Why Jamaica’s Len Garrison is credited as the godfather of Black British history

Stephen Nartey February 06, 2023
Len Garrison/Photo credit: Brixton Blog/Marie Garrison, courtesy of the Black Cultural Archives

He is acclaimed as the godfather of Black history in Britain. Jamaican-born Len Garrison is credited for changing the narrative surrounding educational racism.

His journey to revolutionize the British education system began in the late 1970s. He responded to the strong yearning among managers of education and teachers for learning materials that treated the history and background of African and Caribbean students.

Garrison established the African and Caribbean Educational Resource (Acer) to address this challenge, as reported by The Guardian. He introduced education packs at the Dick Shepherd School in Brixton in South London. The Inner London Education Authority lent support to the success of the program and since then, his education packs are widely used across all schools in London.

He also introduced a project to groom young adults in innovative writing which he referred to as the Young Penmanship awards for creative writing. This spurred the careers of many Black writers and artists like Clive Davis, who is a music critic, and playwright Michael McMillan.

Garrison was born on June 13, 1943, in St. Thomas in Jamaica. In 1952, his parents moved to Britain. He joined the family in West London in 1954. He had a love for photography, a passion that will become instrumental in his documentation of black history in Britain. He attended Kingsley Grammar School in Chelsea and worked as a part-time cinema projectionist in Clapham Junction while in school. He then headed to King’s College in London. He was later employed at Guy’s hospital as a specialist in medical photography.

He gained admission to Ruskin College, Oxford to pursue a diploma in development studies in 1971. His dissertation was on the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica. He had the opportunity to study African and Caribbean history at Sussex University and completed it in 1976. Garrison subsequently did his master’s degree at Leicester University in local history. This knowledge inspired him to push for the recognition of Caribbean and Black history in Britain.

In 1988, Garrison expanded the frontiers of his campaign thanks to his role as the director of Afro-Caribbean Family and Friends. He pioneered one of the most efficient mentoring projects dubbed “Build” and aided orphaned and abandoned black children to unearth their talents.

He also established the East Midlands African Caribbean Arts. This attracted public attention during an exhibition in Nottingham in 1993 dubbed “The Black Presence In Nottingham”.

Four years later, he moved back to Brixton to work on the Black Cultural Archives which he established in 1980. Historians say during his student days, Garrison was actively involved in activism and documented every aspect of history with his notepad or cameras. These materials and memorabilia became a helpful resource for the Black Cultural Archives in 1980.

The Black Cultural Archives project later partnered with Middlesex University to build the Archive and Museum of Black History.

Garrison died on February 18, 2003. He was survived by his wife Marie, whom he married in 1987, and their son Tunde.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 6, 2023


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