Subject Guide: periodicals
Background Over the centuries, Africans and their descendants in the diaspora have produced thousands of newspapers and periodicals, many of which are difficult to trace. They range from titles with a long history, such as West Africa, Race Today, or The Voice, to the newsletters of small organisations which may have had a very short life but contain vital information about activities and issues that were of great historical importance.
The 20th Century saw a huge increase in the number of newspapers and magazines published by African and African-Caribbean communities. These publications have come and gone over time, and many may not be known to exist anywhere other than at BCA. Many have been lost, but even a single surviving issue can be of value.
Many of these publications can be found in national libraries, and the list of titles held at the British Library (BL) while not comprehensive, gives a picture of its vast resources. For more information on visiting the British Library please visit http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/inrrooms/readingrooms.html
Other titles are held by public libraries, and in a number of archives and special collections. These notes cover periodicals held at BCA, and also refer to those in the Black History Collection at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), and in the George Padmore Institute’s (GPI) archive. There is relatively little overlap between these three collections, and the majority of titles in each one are unique to it.
BCA is primarily an archive, but its holdings of periodicals include some that are treated as such, rather than as part of a named archive, and are referred to as the Periodicals Collection. Others are found within the specific archive collections of named individuals or organisations. Most titles have their own number, but where there is only one issue it will be grouped with other single titles. The collection can be found here.
BCA holds about 200 titles, of which over 60 are in the BL. Over 100 are unique to BCA, i.e. not in the BL, IRR or GPI. The collection is enormously varied, and includes magazines appealing to a wide readership, as well as those focusing on cultural identity, social and political issues, business, economic development, fashion, health, education, the arts, sport and music, as well as a large number addressed to women readers, including Africa Woman, Black Bulletin for the Woman of Culture, Diaspora, Black Women Writers, and Polareyes, a magazine for Black women photographers.
The IRR collection is similar to BCA’s in size and scope, and at least 50 of the titles held in it are unique. They include some older publications, such as Progress: Organ of the Coloured Workers’ Association of GB and Ireland, dating from the 1940s and 1950s, the newsletters of several campaigns (Roach Family, Mangrove 9 and Broadwater Farm Campaign) and a number of local titles, such as Black Consciousness (Sheffield) and Uhuru (Nottingham).
The IRR’s holdings of some titles complement those at BCA, for example, African Red Family (of which BL has a single issue), Black Attack Newsletter (a complete run, not in BL), Black Linx, Black Seeds, Brixton Defence Campaign Bulletin, Flamingo (complete) and FOWAAD! (not in BL).
The GPI archive includes, for example, the publications of a number of campaigns for justice in education, the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, Caribbean Labour Solidarity, the Scrap Sus Campaign and the Caribbean Artists’ Movement.
Some of BCA’s periodicals focus on specific countries, published either by solidarity campaigns (with South Africa, Grenada, Namibia, Zimbabwe) or by and for members of a specific national community (The Gambian; Links and Rapture (Sierra Leone) or Nigerian Link. Others, like Black Action (Unison) and The Black Journalist (NUJ), neither of which are in the British Library, are addressed to members of those trade unions. While many of the titles were distributed nationally, others sprang from the activity of local communities. They include the Hackney African Organisation Newsletter, and the Hackney Black Peoples Association Newsletter, both of which are unique to BCA.
Bradford Black: voice of the Black community in Bradford, is not in the British Library, but is in both IRR and GPI, which suggests it had wide distribution – its design belies its 1970s date. TNJ (The Northern Journal) is published in Leeds, and may be complete at the British Library, while BBJ (Birmingham Black Journal) and BBMHP (Brent Black Mental Health Journal) are unique to BCA. An interesting title, perhaps the earliest in the collection, is Link, subtitled ‘The First British Negro Magazine’, published in 1958, priced at “one shilling”. The British Library holds the slightly earlier Checkers Magazine (1948-1949), and both offer insight into publishing initiatives in the post-Windrush years. These single issues offer a tantalising glimpse of past events and concerns, but even the incomplete story they tell may be a springboard for further discoveries. It is vital that back numbers of as many titles as possible are located and preserved, and BCA is continually adding to its collection where possible.
If you would like more information on donating items to BCA please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone 02075828516.