Arike Oke

By Rob Burns

Arike Oke is the Managing Director for Black Cultural Archives (BCA), the home of Black British history. She’s worked in heritage for over 15 years, from the seminal Connecting Histories project in Birmingham, to building Wellcome Collection’s archive, and co-convening Hull’s first Black History Month.

She is a board member for the National Archives’ strategic Unlocking Archives initiative, and is a fellow of the Arts Council’s Museums and Resilient Leadership programme. She is a published author of academic articles and a keynote speaker on heritage practice, a noted cultural leader and a passionate advocate for centreing community and people at the heart of debates, policy and practice.

Black Cultural Archives grew from a community response to the New Cross Massacre (1981), the notorious Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984), which to this day nearly 40 years on gives rascist police officers the power to ‘stop and search’, and where they have disproportionately targetted black people; underachievement of Black children in British schools, the failings of the Race Relations Act 1976, and the negative impacts of racism against, and a lack of popular recognition of, and representation by people of African and Caribbean descent in the UK.

Founded by educator Len Garrison, Black Cultural Archives’ is dedicated to enhancing and promoting education.

Their team is committed to documenting, teaching and the development of educational resources about the history of Black Britain.

As the UK’s only dedicated heritage centre they provide extensive learning programmes of exhibitions, courses, school workshops, lectures, public events and a dynamic youth forum. Education is the heart of Black Cultural Archives

Their vast archive collection contains over 2,000 records reflecting the long history of Black presence in Britain. Some of the materials include early Roman records of North African Emperor Septimius Severus and pre-colonial maps of Africa and antique newspaper of the 1700s. The collection also contains records from modern history including that of African and Caribbean soldiers in World Wars I & II, resistance movements and pressure groups of the twentieth century.

Their schools programme and unique learning approach give pupils deeper insight into how the past shapes ideas about the present and future. We are offer a vast range of teaching resources, interactive school workshops and training courses to support schools across the country.

When Arike Oke was appointed director in February 2019 she said,

“BCA is the home of Black British history, a beacon and a promise. We have got this far, we’ve got our building, we’ve got our foundational collections. Now it’s time to establish our voice and to return to our founding purpose. We can correct the omissions and erasures in British history. We can make sure that Black British people have a voice in the national agenda. We can support new and emerging talent. We can be part of the community, as a platform and collaborator”.

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