Skip to content

Founder of Leeds Black History Walk in talks with building owners over “degrading” sculpture

Joe Williams, founder of the Leeds Black History Walk, has been in discussion with the owners of 18 Park Row in Leeds over contextualising the frieze.

Joe Williams at Leeds Trinity University for Black History Month

Despite being made in 1905 after the abolition of slavery, the frieze depicts a black man leaning down “dutifully” towards a group of white people and wearing only a loin cloth, which Joe described as “degrading”.

The Park Row frieze is the only full-bodied representation of an African person in Leeds.

Joe, who also founded Heritage Corner Leeds, said: “The key is education, rather than pulling things down.

“The danger with pulling statues down is that people won’t believe that these things actually existed.”

The owners of 18 Park Row have said that they are happy for Heritage Corner to add a plaque to contextualise the frieze.

This comes a year after slave trader Edward Colston’s statue was pulled down by protesters in Bristol, sparking debate across the country over whether controversial figures should be remembered in this way.

Joe Williams giving a talk at Leeds Trinity University

Joe Williams added: “You need those things in place to say ‘yes, that’s how it was, but now we need to be different.’”

Joe is committed to combatting systemic racism through education and gives talks to schools and universities on black representation and African histories.

He said: “It’s not the teachers’ fault that they don’t know how to tackle these issues – it’s a framework that’s very complex.

“Individuals shouldn’t put pressure on themselves, but institutions need to try to find a way to navigate these issues.”

Joe added that the curriculum needs changing in order to accurately teach children from a young age about racism and the history of black people in Britain.

This week Wales became the first UK nation to make black history mandatory in the school curriculum and Joe believes that this policy should be adopted in England too.

Founder of the Black Curriculum group, Lavinya Stennett, said: “Black people have been almost entirely written out of British history taught in schools.

“It makes me feel like we don’t belong, like we’ve never made any contribution.”

The University of Leeds has last month introduced its first black history course available for people to study.

Joe Williams added: “If an institution gives the green light to look at things in a different way, that’s a good start.

“There’s always hope, we mustn’t give up hope.”

Joe announced his plans to contextualise the Park Row frieze and educate people in Leeds at a recent talk at Leeds Trinity University.

This talk was part of a series of events hosted by the University to celebrate Black History Month.

What do you think?