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Celebrating Our Sisters: The Speakers House Black History Month Reception

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Danielle looking at the exhibition case

In 2023 The Parliamentary Archives were asked to display collections objects at Mr Speaker’s Black History Month Reception. The UK Black History Month 2023 theme was Saluting Our Sisters. The event highlighted the crucial role Black people have played in our society and community. As a Black woman in Parliament, this event was extremely important to me as I wanted to ensure I highlighted archives that celebrated the work of Black people in and out of Parliament and their positive impact on communities. Furthermore, it was important to highlight the work of a Black woman in line with the Saluting our Sisters 2023 theme.

The Selection Process

We have many collections in the Parliamentary Archives including records relating to Immigration, Race Relations, and Slavery. The Speaker’s Office provided us with a brief to celebrate Black women and their work in Parliament.

During the early stages of research, I focused on two Black women, Rose Leon, and Dame Jocelyn Barrow. The former, a Jamaican Politician and businesswoman visited Parliament during a CPA (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association) school, where representatives from across the Commonwealth share knowledge and experience. Despite Rose Leon’s influential work in Jamaica and her impact throughout the West Indies, I chose to focus on Dame Jocelyn Barrow due to her work in Britain.


Campaign Against Racial Discrimination

Jocelyn Barrow, later Dame Jocelyn Barrow was born in Trinidad in 1929. In 1959, like many Commonwealth citizens, she moved to Britain. The people who moved from the Commonwealth, in particular from the Caribbean to the UK later became known as the Windrush generation. In 1965 Barrow and Lord David Pitt, alongside other activists, founded a pressure group: the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD). The organisation aimed ‘to struggle for the elimination of all racial discrimination against coloured people in the United Kingdom’.

Before CARD was established Lord Pitt contributed to the granting of universal adult suffrage in Trinidad and Tobago. He also stood as a Parliamentary candidate in 1959 where he became a victim of racial discrimination on a much larger scale from newspapers and opponents. You can learn more about Lord David Pitt in our blog THE NOBLE DAVID PITT: FROM GRENADA TO CAMDEN.


The Road to the 1968 Race Relations Act


typed letter
Letter from CARD Co-founder David Pitt to David Renton MP, 27 April 1968, Parliamentary Archives, DR/205


I decided that the display would highlight the work of Dame Barrow and Lord Pitt by showcasing two letters and the 1968 Race Relations Act. Co-founders Barrow and Pitt lobbied alongside other CARD members and used the evidence they gathered to influence MPs. Their aim was to create a more robust version of the 1968 Race Relations Bill. They reached out to other organisations encouraging them to join CARD in the fight for impactful legislation against racism.

The first letter written by Lord David Pitt to David Renton MP was issued on 27th April 1968, four days after the second reading of the Race Relations Bill. Lord Pitt advocated for the bill and recommended various amendment in the language and terminology used.


typed letter
Letter from CARD General Secretary, Jocelyn Barrow to David Renton MP, 4 May 1968, Parliamentary Archives, DR/205


Dame Jocelyn Barrow, the General Secretary at CARD, wrote to David Renton MP asking him to support possible amendments CARD wished to have included in the Race Relations Bill 1968. The pressure group aimed to persuade MP David Renton and others, to enshrine protection for minorities in British law.


Printed act tied with a red riboon
The Race Relations Act 1968, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PU/1/1968/c71

Ultimately, the 1968 Race Relations Act focused on eradicating discrimination in employment and housing. Barrow and Pitt’s hard work, alongside the public and other pressure groups, influenced what was included in the Act. The 1968 Act was later superseded by the 1976 Race Relations Act which extended the definition of discrimination to include indirect discrimination.


Teamwork, Makes a Dream Work

The key to success is teamwork. Across Parliament collaboration is extremely important, especially when planning an event. For this display, my line manager and I discussed our different ideas with the Heritage Collections team, to ensure our item selections complemented each other during the reception.

Once the final selection of items had been approved by my line manager, we then spoke with the HoC Speaker’s Office to ensure the records and narrative suited their initial brief. I developed a narrative for the display; this was used in leaflets the HoC Speaker’s Office created for the event. The narrative highlighted the connections between the letters and the Act, emphasising the role of pressure groups and Parliament in race relations legislation during the 1960s.

Working with the UK Parliament Digial Communication team was one of the highlights of curating this display. We were able to produce social media content which showcased the display and the different elements involved. If you want to see the reel we produced, head over to UK Parliament’s YouTube Channel.


Lights, Camera, Action


Collection care colleagues setting up the display


The installation of the display could not have taken place without our wonderful collection care team, who prepared the documents for display. This involved creating stands for the documents as well as fixtures to hold each record in place. Once the records were placed in the display case with the help of the team, I made a few small adjustments, checked everything over one last time and closed the lid. The records were ready to be discussed with the guests at the engagement!


Find out more about the records included in this private display below:

Letter written by the co-founder and Chair of CARD, David Pitt. DR/205

Letter written by Jocelyn Barrow, secretary at CARD to David Renton MP asking him to support and draft CARD’s amendments to the Race Relations Bill, DR/205

Race Relations Act 1968, HL/PO/PU/1/1968/c71

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