Hidden Gems of Black British History: The Archives of Marika Sherwood

Original Poster from the private archive of Marika Sherwood, promoting the promoting the 5th Pan-African Congress 1945 in Manchester.

The Cameroonian historian Achille Mbembe postulated that archives are “not a piece of data, but a status.”[1] He alluded to the fact that the recording of documents is a profoundly political act: decisions on what is preserved and what destroyed are determined by the subjective concept of history of the archivists and the political entities that hire them. It is their decision as to what is worth preserving or deemed “unarchivable”[2]. Marginalized social groups are therefore often excluded from that process and ultimately overlooked by history.

The Hungarian-born historian Marika Sherwood has made it her life’s work to write the history of marginalized people in Britain. After studying in Australia and working there and then in New Guinea, Sicily, Harlem, and London, she became affiliated as a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.[3] She has published numerous books and articles on colonialism, racism and Black history in Britain, most recently “Kwame Nkrumah and the Dawn of the Cold War”[4]. In 1991 she was one of the founders of the Black and Asian Studies Association (BASA) to promote historical research on Black people in Britain, and to campaign on education issues. She edited the BASA Newsletter from 1991 to 2007.

Through decades of research, she has collected two shelfs of documents. This has resulted in a magnificent collection of sources on the history of Black people, Black political activism and Pan-Africanism in Britain since c. 1900.

This unique collection includes many papers on influential people such as the Ghanaian political leader Kwame Nkrumah, the West Indian intellectual George Padmore and the Pan-African activist Amy Ashwood Garvey. The collection also includes grey literature such as newspapers, community-specific magazines, pamphlets, photographs. It also contains recordings from state archives on Black British activists (such as the State Archive of the Russian Federation or the National Archives and Records Administration of the USA) all concerned with Pan-Africanism and Black activists.

The collection is only accessible at Sherwood’s home in Kent. People eager to visit are asked to contact Sherwood directly to arrange a visit. The personal contact with Sherwood, as an archivist and expert on the subject, is another advantage of the collection: any questions that may come up when accessing the sources can be answered instantly.

Sources on Black history in Britain are still relatively scarce – the first research centre on Black history, the Black Cultural Archives in London, for a long time worked independently, before finally being granted government funding in 2010. Sherwood’s collection thus is a treasure for anyone involved in Black history and Black political activism in Britain and is an important contribution to the further inclusion of Black people in Britain´s history.


[1] Mbembe, Achille:The Power of the Archive and its Limits, in: Hamilton, Carolyn, Harris, Verne, et al. (eds.): Refiguring the Archive, Dodrecht, 2002, p. 20.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.racearchive.org.uk/marika-sherwood-kwame-nkrumah-and-the-pan-african-congress-archive/

[4] Sherwood, Marika: Kwame Nkrumah and the Dawn of the Cold War: The West African National Secretariat (1945-48), London, 2019.


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