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Why capturing and archiving history is so important – The story of Lothian Black Forum and the murder of Axmed Abuukar Sheekh
Achebe quote

Cross-posted from CERES Blogs Blog post by Rowena Arshad, The University of Edinburgh, UK (First published 27 October 2020 as part of Black History Month.)

I wanted to use this blog to remember a piece of history that some might know about, but most will not. This relates to the racist murder of Axmed Abuukar Sheekh in 1989 and the campaign by Lothian Black Forum (LBF) to get the murder recognised as a racist murder.

By chance, a few months ago, I was speaking with Henry Dee, who wrote the first blog for CERES for Black History Month – Uncovering University of Edinburgh’s Black History. Henry had heard about the murder of Sheekh but had not realised that I and a few others had started the grassroots activist group Lothian Black Forum (LBF).

Henry spoke with me and fellow activists and began to piece together the story of LBF, the first black anti-racist grassroot group to form in Edinburgh. Henry’s write up chartered the contributions of LBF from 1989-1992.

CERES has featured Henry’s write up before but it is important to raise it again. It is important because the contributions of ordinary people need to be heard, archived and re-told. As Chinua Achebe, Nigerian poet, writer, philosopher, critic and academic said:

Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

Haitian historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot reminds us that historical narratives can be a bundle of silences. Who chooses what to remember, what is deemed important and worthy of incorporation into history is often decided by those who hold the power to publish, to print and to provide that stamp of credibility. The efforts of ordinary black people campaigning for justice must be remembered and retold and LBF were part of Scotland’s history to educate and act against racism.

There are some who would argue that black history should be mainstreamed and not relegated to just one month in each year. I agree. No one is disputing that black history, the history of colonialism and racism should not be part of the curriculum for whatever subject we are studying across the year. Black history is UK, US and global history.

However, in the UK, the focus on black history in October provides us with a month where we can take issue explicitly with any ‘selective forgetting’. It is when we can identify black minority ethnic contributions and can remember. Knowing the past opens the door to the future. When I see the wonderful work of young black activists in 2020, it is uplifting. Campaigning for justice and for the eradication of racism is not new. There are many black and minority ethnic people who made sacrifices, pushed the boundaries, were seen as trouble makers and for some, the cost was their own lives and freedom.

Learn more about Lothian Black Forum
To hear about the experiences of Lothian Black Forum members, go to BBC Sounds.

* This blog was first published on CERES Blogs on 27 October 2020 as part of Black History Month.