Understanding Ourselves: One Man’s Experience (1988)

Bristol is a city of merchants, of commerce and of slavery. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the merchants and bankers of Bristol accumulated massive profits by financing much of Britain’s trade in African people. In the 19th century, two Bristolian historians wrote ‘There is not a brick in the city but what is cemented with the blood of a slave. Sumptuous mansions, luxurious living, liveried menials, were the produce of the wealth made from the sufferings and groans of the slaves bought and sold by the Bristol merchants.’ [quoted in Eric Williams, "British Commerce and the Triangular Trade", Capitalism & Slavery, University of North Carolina Press, 1944: 61]

Almost inevitably, Bristol has to be one of the most ‘racist’ cities in Britain. A city which has consistently attempted to downgrade, compartmentalise, and segregate its Black residents. Behind the pretty, respectable, and liberal sheen of the Bristol most of you see, there lies a rabidly racist city, a direct legacy of its infamous trade in Black people. Bristol’s Black population is the collective victim of an enforced, crippling, and frustrating invisibility. Their voices remain unheard. Their presence remains shrouded and obscured. So when the opportunity presented itself for me to research and help present something about the often forgotten and unknown histories of Black people in Bristol, I willingly involved myself in the project. Anything which helps to give Bristol’s Black population a voice and a constructive identity can only be positive and progressive.

It was during the late summer of 1986 that I was approached by the Watershed Media Centre in Bristol, to collaborate with them on a local Black history exhibition. The Watershed is a large complex which houses, amongst other things, two cinemas and two gallery spaces. The envisaged exhibition was to take place in the smaller of the two galleries, and would support a bigger, concurrent exhibition, about the Notting Hill Carnival…

… The period of research completed, I handed over my material in organised, chronological order, to the Watershed. It was they, with the help of a graphic designer, who turned it into a laminated exhibition of some 30 or so panels.

The above extracts are from  a text, by Eddie Chambers, in CEI Interpretation: Focus on Ethnic Groups and Communities, May 1988, page 7. Centre for Environmental Interpretation, Manchester Polytechnic, Manchester.