Black history must be taught to infants, says founder of Heritage Corner in Leeds

Joe Williams at the Centre for Journalism at Leeds Trinity University

Joe Williams, the founder of Heritage Corner and the Leeds Black History Walk, has called for the teaching of black history for children to begin at pre-school. 

The Leeds Trinity Honorary Fellow was speaking as part of his African Stories in Yorkshire lecture at Leeds Trinity University on Wednesday. 

This follows the recent decision by the Welsh Government to make the teaching of Black, Asian and minority ethnic histories mandatory within the school curriculum. 

When asked for his opinions regarding the lack of black history currently within the curriculum, Williams said: “It’s not a political thing, it’s a human thing.

“Human history needs to be taught right from the beginning, so we all see each other as equal and human first and foremost.

“You can understand in terms of slavery and the decades following why you wouldn’t want to.

“But we are in a different age now… it needs something, a catalyst, to say that we are in a different age now.

“So yes, [teaching must begin] from pre-school/infants.”

Williams equally emphasised the importance of “educating the educators”, those who would be responsible for teaching black history. 

Joe Williams delivering his talk at Leeds Trinity University

Heritage Corner works to highlight black history narratives locally within Leeds, and more globally.

The Leeds Black History Walk is one of the ways this is achieved.  

Despite some areas of black history being, as Williams refers to them, “difficult issues”, he said: “It is okay to talk about transatlantic slavery” in particular. 

“We are talking about it more and more now because it is necessary, because it is part of our shared humanity.” 

“Human history needs to be taught right from the beginning, so we all see each other as equal and human first and foremost.”

Joe Williams

Williams described the depiction of a black man on the Frieze that decorates 18 Park Row as “degrading”, and said education was “the key thing” to understanding rather than pulling it down. 

“The danger with pulling things down is that then people won’t believe you that these things existed, and you need these things to say yes, that’s how it was, we need to be different.

“We’ve had discussions with the owners of the building- they don’t mind if something is added to contextualise it. 

“There are others who just don’t want to debate it, we are attacking their heritage- let’s get that the right way round.

“So it’s about being open-minded and thinking what’s the best approach for the future rather than a kneejerk reaction now.

“Leeds has a great heritage, and we need to put it across in the right way.” 

This contributes to the ongoing statue debate within the UK and the toppling of a number of controversial statues including that of slave owner Edward Colson in Bristol. 

These events followed the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, and the increased momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement.  

Joe Williams’ lecture is one of the many events taking place at Leeds Trinity University to mark Black History Month 2021, which occurs every year across the UK throughout October. 

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