Black History Month - Museum Mile

October is Black History Month, so we are celebrating everything Black History! This article looks at some of the wonderful Black History exhibitions you can find on the Museum Mile. The Museum Mile is a  collection of 13 extraordinary museums spanning from King’s Cross to the River Thames and across Camden. From the world’s most famous museums to charming smaller ones, there is history to find with every step. 

Here our some of the fascinating Black History exhibitions you will find on the Museum Mile:


1. Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land



British Library, Open until Sun 21 Oct 2018, Free

Welcomed by some as ‘Sons of Empire.’ Vilified by those spreading fears of a ‘black invasion.’ 70 years since the Empire Windrush carried hundreds of migrants to London, hear the Caribbean voices behind the 1940s headlines. Why did people come? What did they leave behind? And how did they shape Britain?

Learn about the Jamaican feminist poet Una Marson, who became the first black woman employed by the BBC. Read Trinidadian J J Thomas's scathing rebuttal of English colonialism. See the manuscripts of Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island and Benjamin Zephaniah's poem What Stephen Lawrence Has Taught Us. And listen to the sounds of the Caribbean, from jazz and calypso to the speeches of Marcus Garvey and personal reflections from some of the first Caribbean nurses to join the NHS.


2. Black at UCL

UCL Wilkins Building, 09:00-19:00, 1 October – 2 November 2018. Free

An exhibition celebrating the past and present faces of UCL. Discover the contributions that students, staff and alumni have made to UCL and beyond


3. First Amoungst Equals 

Mary Lamas Billet Book


The Foundling Museum, Free

Remarkable women who have shaped contemporary British society choose objects that speak to them from the Museum’s displays. Baroness Valerie Amos (First Female of Colour to be a VC of a university and first black female cabinet minister) has selected a billet for Mary Lamas for this particular exhibition. The item will be on display from the 23rd of October.

In the early days of admission, before the use of receipts, distinguishing physical features were sometimes noted in a baby’s billet, presumably as additional identifiers. These could be an impairment, unusual hair or eyes, marks on the body or skin colour. On 12 October 1758, a baby girl was admitted, given the registration number 10,125 and named Mary Lamas. Her admission billet lists the clothes she was wearing and has a scrap of blue and white fabric as an identifying token. It is only from a subsequent reference to Mary that we know she was black.

It is unclear how many black children were admitted to the Foundling Hospital, but there are references to others. For instance, one inspector wrote to the Hospital saying that although she was unable to take on any more children, she would be willing to consider a black child, such was her fondness for a negro boy who had died. In stark contrast, another child was physically abused by his nurse because of his colour and died from his injuries. Mary was sent to nurse five days after admission, but she caught smallpox and was returned to the Hospital on 5 October 1763. On 27 January 1768 she was apprenticed to William Franklin(g) of Billiter Lane, Leaden Hall Street, London; a black cook in the West India trade.


4. Listen to Her!

Mira Shihadeh
Photo © Gabriel Henry, Cairo 2012


Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, 18:00, 19th October. Free

It’s time to turn the volume up on past and present ordinary Egyptian women. Hear Egyptologist Heba Abd El Gawad’s thoughts on unlearning the traditional museum story, alongside UK-based Egyptian women.

Egyptian women have been at the forefront of Egypt’s political and economic struggles, with nearly 3 million protesting against sexual harassment in 2013; yet their fight against social stigmas at home and abroad remains largely unnoticed in the West.

Explore six personal and collective stories of ordinary Egyptian women. Among them are a shoe-shiner, who disguised herself as a man for more than 40 years to bring up her child as a single parent, a factory worker who started her own revolution in 2006 by calling for equal pay, and a twentieth century singer who protested the British occupation of Egypt through her symbolic songs.

Free curator talk
Hear from the exhibition's guest curator and Egyptologist Heba Abd el Gawad at 18:00, Friday 19 October 2018 at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.