In our Black History Month festival in 2019, we worked with Tmesis Theatre, First Take & Pagoda Arts on films and live performance which marks the centenary of the 1919 Race Riots in Liverpool. In June 1919 Race Riots exploded on Liverpool’s streets resulting in the murder of young black Seafarer, Charles Wotten. Along the Walking Tours, Tmesis Theatre created moving performances bringing this crucial piece of history back to life. We worked with film makers First Take to create 5 short films that you can watch about the route of Charles Wotten’s tragic journey.

1919 Race Riots from first take on Vimeo.

Film 1 Media Fuels Hatred from first take on Vimeo.

Film 2 Police Raids from first take on Vimeo.

Film 3 Charles Wotten Dies from first take on Vimeo.

Film 4 'For Their Safety' from first take on Vimeo.

Film 5 Resist Racism Today from first take on Vimeo.

In 1919 race riots broke out in sea ports across the UK, fueled by competition for jobs and casual racism that was inflamed by the press, politicians and union leaders.  Glasgow was the first to witness anti-black violence in January, followed by South Shields in February, with serious levels of violence in London from April to August. In June, Newport and Barry saw rioting, while in Cardiff, three men were killed. In Liverpool, Charles Wotten, a young Bermudian seafarer was murdered by an angry white mob.

Writing on the Wall and partners’ commemorative centenary events explore the 1919 riots, the consequences, and the position of black and racial minority communities in the UK today.
Thursday 2nd May: Exhibition Launch – 1919 Race Riots
12.30pm, 3rd Floor, Central Library
A collaboration between Writing on the Wall, Liverpool Record Office and The National Archives which brings together letters from black workers, the Lord Mayor of Liverpool and central government, revealing the British establishment’s attitude to those who had come to the aid of the ‘motherland’ in post war WW1 Britain.
Exhibition runs from 2nd May to 24th June 2019
Free entry
More information here 
Saturday 25th May: 1919: Remembering the Riots – A National Conversation
12pm – 7pm, Reid Room, St George’s Hall
In partnership with Liverpool University we bring together academics, activists and community members from around the UK, including Liverpool Cardiff, Glasgow, South Shields where the 1919 race-riots took place, to reflect on the events in each port city. The day will conclude with a panel discussion featuring pioneering historian Ron Ramdin (The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain), Howard Gayle (61 Minutes in Munich: The Story of Liverpool FC's First Black Footballer), and Salma Yacoob, political activist and psychotherapist, which will consider race and racism in the UK 100 years on. Poetry from acclaimed Urban Griots Levi Tafari.
Tickets £15/£7
Book your tickets here  -  See the full programme here

Sunday 12th & Sunday 26th May: 1919 Race Riots Centenary Walking Tour (approx. 2 hours)
Assemble 1.30pm: Chinese Arch, Nelson Street, L1 5DN
Join us as we walk the streets where the 1919 race-riots took place, visiting the residences of those involved as well as trailing the tragic last movements of Charles Wotten.
Ends with refreshments at Toxteth Library, Windsor Street, L8 1XF
Tickets £10/£5
Book your tickets here 


.This film was produced and directed by Hatch TV, made in partnership with WoW and the Geography department of Liverpool University, narrated by Janaya Pickett.

The 1919 Walking Tour highlighted the history shown in this film and the stories that were uncovered by the hard work of our volunteers who helped with the making of this archive.

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In 1919, race riots in Liverpool culminated in the racist murder of Bermudian seaman, Charles Wotten, chased from a boarding house, thrown into the dock and pelted with stones until he drowned. This tragic event took place against a backdrop of racial attacks against Liverpool’s black community and those from other countries, who came to work, or were demobilised in Liverpool after they had fought for Britain in World War I. 
A list of the names of some of those caught up in the riots, and a series of letters where they argue their case and plead for support, was rediscovered by a community historian and brought to Writing on the Wall. They form the basis of this book, which through reports from the time of the 1919 riots and most importantly the voices of the men themselves caught up in the troubles, explores the growth and development of Liverpool’s black community.
'You can’t overstate the significance of this book based on the brilliant work of the Great War to Race Riots project - It’s a must-read for anyone wanting to understand both the troubles we’ve been through, and our strength and resilience.' - Levi Tafari

Another key aspect of this black history month mini festival was the Great War to Race Riots walking tour which started at the Chinese Arch and walked the streets featured in the archives, including the docks where Charles Wotten was murdered, until it came to a stop at Toxteth Library where a fraction of the archive currently resides.


The story of the archive is now available to buy from Waterstone's, News from Nowhere and from Amazon. Click below to buy a hard copy directly from Writing on the Wall. 

The National Archives are situated in the very pretty suburb of Kew, West London. On a sunny afternoon I headed there on the invite of Michael Mahoney who I met a few months ago when he visited Liverpool, his home town, to view the Great War to Race Riots Archive (in preparation for a planned National Archives project on 1919 as we approach the 100 year centenary of the horrendous rioting in seaports across the country).

Michael had obviously been inspired by the Liverpool archive and he had pulled out a fascinating range of papers contained in leather backed volumes and dusty paper files. Together we deciphered the scrawled hand writing of civil servants from the Home Office, the Colonial Office and the Ministry of Labour. Their notes, in response to police reports from Liverpool senior police officers on the Liverpool riots and in response to the Lord Mayor's requests for a solution the problem of black unemployment, were generally of buck passing underpinned by not so subtle institutionalised racism.

One gem of a document is a list containing the names of 285 men from the Caribbean and West Africa, complete with their addresses, their marital status and an indication of whether they were prepared to be repatriated back to their home county. This list has been viewed before and has been analysed by John Belcham in Beyond the Windrush. What has not been explored is the fate of these individual men. Were they repatriated or was the sum offered to relocate and start a new life inadequate? Did they discover, as has been documented, that the conditions they were expected to travel in were unfit for human habitation? Did they find, like Elisha Sterling (letter, 2nd July 1919, Great War to Race Riots Archive, Liverpool Records Office) that there was no accommodation for wives and partners on board the ship?

From the list of 47 names of black men in destitution, given to the Lord Mayor and contained in The Great War to Race Riots Archive, the Archive group traced a host of families who are directly related to just three men from that list. We now have a host of more names to research shedding further light on the heritage of Liverpool's black community.

I’d recommend a trip to The National Archives in Kew; the building is impressive, set in beautiful grounds, surrounded by lakes complete with swans. Closer to home, a selection of The Great War to Race Riots Archive is currently on display in Toxteth library and the full archive can be viewed by appointment at the Liverpool Records office which is situated on the third floor of Liverpool Central Library.

-Madeline Heneghan, Co-director

Earlier this month, we were delighted to welcome Lord Mayor Roz Gladden and her husband, Councillor Roy Gladden as well as the Young and Junior Lord Mayors for a reviewing of the Great War to Race Riots Archive. We would like to say thank you to the staff at Central Library for accomodating our event. 
Creative Writing Workshops took place in November/December 2015 and were scheduled to coincide with the Weeping Window being exhibited at St Georges Hall, Liverpool. The Weeping Window is the iconic sculpture, created in memory of those that lost their lives in the WW1 and which cascaded from the Tower of London to huge public appreciation. Part of the installation was brought to Liverpool and the City Council in partnership with city’s cultural organisations delivered a programme of activity to accompany the exhibition which ran from 1st November. Writing on the Wall and the Archive group felt that the arrival of the Weeping Window was a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of the Great War to Race Riots Archive and the Project among a wider public both nationally and locally.  Creative Writing Workshops under the title Black Poppies were arranged to take plane in Central library, opposite the weeping window exhibition. These workshops were promoted not be WoW but by City Council’s Culture Liverpool as part of the programme to accompany the Weeping Window. An exhibition of the archive was also on display in the Library during the period. As a result, the archive was featuring in Local media and Nationally on Armed Forces TV.  As part of the Creative Writing Workshops which were led by poet Levi Tafari, participants were given a talk on the archive from the member of the Archive group. They set the documents within their historic context and answered questions from a very engaged audience. The workshops were attended by over 20 people over the period and the quality of the creative writing was outstanding and participants will perform and read their work at an event in the WoW festival in May 2016, alongside Levi Tafari. 

This initiative involved a public call out which invited L8 Community members to an open day at the Kuumba Imani Centre. On a rainy Saturday afternoon in December over 70 people can together to make over 100 Black Poppies. The session was led by renowned artist Faith Bebbington who was specially commissioned to produce a Black Poppy Sculpture under the direction of the Great War to Race Riots Archive Group. Over 100 poppies were created and Faith Crafted them into an incredible installation which was unveiled at public event in Central library on 19th December 2015. The installation was displayed in the hub of Central Library for a period of a month and was very well received by the public. 
Both the series creative writing workshops and the creation of the Black Poppy sculpture brought an incredible amount of attention to the archive and raised awareness of a period British colonial and WW1 history that has been under-explored. 

Creative Writing Workshops with Levi Tafari 

Commemorating the Black Contribution to WWI

Writing on the Wall present a fascinating archive of letters and documents highlighting the plight of black soldiers, seafarers, and workers in Liverpool following demobilisation in 1919. As part of the Weeping Window experience, Writing on the Wall invites you to join internationally renowned poet Levi Tafari in exploring the lives of these men and their families and to respond creatively through story-telling and poetry. These creative writing workshops will be include a guided tour of the archive. Join us for all four workshops or simply drop in for one. Find out more here

Every Saturday throughout November
7th, 14th, 21st and 28th. Liverpool Central Library
1pm meet at The Great War to Race Riots exhibition on the 3rd Floor 

For further information call Madeline Heneghan on 0151 703 0020 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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