Exhibition tells untold story of Chesterfield’s African and Caribbean immigrants
The previously untold story of Chesterfield’s African and Caribbean immigrants, as well as its unsettling links to slavery, is being highlighted in an exhibition that celebrates black history.
Upon arrival at the museum, one of the first things you are greeted with is a display about Gilbert Heathcote – a former Lord Mayor of London and Governor of the Bank of England, who profited from the slave trade.
Born in Chesterfield in the 17th Century, he was once a celebrated part of the town’s history and even had a school named after him.
“He was one of the most respected people in England at the time, but he got most of his wealth because he owned most of the shipping rights in Jamaica,” Derbyshire county councillor and ACCA chairman Lud Ramsey explains.
‘Chesterfield Black Stories’ puts a spotlight on people who were invited to England from the Caribbean the 1940s and 50s to help rebuild the country after the Second World War.
“We wanted to raise awareness of the contirbution the black community has made to Chesterfield,” Councillor Ramsey says.
“Our history is just as important as anybody elses.”
The influx of Caribbean immigrants to the UK is often referred to as the ‘Windrush generation’, so called after HMT Empire Windrush, which transported people across the Atlantic.
Despite being invited, they were not given a warm welcome by many British people.
“It would have been sold to them because they wanted to come over and help rebuild the country post-war,” ACCA management committee member Melissa Redhead says.
Her grandfather Reuben Redhead first arrived in the UK in 1956, having left his wife Ann and everything he knew in Grenada.
However she says he encountered racism ‘from the moment he got off the boat’.
The policy of many landlords was ‘no Irish or blacks’, limiting the availability of rented housing.
As a result, several people would often have to live together until they were able to save up to buy their own house.
“This is why the ACCA was established, because they were segregated from society,” Melissa continued.
Reuben worked at Staveley Works for a number of years and moved to Brimington.
He brought his wife Ann over from Grenada and the couple had five sons here.
When she sadly passed away in 1974 he turned his focus to raising his children, however later went onto become a councillor in Brimington, where he still lives aged 92.
Melissa says: “My grandad is proud to be a British citizen.”
His story is told as part of the exhibition, alongside that of one of the ACCA’s founding members, Beverley Powell, who worked with Chesterfield Law Centre and was instrumental in bringing the Credit Union to town allowing people on lower incomes access to banking services.
Beverley was awarded an MBE in 2004 for her services to the community.
Decades down the line, the black community still faces challenges in modern Britain.
“Years ago people wouldn’t think twice about being racist to your face, but it’s more subtle now,” Melissa explains.
The MBRRACE-UK Report released earlier this year revealed black women in the UK are four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women.
The report highlights a number of socio-economic factors in the discrepancy.
Melissa outlines that black mothers are often believed to be exaggerating about issues in pregnancy and are seen as being able to ‘handle pain better’.
In his career as a firefighter, Cllr Ramsey observed racial disparities in the fire and rescue service.
“We never had a black firefighter in Chesterfield,” he says.
“I find that very offensive.”
The Macpherson Report on the investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993 found that there had been ‘institutional racism’ within the police.
It detailed 70 recommendations as a result of its findings, one of which being for police and fire service, among other organisations, to improve race relations and accountability.
“They were told they had to do more to encourage people of ethnic minorities to join,” Cllr Ramsey comments.
“That was in 1999. I’m still waiting now in 2021.”
Melissa says her dream is that one day there will be no differenciation between races.
She added that she doesn’t want any special treatment because of her colour or sex.
“I wouldn’t want to have any job in any sector because I am black and I am female,” Melissa explains.
“I want it with my own merit.”
Cllr Ramsey has turned his attention to the younger generation in a bid to bridge the gap.
Over the last three years he has toured schools across the area in his role as chairman of the ACCA speaking to young people about importance of racial equality.
The ‘Chesterfield Black Stories’ exhibition is open to view at Chesterfield Museum until Janaury 15.
For more information, visit www.chesterfield.gov.uk/explore-chesterfield/museum