheffield’s involvement in the slave trade - the extent to which the city prospered from the trade in African slaves, an understanding of who was involved and the means by which they benefited directly or indirectly, and the amount of capital that was generated by slavery which fed into the close social networks in Sheffield. Answers to these questions are harder to come by than in port-cities such as Liverpool or Bristol where the accrued economic benefits of slavery are well-known.
Only a few weeks ago, Désirée came across one of the most arresting documents we have found to date. Following our last project blog, local researcher Terry Howard got in touch mentioning that he’d come across a reference that might be of interest in the little-known ‘Ronksley Collection’ - an assembly of original archives and transcripts compiled by Mr J.G. Ronksley (1851-1916) of Sheffield. Crucially, Mr Ronksley had meticulously transcribed thousands of pages of documents that were later auctioned off in the 19th century and have long-since disappeared. The transcripts survive in the archives. Among these - a reference of great significance:
An inventory of goods of Reginald Wilson (deceased) of Broomhead Hall, Sheffield, 1694, giving the value of black slaves. Alongside French pistols and pearl necklaces, the following names are given:
1 negro boy named Mingo £24
2 negro women £45
1 negro named Hector £25
1 negro woman £28
1 negro named Debby £25
“Sometimes when looking at this, as a Black creative we often have to ask ourselves, is this something that is useful?
Why do we always look at Black pain porn and not at the other stories?
Our history is not only slavery, but also the centuries before, why root it in this?
Why is it that these are the stories that get funded? Delivered? Written about? I get that. I get that it often feels that this is all anyone wants to engage with. I get that we are more than this. I agree.
I think about the silences. The structured absences.
I think about what it means for a writer like me to look at this. I know I may never find their real names but since these are the ones that I’ve found then this is what I have.
I need to say to these people, with names that aren’t theirs,
‘I see you’.
Speak the unspeakable.
We must see archives as a source of reparative justice.
We were always here.”
The Wilson family were a prominent family who lived at Broomhead Hall in Bradfield - they had extensive business interests in plantations and slaves in Jamaica. Although Reginald Wilson died in 1692 (killed during an earthquake in Jamaica), the wealth accumulated from the slave trade passed down the generations. The will of John Wilson (dated 22 Jan 1762) in Sheffield Archives mentions ‘lands, tenements, plantations and hereditaments in the island of Jamaica in America’ formerly belonging to his great uncle, Reginald Wilson. And the executors of the will? Wilson’s relatives - John Trevers Younge of Sheffield, mercer and Thomas Staniforth of Liverpool, merchant (and slave trader).
Sheffield is often lauded as a centre for radical anti-slavery protest; while this is undoubtedly true, it is only part of the story. The less palatable truths are just below the surface, they’re buried in the archives, we just need to find them.
The Archives and Reparative Justice (Off The Shelf event)
Millennium Galleries, 12:30-13:30, Thursday 21 October 2021 (tickets available soon)