JIS News

It was some 18 months in the making, involved more than 75 hours of interviews and scores of workshops involving first, second and third generation Jamaicans but finally, ‘A Journey through our History’ a book chronicling the history of Jamaicans in Leeds, has been published. Written by Melody Walker, the book, which also tells the story of the Jamaica Society Leeds, provides a fascinating picture of the lives of Jamaicans who settled in the northern England city some 50 years ago. Much of the material involves first hand recollections by these Jamaicans about their lives and experiences in those early days. There are also stories from children and grand children of the early settlers.
Travis Johnson, Chairman of the Jamaica Society Leeds, which commissioned the book, said the decision to take on the project came at the urging of their oldest member, Edley White, who pointed to the need for the society to document its history.
“To have recorded the history of the Jamaica society is very, very important. The person who really pushed us, dragged us, badgered us, was our eldest member, Edley White; he deserves all the applause. For at least 10 years, he really pushed us and at almost every general meeting he would ask when are we going to document the history of the Jamaica Society Leeds and he insisted,” Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. White, who is now in his 80’s, is a patient in hospital but received special permission to attend the recent launch of the book.
He told JIS News that the establishment of the Jamaica Society Leeds was central to the story of Jamaicans in that city, in that the body brought together immigrants who were scattered across the city and lobbied for changes to their conditions.
“Some 26 year ago, six of us came together because we felt that there was a need for such an organization in Leeds. We eventually managed to talk a good many others into joining with us”, Mr. White said.
He added that the formation of the society was also prompted by an incident that followed a Louise Bennett show in Leeds, when the cast had difficulty finding somewhere to have a meal.
“We felt this was not right and decided to do something to change this. We have not looked back from then till now,” he stated.
Author, Melody Walker said in documenting the history, “we had three generations of Jamaicans working together over a period of 18 months .through art workshops, story telling workshops as well as desk top publishing workshops.”
She said working on the book was a very emotional experience for her. “The book spanned more than 50 years of history and we started with people we identified as the first set of Jamaicans to have settled in Leeds after World War II and most of them came over and served in the RAF (Royal Air Force). We went right up to those who came in the 50s and 60s in search of economic opportunities. We also looked at the Jamaican community’s struggle to achieve a sense of community here in England,” she informed.
Ms. Walker said that from the research, it became clear that “successive generations of Caribbean nationals living in the United Kingdom (UK) owed a debt to those early settlers”.
“They paved the way and broke down a lot of barriers and I think what they have done as well is to make the wider British society recognise that all people deserved to be treated with respect and dignity,” she stated.

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