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Celebrating a fashion icon: Lois K Alexander Lane

12 October 2018 by Sarah

Lois K Alexander Lane. Credit: Courtesy of Susan McNeill and the Estate of Robert H. McNeill

We are honoured to have a guest blog from Joyce Bailey, daughter of the late Lois K Alexander Lane who is celebrated on our Black Achievers Wall at the Museum.

As a young girl, Lois K Alexander would look in boutique store windows and sketch the clothes she liked. She was clearly gifted, but not allowed to go in the stores to buy anything because of her race.  She later set out to dispel the myth ‘that Blacks were new found talent in the fashion industry’ and studied for a Master’s Degree from New York University. From there, her career in fashion was unstoppable. Read more about the incredible Lois K Alexander Lane, with thanks to her family:

“My mother was born Lois Marie Kindle in Little Rock, Arkansas on July 11, 1916. I have been told everyone knew she was destined for greatness.”

Lois K Alexander Lane. Credit: Courtesy of Susan McNeill and the Estate of Robert H. McNeill

“As a young girl, she would go downtown, look in boutique store windows and sketch the garments she favored. She was not allowed to go in the stores to buy anything because of her race. Mom purchased fabric and notions from the Five & Dime stores which she took home and produced garments similar to the ones she sketched. She made clothing for her mother, two sisters and her doll babies.

“Mom graduated from Virginia’s Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) and in the 1940s came to Washington, DC and began a career in the federal government. Starting as a clerk-stenographer for the War Department in 1942 and ending her tenure in 1978 as a Planning and Community Development Officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“In the 1960s, after being told by a New York University professor that Blacks had not made any contributions to the fashion world, she set out to dispel the myth that Blacks were new found talent in the fashion industry. She received her Master’s Degree from New York University. Her thesis title was “The Role of the Negro in Retailing in New York City from 1863 to the Present” (1963).

Lois K Alexander Lane, honoured on the Museum’s Black Achiever’s Wall

“Mom established two custom wear boutiques – one in Washington, DC (The Needle Nook) and one in New York City (Lois K. Alexander & Co.). In 1966, she founded the Harlem Institute of Fashion, an educational institute that offered free courses to students interested in dressmaking, millinery and tailoring. In the same year she founded the National Association of Milliners, Dressmakers and Tailors.

“In 1979, she founded The Black Fashion Museum (BFM) in New York City, committing the rest of her life to telling the world about the centuries of contributions women and men of the African Diaspora have made to fashion and design.”

Find out more about our Black Achievers Wall as well as all the free events we have lined up for Black History Month in the UK this October.

Black Salt at the Maritime Museum

29 September 2017 by Andrew

Black Salt: Britain’s Black Sailors exhibition opens today. Revealing the historically overlooked experiences of Black seafarers, the exhibition and the book it is based on – Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships – reveal how Black sailors contended with the dangers and hazards of life at sea, and challenged inequality on board and ashore. The book’s author Liverpool historian Dr Ray Costello, blogs about some of the roles those sailors would have had. Read more…

Betty and her cookery books

1 June 2017 by Mitty

Betty with part of her cook book collection

Betty with part of her cook book collection

Whilst having a stand at the Granby Street Market, I was lucky enough to meet Betty Vandy and try some of her amazing food. I told her about the Sankofa project and she told me all about her cook book collection. I’ll let Betty tell you more.

“My books are almost as important as the food I cook. I started collecting my now nearing three hundred strong cook book collection well over twenty two years ago.

I remember my first significant purchases, a set of seven vintage cook books published in the 1960s, I paid five pounds and they were and still are in excellent condition. But more importantly the recipes are detailed, accurate and they work!  Read more…

Activism shapes our collections

16 February 2017 by Mitty

Taking a closer look at our activism timeline at the Sankofa project launch event.

As part of the Sankofa Project we have started to explore Black activism in Liverpool. An activist is a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change. These words can definitely be used to describe Chief Bassey Duke Ephraim (also known as Bassey Orok Edem). I first became aware of him when speaking to the Zachary Kingdon , curator of African Collections. Zachary tells us more about Chief Bassey and his connections to Liverpool.  Read more…

Mike Tyler- Why I started collecting solidarity posters

25 January 2017 by Sarah

Tricontinental Conference – 3rd Anniversary, 1969 by Alfredo Juan Gonzalez Rostgaard. Copyright: Courtesy Lincoln Cushing and Docs Populi Archive.

Mike Tyler is the architect and collector who owns the fantastic array of 32 posters currently on display in our Art of Solidarity exhibition. We asked Mike how and why he started collecting these Cuban posters, designed to support freedom movements around the world:    

“I’m often asked why I started collecting Cuban posters and the truth is, it kind of just happened. As a visual person I’m drawn to design, graphics, photography, street art etc, so when I first stumbled across a batch of these posters, I could see they were something special.  Read more…

Weaving herstory

23 January 2017 by Mitty

Susan’s grandmother Helen Akiwumi (nee Ocansey) and her family

The Sankofa project aims to highlight people’s amazing collections and offer advice about how these precious histories can be preserved for future generations. Passing down information to future generations can be done in lots of ways.  A brilliant example is Helen Renner’s and her daughter Susan Goligher’s incredibly vibrant collection of textiles. Helen and Susan came up with the idea of the company Afrograph in 1985 and have exhibited their collections across the country. Here’s Susan to tell us more:

“Afrograph’s textile collection encapsulates both an oral tradition and a women’s history. Many of the textiles have been passed down through five generations of women within the family. Read more…

Can you help tell the untold stories of Black seafarers?

19 January 2017 by Rebecca

Archive photo of the crew on board a ship, including a Black seafarer

The ship and crew of Moel Eilian, c1889. Merseyside Maritime Museum, Maritime Archives and Library (reference DX/1328)

Hello, I’m Rebecca Smith, Curator of Maritime Art at the Merseyside Maritime Museum and I’m currently working on the forthcoming exhibition Black Salt, which will tell the story of the Black seafarers who have worked on British ships.

Sailors of African descent have been part of crews sailing from the United Kingdom for at least 500 years, but their contribution to the country’s maritime identity is often marginalised or overlooked.

Building on research carried out by Dr Ray Costello for his book Black Salt, the exhibition will put the often hidden story of Britain’s Black seafarers in the context of 500 years of life at sea. Read more…

An archive can be your story

16 January 2017 by Mitty

To celebrate Jamaican independence a Ball was organised in Liverpool. This photograph was donated to the collections by Tayo Aluko

The Sankofa project is looking to support local Black people and communities in highlighting their stories and protecting their histories for generations to come – and we want you to get involved! Heritage consultant Heather Roberts tells us why archives are so important and can be made by anyone:

“Archives aren’t just boxes of dusty paper in ye olde handwriting. Archives, basically, are just evidence. They are evidence of something or someone from the past, which you want to remember for the future.

Leaflets and posters of community activist groups and their events are certainly archives. As are minutes of meetings and annual reports of a community organisation. Newspaper clippings about local activism and activists certainly help shape the story, too.  Read more…

Curator’s view: Art of Solidarity

13 January 2017 by Sarah

Day of Solidarity with the People of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, 1968. By Berta Abelenda Fernandez. Copyright: ‘Courtesy Lincoln Cushing and Docs Populi Archive’.

Today we are pleased to open our new exhibition at the International Slavery Museum, ‘Art of Solidarity: Cuban posters for African liberation 1967 – 1989’. We asked curator Stephen Carl-Lokko to tell us what to expect:  Read more…

Activism and archives

23 November 2016 by Mitty

exploring Liverpool's Black history at a Sankofa event

I’ve been given a really exciting opportunity to work on the Sankofa project, which aims to support Black communities in Liverpool with looking after their precious objects and materials and hopefully making this material more accessible.

This task, as well as being incredibly exciting, is also quite daunting. Many of you might already be aware that Liverpool has the oldest Black community in Europe but what evidence is there of this? And what information do we have about more recent migrations of people of the African diaspora to Liverpool? Read more…



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We try to ensure that the information provided on our blog is accurate and that appropriate permissions to use images have been sought. The opinions in each blog are very much those of the individuals writing.