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Historical archives focusing on race and diversity in Wales explored by academics

30 March 2021

Front page of William Hall's Personal Narrative
Front page of William Hall's Personal Narrative

Archives exploring race and diversity in Wales will be showcased as part of a conference being hosted at Cardiff University.

The 2021 Socio-Legal Studies Association (SLSA) annual conference will be held virtually today with more than 700 delegates expected to attend.

As part of its plenary session focusing on ‘Race, Place and Nation in the UK’, The National Archives has shared material on the Cardiff Race Riots, which took place in in 1919.

The South Wales Miners Library, based at Swansea University, will be making their archive on Paul Robeson and Wales available to delegates.

Academics will also be discussing material based at Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives, including William Hall’s Slavery Narrative – an extremely rare piece of Black Welsh history, written by a resident of Cardiff, about his escape from slavery.

Professor John Harrington, based at Cardiff University’s School of Law and Politics, said: “We are delighted to host the SLSA conference at Cardiff and to showcase the rich legacy of scholarship and campaigning for social justice in Wales. This year’s conference is the first to be held online and will be the biggest ever, with 500 presentations, and 740 delegates from 43 countries.

“Cardiff has always been a global hub, connected to the world through its port, and home to one of Britain’s oldest multicultural communities in Tiger Bay, also known as Butetown. Race and national identity are at the forefront of public debate around the world today. This is a good moment to focus attention on historical lessons from Wales which are of global significance. We are sure that the conference sessions and the exhibitions which we are hosting will stimulate productive discussions, future research and innovating in teaching among the socio-legal community worldwide.”

The four days of the Cardiff Riots in June 1919 involved groups of ex-servicemen, residents and soldiers attacking Yemeni, Somali and Caribbean seamen in front of crowds. It came seven months after the end of World War 1. The world the fighting men had left behind had changed profoundly during their absence and they returned as very different people.

The archive material, which contains letters, census forms, and photographs shows the lives and concerns of Tiger Bay residents as well as views of police, the Home Office and effect the riots had between communities in the Caribbean.

Iqbal Singh, of The National Archives said: “We are pleased to be part of this international conference as this gives us the opportunity to highlight the richness of our collection to a wide and diverse audience. Collaborations such as these go to the heart of what we do in the Outreach Team at The National Archives. The records we are focussing on in this presentation give a very vivid picture of what happened in Cardiff in 1919 and subsequently, showing that archives are for everyone because they are about everyone - past, present and future.”

While starring in the 1927 West End production of Show Boat, singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson met a group of south Wales miners who had embarked on a gruelling hunger-march to London to highlight their plight.

In the years which followed this meeting, he worked to publicise the conditions in which Welsh miners worked and lived, giving performances across the country in support. At one concert in 1938, he played to a crowd of 7,000 miners, paying tribute to 33 Welsh men who died during the Spanish Civil War.

The collection held by South Wales Miners’ library showcases photos, news clippings and personal recollections gathered by the Paul Robeson Wales Trust and the South Wales Miners' Library.

The SLSA aims to advance education and learning and in particular to advance research, teaching and the dissemination of knowledge in the field of socio-legal studies. The annual conference is hosted each year by a different UK university.

Conference organisers would like to thank Rhian Diggins of Glamorgan Archives, Sara Huws of Cardiff University Special Collections, and Sian Williams of the South Wales Miners Library at Swansea University for their assistance.

Last year, the School of Law and Politics celebrated the 50th anniversary of Law being taught at Cardiff University.

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