From Great War to Race Riots

Writing on the Wall have launched an exciting new project which will look at an archive of original documents from 1919 to 1921 relating to Black ex-servicemen, seamen and factory workers who found themselves amongst race riots after the First World War in Liverpool. We are currently recruiting people who may be interested in getting involved in this project. Do you want to find out more about your heritage? Do you have a passion for history and local history? If so, please read more about the project and how you can get involved. If you would like to book a place on this project or find out more information, please contact Madeline Heneghan on 0151 703 0020 or email

A section of the archive is available to view in the reception area of the Kuumba Imani Millennium Centre, 4 Princes Road, Toxteth, L8 1TH and will then be available to view in Toxteth Library, Windsor Street, Liverpool, L9 1XF from the 9th June 2015.

The Archive
Writing on the Wall have been presented with a number of significant, original documents covering the period 1919 to 1921, by community member and activist Joe Farrag. This archive relates to the position of Black ex-servicemen, seamen and factory workers stranded or left destitute in Liverpool after the First World War. This archive includes letters and testimony from soldiers and merchant seamen from the West Indies and the Caribbean, who had fought for England on land and at sea during the Great War of 1914, or had worked in factories in Liverpool, and had wives and children here. They were then subjected to verbal, physical and institutional racial abuse on the streets of Liverpool. They reveal their plight of daily racism and loss of jobs because of the boycott by white workers, a boycott often supported by the trades unions, and of being stranded in a country that no longer wanted them, even though they had fought for England during WW1. This tension led to the race riots of 1919, resulting in many serious assaults and attacks, and the death of Charles Wootton, a Black seaman murdered by a White mob. The unique nature of this material is that it contains the written word of those ex-servicemen, sailors and workers who were being confronted with abuse and assault, while facing destitution. 
The Heritage Project
In recognition of the immense historical importance of this archive, both locally and nationally, Writing on the Wall have been awarded funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund to run a seventeen month creative heritage project.  Local Writer Emy Onuora, Historian Mike Boyle, Poet Levi Tafari and WoW’s Co-Director, Madeline Heneghan will work with community members to explore, preserve and catalogue the archive and to respond creatively to this incredible resource.

Participants will have the opportunity to:

- Explore Black settlement in Liverpool and the UK from the early establishment of that community in the late 1800's and early 1900's, and will gain an understanding of how the Liverpool community differed in its development as compared to other UK cities while being able to identify similarities across the Black British experience.
-  Conduct historical research and have the opportunity to research members of their own community and families.
- Develop skills, in cataloguing, digitisation, preservation and curation, in relation to historic documentary archives, receive training and advice from a range of professionals including staff within the Liverpool Records Office and National Museums Liverpool.
- Develop web based skills through the scanning, cataloguing and digitisation of the archive on a dedicated website.
- Respond creatively to the archive guided and supported by renowned poet Levi Tafari from the huge interest generated by the George Garrett Archive, the Library management have indicated their willingness to house exhibitions and host activities to raise awareness of this new archives presence.

The ultimate aims of the project are to preserve this important collection for future generation and to raise awareness across the city and beyond on the contribution of Black Servicemen and Workers to the War effort and the subsequent ingratitude that they experienced. The project will begin at the end of June. 
For further information please call Madeline Heneghan on 0151 703 0020

The Great War to Race Riots project featured in Made In Cardiff's 'Routes' series. Presenter Ndidi Spencer travels around the United Kingdom to discover the causes and effects of the 1919 race riots. Madeline Heneghan and the group discuss the project and the archive in Episode 2 (Part 2) and Episode 3 (Part 1). 

Contact WoW

Address:  Toxteth Library, Windsor Street, Liverpool, L8 1TH
Map: Click Here for our location page

Tel:  0151 703 0020

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