Matters of Fact
“Just don’t give up what you’re trying to do,” believed the American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. “Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” Every month should be Black History Month. But not every day can be National Windrush Day. To mark the 73rd anniversary of the Empire Windrush ship docking into Tilbury, bringing workers from Caribbean countries to help fill postwar British labour shortages, Black Heroes Foundation opened an exhibition in central London on 22 June. Chair of Trustees Joyce Fraser explains, “I set up Black Heroes Foundation in memory of my late husband. Recently, we entered a competition organised by Westminster City Council for a pop up in Piccadilly. We were one of 11 successful applicants out of a total of 120.”
The Foundation is a community based charity for the development and promotion of talent, together with cultural and artistic initiatives in the community. And as Joyce succinctly puts it, “A world where Black Heroes are acknowledged, respected and celebrated.” The Chair’s late husband, Peter Randolph Fraser, known to all as “Flip Fraser”, was the first Editor of The Voice newspaper and joint creator of the show Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame. The ground floor of the exhibition is devoted to the Windrush Collection and the Black Heroes Wall of Fame.
The Windrush Collection includes a living room, bedroom and kitchen furnished with typical West Indian items from family portraits to a porcelain book of the 23rd Psalm. A commemoration of Flip Fraser is joined on the Wall of Fame by inspirational people from the past and present: the Classic Collection, London’s Great Women of Colour and Wandsworth People. Take Harriet Tubman. She was a slave born in Maryland who fled to the free state of Pennsylvania in 1820 aged 29. She returned to Maryland over the next decade to rescue both family members and friends at great peril to her life. Harriet was buried with military honours in Fort Hill Cemetery New York in 1913. As African American civil rights activist Asa Philip Randolph observed, “Freedom is never given; it is won.”
“My heart will always be in Brixton,” Olive Morris, a heroine on the Wall of Fame, once said. Born in Jamaica in 1915, she came to the UK aged nine. Her first home was off Wandsworth Road and she went to Lavender Hill Girls’ School. As an adult living in Brixton, her activism took off. Olive was involved in many campaigns including the scrapping of Suspected Person Laws which permitted police to stop and search anyone suspected of loitering but was used indiscriminately against black people. She died in 1979.
A showcase of some of the dresses of the UK’s leading black fashion designer Mary Martin London is on display on the mezzanine level of this exhibition at 12 Waterloo Place. “I’m thrilled to have been asked to be part of this important event,” Mary confirmed. The designer is providing demonstrations each day on how her clothes are actually made: the sewing machine is clearly on overtime. Pointing to one of her pieces she exclaims, “It’s called the Death of a Queen as it nearly killed me making that dress!” Attendance has been lively. Westminster Councillors were at the opening and the flow has been constant ever since – the exhibition lasts five weeks. Heather Small, the Voice of M People, and soprano Nadine Benjamin are two of many well known supporters to enjoy it so far.
Councillor Matthew Green, Cabinet Member for Business, Licensing and Planning, pointing to Mary’s Marilyn Monroe Dress exclaimed, “A faux foxtail. Oh golly! Has somebody worn that? This is all so fantastic. I’m really pleased to see the whole exhibition too.” Councillor Louise Hyams, Deputy Cabinet Member for Communities and Regeneration, added, “I’m also really pleased to see the exhibition. It’s beautifully choreographed for the venue and so interesting. Mary’s show is great: she could easily harness her creativity into the world of film costumery.” No doubt Councillor Hyams would agree with Dr Mae Jemison, the first African American female astronaut, who believes, “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”