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The National Archives are situated in the very pretty suburb of Kew, West London. On a sunny afternoon I headed there on the invite of Michael Mahoney who I met a few months ago when he visited Liverpool, his home town, to view the Great War to Race Riots Archive (in preparation for a planned National Archives project on 1919 as we approach the 100 year centenary of the horrendous rioting in seaports across the country).

Michael had obviously been inspired by the Liverpool archive and he had pulled out a fascinating range of papers contained in leather backed volumes and dusty paper files. Together we deciphered the scrawled hand writing of civil servants from the Home Office, the Colonial Office and the Ministry of Labour. Their notes, in response to police reports from Liverpool senior police officers on the Liverpool riots and in response to the Lord Mayor's requests for a solution the problem of black unemployment, were generally of buck passing underpinned by not so subtle institutionalised racism.

One gem of a document is a list containing the names of 285 men from the Caribbean and West Africa, complete with their addresses, their marital status and an indication of whether they were prepared to be repatriated back to their home county. This list has been viewed before and has been analysed by John Belcham in Beyond the Windrush. What has not been explored is the fate of these individual men. Were they repatriated or was the sum offered to relocate and start a new life inadequate? Did they discover, as has been documented, that the conditions they were expected to travel in were unfit for human habitation? Did they find, like Elisha Sterling (letter, 2nd July 1919, Great War to Race Riots Archive, Liverpool Records Office) that there was no accommodation for wives and partners on board the ship?

From the list of 47 names of black men in destitution, given to the Lord Mayor and contained in The Great War to Race Riots Archive, the Archive group traced a host of families who are directly related to just three men from that list. We now have a host of more names to research shedding further light on the heritage of Liverpool's black community.

I’d recommend a trip to The National Archives in Kew; the building is impressive, set in beautiful grounds, surrounded by lakes complete with swans. Closer to home, a selection of The Great War to Race Riots Archive is currently on display in Toxteth library and the full archive can be viewed by appointment at the Liverpool Records office which is situated on the third floor of Liverpool Central Library.


-Madeline Heneghan, Co-director
 
 

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