First name/s: Lenford Kwesi
Last name: Garrison
Known names / nicknames: Len
Date of birth: 13/06/1943
Year of birth: 1943
Life before Ruskin
Date and place of birth: Saint Thomas Parish, Jamaica
Family/Work: His father and mother migrated to Britain in 1952 and 1953 and he joined
them in West London. He had three brothers and one sister. Len Garrison trained
and worked as a part-time cinema projectionist in Clapham Junction. He went on
to work as a specialist in medical photography at the Free Hospital School of
Medicine (1962-6), and then at the Maudsley Hospital (1966-71). In addition he worked as a freelance photographer for the West Indian Gazette (founded by Claudia Jones).
Politics/Trade union activity: Len Garrison’s politics evolved out of his freelance photographer links to campaigning newspapers like the West Indian Gazette which led the protests against the 1959 murder of Antiguan carpenter Kelso Cochrane in Notting Hill. The political activism of Claudia Jones and the West Indian Gazette led to the launch of the first Caribbean carnival in 1959, at St Pancras Town Hall in London.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Len Garrison, was part of a black political milieu connected by a network of community based initiatives and radical black publishing, e.g. Bogle L’Ouverture Press, Karia Press, and bookshops like New Beacon Books which provided a community base for political meetings, cultural activities and events.
Trade Union membership (at time of entry to Ruskin)
Life at Ruskin
Dates at Ruskin: 1971
Source of funding:
Subjects studied at Ruskin:
Dissertation: His dissertation on the Rastafari – Rastafarian movement marked his
emergence as an educationalist.
Qualification: Diploma in Development Studies
Life after Ruskin
Education: In 1976 Len Garrison took a degree in African and Caribbean history at
the University of Sussex and in 1992 gained an MA in Local History at Leicester
University. In 1977 Len Garrison was invited to represent Britain at the
Festival of Arts and Culture in Nigeria (FESTAC), his presentation was based on
his Black Youth and Rastafarianism Ruskin College dissertation.
Work: In 1977 Len Garrison founded the African and Caribbean Educational Resource Centre (ACER) project. ACERs Black history educational packs were piloted at the Dick Sheppard School in Brixton, and then endorsed by the Inner London Education Authority, and the Greater London Council. In 1988 Len Garrison moved to Nottingham becoming the Director of the Association of Caribbean Families and Friends (ACFF) where he expanded the ACER concept further by establishing the mentoring project BUILD. At ACFF Len Garrison acquired support from the Kings Fund for Timeout, an initiative supporting the carers of orphaned and abandoned black children.
Politics/trade union activity:
Place & date of death:
Date of death: 18/02/2003
Year of death: 2003
Achievements / Publications
- Founder of the ACER – African Caribbean Educational Resource Centre
- Director of the African Caribbean Family and Friends (ACFF) Educational and Cultural Centre, Nottingham.
- Established the East Midlands African Caribbean Arts (EMACA)
- Co founder of the Black Cultural Archives (1981).
- Listed as one of 100 Great Black Britons.
- Ruskin dissertation on Black British Youth and Rastafarianism developed into a book entitled: ‘Black Youth, Rastafarianism and Identity Crisis in Britain’. In 1995 a collection of Len Garrison’s poems were published under the title – ‘Beyond Babylon’.
- Len Garrison was described by Mike Phillip’s as: “arguably the most important figure in the Black British community’s exploration and understanding of its history.” (‘Len Garrison – Recording the history of Black Britons for future generations’, Mike Phillips, The Guardian, Friday 28 February 2003).
Material in archives or already published articles
- Mike Phillips – ‘Len Garrison: Recording the history of Black Britons for future generations’ (The Guardian, 28 February 2003).
- 100 Great Black Britons – www.100 Great Black Britons
- Black Success Stories – www.black –success.com/black success stories.htm
- ‘Lest We Forget: The Experiences of World War 2 West Indian Ex-Service Personnel’, by Robert N Murray (Nottingham West Indian Combined Ex Services Association in association with Hansib Publishing, 1996)
- ‘With Hope in Their Eyes: The Compelling Stories of the Windrush Generation’, Vivienne Francis, 1988.
- ‘Caribbean Transnational Experience’ – Harry Goulbourne, 2002
- ‘Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney’, Horace Campbell, Hansib Publishing, 1985
- Bronze Bust commissioned by the Black Cultural Archives from Fowokan George Kelly – http://www.fowokan.com
- You Tube – ‘Fowokan and the Making of Len Garrison’.
Notes on Image/s
Comment of contributor/s and sources
As a pupil at Kingsley Grammar School, in West London, Len Garrison developed an early interest in the visual image and documenting visual memories through his pursuit of photography. This provided the foundation for Len Garrison’s lifelong pursuit of collecting material culture – photographs, posters, minutes, memorabilia, which formed the basis of an archival record of the African Caribbean, African Diaspora presence in the UK.
Len Garrison’s Ruskin dissertation published as the book ‘Black Youth, Rastafarianism and Identity Crisis in Britain’ coincided with the1971 publication of Bernard Coard’s ‘How the West Indian Child is made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System.’ (New Beacon Books) In this regard the theme of nurturing a positive sense of self via an appreciation of Black history and African Diaspora consciousness was central to Len Garrisons work as a historian and educationalist.
Len Garrisons understanding of the need to nurture a positive Black British – African Diaspora identity led to his creation and promotion of resources that instilled knowledge of the historical Black presence and contribution to British and world history, and founding in 1977 of the African and Caribbean Educational Resource Centre (ACER). The ACER Black History Educational packs piloted at the Dick Sheppard School in Brixton played an influential role in the development of multicultural educational resources and anti racist policy across the UK.
Alongside his key role in establishing the East Midlands and African Caribbean Arts (EMACA) centre, Len Garrison promoted the reclamation of ‘hidden histories’ and ‘untold stories’ via community and local history projects including work on George Africanus Nottingham’s first black entrepreneur, and the major 1993 exhibition ‘The Black Presence in Nottingham’ held at the City Museum.
In his poem “No Known monuments”, Len Garrison asks: “Where are our martyrs who died for our freedom …where are the brave…daughters who sang with pride the songs of freedom and carried our name in the strong soil of those Island mountain sides… they lay with no known monuments for our children to stand upright with proud acclaim.” (‘Beyond Babylon’, 1995)
In an interview for the publication ‘Black Success Stories’, Len Garrison explains:
“The whole idea then of a monument, a living monument was the genesis of an idea from which the black cultural archives was born.”
After co-founding the Black Cultural Archives in 1981, Len Garrison returned to Brixton in 1997 to help the Black Cultural archives in its joint venture with Middlesex University to create the archive and Museum of Black History.
Len Garrison described his method for “building the archive” in the “Black Success Stories” interview, commenting:
“I’d been collecting books, at that time it was very rare that you came across positive pictures of black people doing anything so I would preserve it…Anything else, things that I had gone to, I don’t throw the programmes away. A lot of these materials I just put into archives. That’s the basis of the collection.”