The pages on this site contain documentation, images, and details that generally relate to the activities of black people in Britain before 1940.
Born in Nuneaton in 1944, raised in London, Jeffrey Green worked in Uganda 1968-1970 for National and Grindays Bank, Kampala. He travelled to Zimbabwe and Cape Town, and spent three months around the U.S.A. by Greyhound bus, returning to work in London, Northamptonshire then Sussex as an export manager for two British manufacturers. His liking for 1920s jazz led him back to South Carolina in search of information for London jazz historian John Chilton.
Documents obtained in Charleston, S.C. assisted Chilton whose A Jazz Nursery: The Story of the Jenkins’ Orphanage Bands was published in 1980 (and is dedicated to Green). Green researched the story of one of the sons of that orphanage’s founder, and in 1982 had Edmund Thornton Jenkins: The Life and Times of an American Black Composer, 1894-1926 published by Greenwood Press. Jenkins had attended the Royal Academy of Music, London from 1914 to 1921. During that research contacts were made with veterans, and the children of veterans, some of West Indian descent.
Enthused by research he looked into the activities of other black people in Britain in the early 20th century, publishing in a range of journals – generally four pieces each year. Many articles were about musicians. Storyville (London), the Black Perspective in Music (New York) and the Black Music Research Journal (Chicago) all published several pieces.
In the 1980s it was then not understood there had been a vibrant black presence in Britain from the 1600s. He had multiple articles published in both Immigrants and Minorities and New Community (London). A 1984 London conference paper was rewritten and published by the Journal of Caribbean History (“West Indian Doctors in London”: June 1986).
He got to know Miss Amy Barbour-James, born of Guyanese parents in London in 1906, and the Jamaican Leslie Thompson who had settled in London in 1929 aged 28. He helped edit Thompson’s autobiography, which was republished in 2009 (Swing from a Small Island: The Leslie Thompson Story London: Northway Publications). Thompson told him about Dr J. J. Brown of Hackney, and Green took Thompson to Norfolk for a reunion with the doctor’s son Leslie (born London, 1909).
John Barbour-James had transferred in the colonial post office to Ghana (then the Gold Coast) where he worked from 1902 to 1917. That black West Indians had management roles in colonial West Africa was not well known, but the alas short-lived Ghana Studies Bulletin published a piece. In checking the British Guiana newspapers I found out about Oxford law student Edward Nelson who became an officer of the Oxford Union (New Community published an article). All this had the support of Christopher Fyfe, Reader in African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He suggested that, having written about Jenkins I should turn my attention to another black composer in Britain, the London-born son of a Sierra Leonean doctor, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) had an influence on Jenkins, and I had read the 1915 biography. That text did not seem totally reliable. After I wrote a brief note which a Croydon newspaper published, I received a letter from Marjorie Evans who claimed to be Coleridge-Taylor’s half-sister. Born in 1896, she had a lively personality and clear memory, recalling people she met at her famous relative’s home in Croydon. Paul McGilchrist invited me to go with him to the Royal College of Music and two pieces were published by Black Perspective in Music for editor Eileen Southern was well aware of Coleridge-Taylor’s importance for black Americans. I edited the Coleridge-Taylor edition of the Black Music Research Journal (Vol 21, No 2 Fall 2001) and in 2011 Pickering and Chatto published Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Musical Life.
In 1998 Frank Cass published Black Edwardians: Black People in Britain, 1901-1914. It included almost 50 photographs. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography commissioned articles (over 30 are in print) as did the Oxford Companion to Black British History and the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. History Today had “Before the Windrush” (October 2000). There were radio, television and public lectures (Museum of London, National Trust, British Library, East Yorkshire Record Office) and universities in Chicago, Houston, Paris, London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Reading and Sweden heard him speak. Jack McCray and Karen Chandler had formed the Charleston (South Carolina) Jazz Initiative and three times arranged for Green to participate.
Another book, a study of six Congo pygmies, the big-game hunting colonel who brought them to England in 1905, and the interpreter who worked with them for half of the 30 months they spent in Britain and Germany, awaits a publisher.
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