In celebration of Black History Month this October, Bradford’s Trapezium Arts gallery is proud to present an extraordinary exhibition: ‘The Black Agenda Bookshop: Bradford’s First Afrocentric Bookshop & Library 1991 – 1997.’
This compelling exhibition, organised by Being Bradford, pays tribute to the enduring legacy of a unique institution that played a pivotal role in the city’s cultural and educational landscape. The exhibition is part of a broader programme of events at the gallery, including films, discussions, and music, dedicated to recognising and celebrating Black history.
The Black Agenda Bookshop: small beginnings
The story of The Black Agenda Bookshop begins in January 1991, when a small group of concerned Afrikan and Caribbean parents came together to address the pressing issues of mis-education and the excessive exclusion of their children from school. Their solution was audacious yet visionary, they established an Afrocentric library and bookshop named ‘The Black Agenda Bookshop’. Located at 24a Barry Street, Bradford, this unique enterprise initially occupied the first floor of a building, above a record shop known as Global Beat and later above the Hemp and Head shop Bagga Wiya.
At this location, the bookshop/library and its associated schooling facility, Per Ankh, welcomed people from all communities for around seven years. During this time, adults and children gained access to an extensive educational resource that included books, audiovisual materials, cultural artifacts, educational excursions, and numerous community projects and activities.
Beyond education, The Black Agenda Bookshop became a vibrant hub for anti-racist activism, addressing issues such as immigration, prison and police reform, as well as school and workplace racism. It stood as an inclusive and supportive educational space, particularly for people facing what had been called the ‘hostile environment’.
The impact of volunteers
What makes The Black Agenda Bookshop even more remarkable is that it was entirely run by volunteers. Many of the dedicated key workers were full-time volunteers who committed their time and effort to providing this essential educational space, even in the face of government indifference and, at times, hostility.
The cultural and educational life of The Black Agenda Bookshop was filled with huge moments that left an indelible mark on the community. In 1994, three library members spent four amazing weeks in Ishaka and Bushenyi, Uganda. In 1995, four delegates carried messages of solidarity and support from Bradford, UK, to the Free Mumia Abu Jamal campaign at his critical stay of execution Hearing in Philadelphia, USA.
One library member represented the institution at the historical 1995 Million Man March in Washington DC, a pivotal event central to Spike Lee’s film Get on the Bus. Members of the library frequently visited prisons to support black men wrongfully convicted and imprisoned as miscarriages of justice. Remarkably, individuals such as Winston Silcott, Raphael Rowe, Michael Davis, and Satpal Ram were subsequently released, with their convictions overturned, while the Rahman family, facing deportation, was granted indefinite leave to remain status after years of tireless campaigning.
Nagbea, who is coordinating the exhibition for Trapezium, expressed deep gratitude:
“Being Bradford would like to take this opportunity to retrospectively really thank all the wonderful parents, Library members, supporters, and people of Bradford and Leeds who volunteered, cooked, helped raise funds, visited prisons, marched and campaigned, purchased books, and participated in any way and generally helped the bookshop survive for seven special and transformative years.
“This exhibition is a testament to the enduring tenacity and contribution of Bradford’s Afrikan and Caribbean Communities and the stalwart support of many of Bradford’s wider Communities.”
The exhibition will be on display at Trapezium Arts gallery in Bradford city centre, from Saturday 7 October until Saturday 4 November. The gallery’s opening hours are Monday to Sunday, from 11am to 3 pm. There’s also a launch event on Friday 6 October from 5 to 9pm.
‘The Black Agenda Bookshop: Bradford’s First Afrocentric Bookshop & Library’ exhibition is a powerful tribute to the resilience, vision, and commitment of the Afrikan and Caribbean communities in Bradford. It stands as a testament to the enduring impact of grassroots initiatives in promoting education, cultural awareness, and social justice and is well worth a visit this black history month.