An exhibition being held to celebrate Black History Month will focus on the lives of influential black people in Cumbria’s past and present.
The free event, in The Courtyard of The Rum Story in Whitehaven, opens to the public from Thursday.
It has been curated in collaboration with Anti Racist Cumbria, an organisation set up in 2020 to tackle and end racism through action and education, to create a forward-thinking and actively anti-racist Cumbria.
Co-Founder and chief executive Janett Walker said: “The Rum Story is a key teller of black history in the county so it was great to be invited to work with them on this special exhibition.
“Black History Month is an important starting point to encourage greater understanding and it has been excellent to uncover and celebrate some of Cumbria’s black history beyond the slave trade.
“Naturally, the trade of enslaved people remains a piece of Cumbria’s history that needs to be told properly and we are happy to be working with The Rum Story on a longer-term project around this topic.
“Working together means we can improve and develop their attraction with new voices, experiences and importantly, authenticity. Cumbria is a fantastic county with a rich and varied past, and a rich and varied future, we are excited to be helping tell part of it.”
The exhibition will run until the end of the month and will feature information on topics including the first-known black community in Britain, which settled in Burgh by Sands some 1,800 years ago.
The life of an enslaved house servant named Jane is also featured; she worked for Mildred Gale, the grandmother of the first US president, George Washington, and became one of the first black enslaved people to share a White person’s burial plot in England.
John Kent, Britain’s first black police officer, who was based in Maryport, also features, as does Roy Francis, the first black man to become a sports coach in Britain.
He played rugby league in Barrow-in-Furness in the 1930s, blazing a trail in sport for black people through his talent and ability to lead, eventually becoming the first team coach of Hull’s rugby team.
Present-day individuals to be featured include Marcia Reid-Fotheringham, Cumbria’s first black High Sheriff and Britain’s fifth black person to hold the prestigious post, and rugby legend, Jessie Joe Parker, a Whitehaven RLFC hero and regular for the Papua New Guinea international team.
Louise McKenna, general manager of The Rum Story, said: “When we reopened earlier this year after a period of closure due to COVID, we reached out to Anti Racist Cumbria to discuss elements of the attraction.
“Whilst The Rum Story deals with the rum trade and touches on many aspects of it, there is a section on enslaved people and we wanted to make sure the narrative was modern and in line with today’s society.
“The relationship we have built with Anti Racist Cumbria is a really positive one and the prospect of an event to celebrate Black History Month was raised during conversations.
“It’s something we were very keen to do and we have worked alongside Janett and her team at ARC to put together an exhibition that celebrates the lives and contributions of Black people to our community.
“It is open across October and free to attend, so we encourage as many people as possible to join us for this important celebration.”