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ANNOUNCING BACK TO LIFE – First generation Jamaicans of leeds in glorious colour

Early members of the Caribbean Cricket Club formed by Jamaican ex RAF servicemen in 1948, gather in Hyde Park, Leeds en route to a cricket match c. 1953. Back row (L–R): Vince Stewart, Errol James, Bill Campbell, Warren Lawson. Middle row: Mr Morant (partly hidden), Mac McCarthy, Astley Thomas. Front : Unidentified man, Alford Gardner on guitar. Original black and white photo: Yorkshire Evening News.

We’re thrilled to announce a new addition to the Jamaica Society Leeds website that will bring black and white images of first generation Jamaicans of Leeds back to life.

The aptly named Back to Life online gallery will showcase newly colourised black and white photos from our acclaimed 2019 Eulogy Project which commemorated the lives of the pioneering generation who made the journey from the Caribbean island during the 1940s to 60s.

The gallery will launch online from August 1st – exactly a year since our record breaking Eulogy Exhibition was launched at Leeds Central Library’s Room 700. 

Jamaica Society Chair, Rev Dorothy Stewart said,  “Bringing colour to our collection of black and white photos is a powerful way to remember and commemorate those we love from days gone by. For others, especially the descendants of Jamaicans who volunteered in the early 40s to support the World War 2 effort or those invited to rebuild post war Britain from Windrush’s 1948 arrival – seeing them in full colour for the first time brings to life what they could only imagine.”

The gallery will feature rarely seen colourised photos depicting all aspects of life for the newly arrived Jamaicans – everyday images of young couples in love, families, people making a living will be included with equal importance alongside those of trailblazing activists and RAF veterans.

Back to Life curator, Susan Pitter, said:

“It is more important than ever that when we tell the true story of our city, it includes the stories of all its communities.  Back to Life will help to illuminate the lives and contributions of Jamaicans who came not only in search of opportunity, but to build the Leeds, its industries and sectors we benefit from today. Seeing how colour transforms black and white pictures, some which I have seen for my entire life, is breath taking. Bringing to life unexpected details from patterns on outfits, to architecture of Leeds buildings to capturing the hopes and dreams in the eyes of a generation who arrived as young people is both incredibly moving and an honour.”

Forty colourised photos will make up the gallery. Susan added, “So many families shared photos of their first generation loved ones with us for Eulogy , that whittling it down to 40 was a joyful challenge. I worked closely with as many of the family and friends of those featured in Back to Life to make sure that graphic designer Lee Goater’s colour transformations were as faithful as possible to skintones, colour of outfits and surroundings.”

Clarissa Louisa Sewell came from Jamaica in 1955. She and her husband Hugh raised 11 children, five of whom are seen here with her sister Emily Hyde (r) and family friend Pat (back row, centre.) Mrs Sewell was a nursing assistant at Meanwood Park Hospital until the couple’s retirement to Jamaica in 1995. She passed away in 2013. Original black and white photo: Gerald Donne

Back to Life has been made possible with funding from Arts Council England’s Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund which is supported by the National Lottery and Government. Pete Massey, Director, North, Arts Council England said:

“I am so pleased that we have been able to support this project through our Emergency Response Fund. The Jamaican community of Leeds has helped to make the city the great place that it is today, and it is important that we are celebrating the contribution of people who uprooted their lives to support not only the war effort but the recovery of Britain in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. I’m really excited to see the results of this work that brings this important part of our heritage to life and can also be experienced online during the current crisis. There is something truly magical about colourised old black and white photos that forces a reappraisal of the subjects and their lives and literally allows you to see them in a new light.”

Prints of the online gallery will also be produced. Rev Stewart added,

“We are used to seeing images and film of Caribbean communities in black and white. At a time when the city’s black communities particularly our older members are amongst those at highest risk Covid-19 and are shielding, making these glorious colour images accessible to everyone both online and in print is essential and a great way to tackle loneliness and isolation.”

Back to Life launches here on August 1st