A thought provoking exhibition exploring the lives of Caribbean people from the 1950s to the present day gives a fascinating insight in to the changing times through the voices of those who experienced it.
The film and exhibition All About Me, which is on display in the Croydon Museum at Croydon Clocktower showcases the personal experiences of immigrants from their arrival in Britain and the hospitality and prejudice they faced.
Presented by ASKI (Advice Support Knowledge Information), in Brigstock Road, Thornton Heath, the project is heritage lottery funded and focusses on the accounts of 14 people who have lived through a period of significant change.
Their contributions have become such an integral part of the fabric of modern Croydon but often the impact of their Caribbean origins are overlooked, which the project aims to redress.
In the forward to the exhibition ASKI director Joseph Jeffers puts the circumstances of those times in context.
“Many of those who arrived in the UK between the late 1940s and early 1960s did not intend to stay permanently
“At the time, political independence from Britain seemed within reach for Caribbean territories, yet life under colonialism left many people feeling torn between two worlds.
“The 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, which was widely seen as being racially motivated, underlined this social exclusion by placing restrictions on immigration based on an individual’s “prospects of employment” thus making changing former “British Caribbean” people into unwanted strangers.
“With amazing resilience the migrants used this adversity as a catalyst to find new ways of expressing their identity, and that of their community, at home, in their workplaces and in public spaces. “
Gloria Williams recalling her happy childhood in Jamaica and the importance of Black History Month said : “Black people made good situations out of bad circumstances as some of them sort them lives through fighting and suffering’.”
Leonora Dixon: “My first impression when I arrived was whoa. It was so different from what I had thought. The houses were like factories, I did not expect to see trees and mud.”
Wilbert Carter who arrived in 1958 from Jamaica said: “When I arrived in Southampton, we travelled by train to get to Waterloo. The friend I was expecting to come and get me did not turn up but fortunately for me I saw another friend from my district who took me to his home (he was already here 6 months).
“In those days, Black people used to go to the rail station to see if they see anyone they know that has just come to England and to see if anyone need help (those where the days where everyone look out for everyone).”
Shirley Farguharson said of her arrival from Jamaica in 1961:“My first impression, the building looks very dirty. I expected because the Queen lives here the building would be nice and clean. “
Elsie Sutherland, who worked as a nurse in the NHS for 44 years having come from Barbados in 1965 in response to a question where she regards home? “My reply is England. The reason for that answer is because I have lived in England more years than in my country of origin.
“I am now use to the British way of life and I love fish and chips. I have travelled most places in England and the rest of the British Isles. I was once told by a English man (patient) after having a conversation with him, he said: ‘you have been in more places in this country than he does! He also asked me where did I learn to speak English? I nearly died laughing. “
Asked what Black History month means to you? Elsie Sutherland replied: “ To me, every month of the year is Black History month.”