Founder of the Black Cultural Archives, Len Garrison spent a lifetime expanding the knowledge of black British history and heritage, particularly in schools
Len was born in St Thomas, Jamaica, joining his parents in London in 1954. He had an interest in photography and studied the subject at King’s College London, going on to become a specialist medical photographer at Guy’s Hospital, and a freelance photographer for Claudia Jones’ West Indian Gazette.
In 1971 he obtained a diploma in development studies from Ruskin College, Oxford, where he wrote a dissertation on the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica. In 1976, he graduated in African and Caribbean history at Sussex University, and in 1992, gained an MA in local history at Leicester University.
His academic work led him to support efforts to improve the education of African Caribbean pupils, and in the late ‘70s he set up African and Caribbean Educational Resource (ACER), which pioneered the use of multi cultural education packs for schools.
Following the financial backing of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), the scheme spread from one secondary school to the rest of the capital before going nationwide. It also spawned other initiatives like the Young Penmanship Awards for creative writing.
ILEA’s dismantling by the Thatcher government in 1988 marked the end of ACER but, undeterred, Len moved to Nottingham as director of Afro-Caribbean Family and Friends, a move that expanded the reach of his work. He established one of the first effective mentoring projects, known as Build.
He also set up East Midlands African Caribbean Arts. A high point of this period was the 1993 exhibition, The Black Presence In Nottingham, at the city’s museum.
In 1997, Len returned to London and became the chairman of Black Cultural Archives (BCA), which he’d helped to set up in 1981. He had become an avid collector of primary source material and these were stored at its premises in Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, south London. In 1997, the BCA joined with Middlesex University to create the Archive and Museum of Black History.
Len’s original collection is now deposited at the Black Cultural Archives, an archive, research facility and exhibition space that opened in Windrush Square, Brixton, in 2014.