When we started the research project the Timeline is based on, one of the most fascinating things for us was coming across so many old photos of mixed race people, couples and families. Though we knew from newspaper accounts, official reports, social studies and other documents that racial mixing was prevalent throughout the 20th century (and of course way before that), it was still astonishing to see evidence of this in photographs, especially those of ‘ordinary’ families as opposed to more famous historical figures.
As the 20th century unfolded, Britain was still the world’s largest empire and many people from its colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and the Middle East – as well as other parts of the world – had come to the country to work, study or visit. Though these people settled all over the country, they were often most visible in large cities such as Cardiff, Liverpool and London, particularly in port community neighbourhoods where a great many settled.
Many of the images we came across were consequently found in local archives of cities such as Bristol. Like many port cities in Britain, Bristol has a long history of black and minority ethnic people, many of whom had relationships and families with local white British inhabitants. For example, Eliza and Mabel are the granddaughters of Henry Parker, a black American former slave, who married Louisa, a white Bristolian, around 1850. This picture of them was taken in the early 1900s. Bristol Record Office has a wonderful collection relating to the Parker family and they have kindly granted us permission to include their photos, amongst others, in the Timeline. Being able to include such amazing photos of ordinary mixed race families and people is a fantastic way to highlight their historical presence – a picture truly does speak a thousand words.
Chamion and Peter