In February 2022, a group of students on the MA Culture, Criticism and Curation course at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London were given access to a collection of photographs from established photo-journalist Colin Jones.
Part of the collection consists of a series of photographs documenting the residents of Harambee House, a hostel and community project that operated on Holloway Road in North London between 1969 and around 1978. Beyond the photography of Colin Jones, records and information on the Harambee Project are few and far between, and with most other material from the house surviving almost exclusively in archives, these images serve as nearly the only remaining document of Harambee that is easily publicly accessible to date.
Using the Colin Jones collection as a starting point, the group seeks to respond to the project and re-contextualise Harambee House in relation to the voices of those involved at the time through found archival material. Made available to the public through an online platform, this photography has been arranged alongside original artefacts from the house including posters, leaflets, interviews, and letters, all in the hope of re-piecing a clearer history of an important community project that has essentially been erased from Islington history.
It is worth noting that the collection is referred to by Colin Jones as "The Black House", possibly a reference to Michael X's unrelated commune, also on Holloway Road. As the entities are separate - and in the interest of portraying Harambee accurately - we are making the decision to solely refer to the project by its actual name: "Harambee".
A digital collection uncovering the Harambee project through archival material and Colin Jones' "Black House" photography series.
HARAMBEE HOUSE OPENS
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"Harambee's philosophy is simple.
No person will ever be written off."
No person will ever be written off."
- Rev. Wilfred D. Wood, 1978.
In 1969, "Harambee" is formed as a community project across three North London locations, the heart of which being Harambee House, a building at 571 Holloway Road in North London.
Primarily, the house served as a halfway home for young disenfranchised members of the black community, whilst also operating as a cultural hub and supporting its residents in a far wider sense.
known as Brother Herman
"The Harambee House project was especially founded as a center for the social rehabilitation of unfortunate young members of the black community who have virtually rejected the society in which we live today."
- Brother Herman
Herman Edwards - known publicly as Brother Herman - was the founder and Secretary-General of Harambee House throughout its operation. Leaving Antigua in 1955 and a bricklayer by trade, Brother Herman was initially associated with Michael X's "Black House", a Black Power commune at the other end of Holloway Road where in 1969 he acted as Welfare Officer.
After becoming quickly disillusioned with the demagogy of Michael X and his antagonistic approach, Edwards left the Black House and in the same year formed "Harambee", a project that seemed to address the shortcomings of Micheal X's Black House.
"Harambee is the only hope for some of these kids".
- Herman Edwards, 1978.
"They have rejected the society in which we live and its the only place where you could attempt to get them back into society again. Some of the officers regard it as a den of thieves. But the people in there do not exist because of Harambee. Harambee exists because of them, and there's nowhere else for many of them to go."
HARAMBEE IN ACTION
In addition to giving these young people a place to stay, Harambee also supported its residents in a larger way, offering film showings, free legal council from lawyers, and seeking out employment for the residents.
In 1973, the Home Office granted £281,000 to the Harambee Project in order for the project to officially purchase its House at 571 Holloway Road and continue its operations, and by 1976, Harambee was officially registered as a charity.
Here we have a collection of leaflets and a letter that each serves as an example of the multi-faceted approach the project took to helping and enriching the lives of young people.
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"Sir Lord Power, the Killer Sound, played every Friday night at a Methodist hall at Archway: a 100 watt sound system run by four of the Harambee boys.
At its peak a year ago 600 or 700 boys and girls would pack into the hall, whose windows shook to their bass vibrations powering out of the speakers in each corner."
Extract from the Sunday Times article,
1973, written by Peter Gillman.
TOTALITY OF EQUALITY"
- Herman Edwards, 1973.
COLIN JONES' FIRST VISIT
TO HARAMBEE HOUSE
hover to read Colin Jones' biography
Colin Jones was born in Poplar, East London, in 1936. Poplar was heavily bombed during world war two, resulting in a largely unsettled childhood for himself and his family forced to move around due to evacuation. When he left school at 16 he had no qualifications, and he was encouraged to study dance, going on to do so in Kent and London's Soho, before eventually winning a scholarship to attend the Royal Ballet School in 1952.
Whilst travelling the world with the Royal Ballet Jones discovered his passion for photography and purchased his first camera in Toyko in 1958. He photographed his fellow dancers backstage, determined to show ballet for the hard work and intense labour he knew it to be.
Jones became increasingly invested in his photography, and less so in ballet, and began working for The Observer in 1962, before going freelance. During this time he was commissioned by Sunday Times Magazine to produce what became his acclaimed series The Black House. It is these photographs alongside archival material that shall be explored within this project.
In 1973, established photographer Colin Jones was commissioned by The Sunday Times Magazine to take photographs for an article written by Peter Gillman addressing the perceived rise in muggings in London.
In an interview with Martin Parr, Jones stated that for this article they were initially asked to
"find out who was doing all the mugging".
After numerous attempts to gain access to "black organisations", eventually Herman Edwards granted Gillman and Jones the opportunity to document Harambee House. "They were the hardest people I've ever had to photograph," commented Jones on the assignment; "They trusted no one." Below is a selection of images from this series.
click and drag the images to explore the collection
THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE
ARTICLE ON "THE BLACK HOUSE"
"ON THE EDGE OF THE GHETTO: The way they see it"
The article was eventually published in The Sunday Times Magazine in September, 1973 under the name:
Providing a first hand insight into the lived experiences of the Harambee House residents, Peter Gillman's interviews and Colin Jones' photography sought to shed light on the hostility and injustice the residents of Harambeee faced in the country.
Beginning with the statement "I BLAME ENGLAND", in bold, capital letters, the opening line establishes the main sentiment of Harambee's residents, articulating the resentment and prejudice they felt coming from the country they lived in.
Despite the grandiosity of the sub-heading statements, the article offered a sympathetic tone to the residents.
COLIN JONES AND
"THE BLACK HOUSE"
Colin Jones and Peter Gillman visited the house together for six weeks, but Jones continued to photograph Harambee House and its community during the years prior to its closure.
He was invited back to document weddings and other significant events, maintaining a relationship with numerous residents even long after the Harambee House project folded.
The photographs initially commissioned for the 1973 Sunday Times Magazine article, extended far beyond it. As Jones continued to photograph the house it became a series in its own right, which he titled The Black House.
The reasoning behind this name is not credibly explained; evidence of existing correspondence, and the original Sunday Times Magazine article, solely refers to Harambee House as such, never as the Black House.
Colin Jones’ The Black House series was first exhibited in 1977 at the Photographers Gallery, showing images Jones had captured during his time photographing Harambe House between 1973 and 76. The exhibition was viewed as controversial and went on to tour the country until it was subject to vandalism in Leicester.
1975 - 1978
HARAMBEE HOUSE AND THE COUNCIL
Despite the government having officially granted the sum of £281,000 to Harambee in 1973, prerequisites to this funding meant that even by 1975 Harambee had not received this money.
The conditions of this grant were that 75% per cent of the total amount would be provided by the government and sent to Islington Borough Council to be processed, and then the remaining 25% would be matched by the council and subsequently sent on to the Harambee project.
Brother Herman refused to accept this offer under his belief that the prerequisite was unreasonable.
In actuality, once the council received the money to be sent on, they made the decision to withhold the grant from Harambee, enforcing the requirement that with the money the property would be purchased on behalf of the council, and then with the deeds under the name of the Council, Harambee would pay a nominal fee as a rental for the property.
As he details in his essay 'A Black Power View', he believed that in order for both the project and the community to develop properly, the property should be owned by Harambee.
After numerous letters between Brother Herman and Minister of State Alex Lyon, eventually in August 1975 the Home Office agreed that the concession of the lease to the council was an unreasonable and limiting requirement, apologising for the delay, and declaring their intent to write to Islington council to remove the condition.
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Letter from Alex Lyon, MP in London in 1975, confirming that Harambee would not be required to sacrifice the lease to 571 Holloway Road.
However, despite this instruction from the higher government, Labour councillor Anne Page still persisted that Harambee must accept the deal or risk not receiving the funding at all.
However, the attempt was ultimately futile, and by 1978, after five years of negotiating and waiting for the legitimately allocated funding, Brother Herman was forced to officially decline the money, turning to donations from the public to maintain Harambee.
Brother Herman responded to this by taking the Council to court, rightfully claiming that they had not fulfilled their duty to allocate the funding to the trustees of the Harambee House.
click to move and expand the documents
- page numbers included in the titles
Clipping from the Westindian World covering the funding scandal between the Council and Harambee.
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After having rejected the money Harambee had to operate on public donations alone. There is a selection of material showing Brother Herman seeking donations via different methods including posters, letters, and leaflets.
Here on the left, a letter from Brother Herman mentions a fire incident, putting Harambee into a dire situation and in urgent need of funding.
We don't know when exactly the Harambee project closed but we can assume it was at some time between 1978-1979, as this is when the archival material stops.
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"Harambee - Working together in harmony", is a leaflet published around 1978. It offers a plea to the public by outlining the mission and activity of the Harambee Project. The leaflet includes a foreword by rev/ Wilfred Wood and essays by Brother Herman and Brother Byron Lawrence.
" HARAMBEE - DOWN BUT NOT OUT "
The document includes an interview from 1978 with Herman Edwards summarising the altercation between the project and the Islington Council. This is one of the last documents available at the archive, as records of later years don't exist there. It is assumed that it was during that time the project dissolved and the house shut down.
page numbers included in the titles
LAST DAYS OF HARAMBEE HOUSE
1978 - Present
Records do not explicitly say why the Harambee project shut down and archival information halts around 1979.
A few years later Whittington Park opened on the site of Harambee House and many others on the Holloway Road.
Today it features a children’s play area, a community classroom, and is recognised as an RSPB site of conservation. There is no acknowledgement of the previous history of the site.
HARAMBEE HOUSE LOCATION
GEORGE PADMORE INSTITUTE
Beyond the photography collection of Colin Jones and the Sunday Times article, the vast majority of the material presented here has come from the George Padmore Institute in Finsbury Park and has been essential in re-contextualising Colin Jones' 'The Black House' project.
Founded in 1991 by political and cultural activist John La Rose above New Beacon Books on Stroud Green Road, the archive houses materials and documents relating mainly to black communities of Caribbean, African, and Asian descent in post-war Britain and continental Europe.
The significance of the George Padmore Institute to this project provides an example of the fundamental importance of archives in preserving cultural histories.
link to the website
THE "BLACK HOUSE"
The photographs, initially commissioned for the 1973 Sunday Times Magazine article, extended far beyond it. Jones and Gillman visited Harambee House together for six weeks but Jones continued to visit for a further three years. He was invited back to document significant events, including weddings, and maintained a relationship with some of the residents long after the project folded. The photographs of the house became a series in their own right which Jones titled "The Black House". The reasoning behind this name is not credibly explained; evidence of existing correspondence, and the original Sunday Times Magazine article, solely refers to "Harambee House" as such, never as the Black House.
The series was first exhibited in 1977 at the Photographers Gallery.
In 2007, Colin Jones’ Black House photographs were exhibited at the London College of Communication (LCC) as part of a celebration of Black History Month. In conjunction with the exhibition was the publication of a photo book with Jones’ images alongside text by novelist Mike Phillips. The prints were unofficially held by LCC in the Archive and Special Collections Centre until 2019 when Jones himself got in contact with the university. The majority of the prints were then formally donated to the ASCC in 2020, and make up a large portion of the material shared on this site.
The V&A acquired three photographs from the Black House project as part of their 2015 exhibition Staying Power: Photographs of the Black British Experience in collaboration with the Black Cultural Archives. The exhibition aimed to raise awareness of the contribution of black Britons to British culture and society – as well as to art and photography.
Similarly, in 2017 the Tate Britain’s Stan Firm Inna Inglan display brought together work from the 1960s and 70s which documented Black communities in London.
Invitation for the LCC exhibition
AND ARCHIVES, UAL
The 6 Colleges of University of the Arts London are home to a wide range of archives and special collections.
More information about the collections held at the University can be found on the website for each College's special collections.
The collections include material relating to book art, film, fine printing, performance, product design, tailoring, typography and women's art. Resources are open to the general public.
Georgina Orgill (Assistant Manager, ASCC & Stanley Kubrick Archivist at University of the Arts London) introduced us to the collection and provided valuable guidance and support during the development of the project.
This project would not exist without the access given to us by the Special Collections and Archives at UAL.
link to the website
The photographs taken by Colin Jones of Harambee House provide a compelling and intimate portrait of the residents of the house and their lives on the site, and this insight, in combination with the scarcity of information available on the project, has prompted a more extensive investigation of its history and events.
By arranging and interpreting letters, leaflets, and posters from Harambee provided by the George Padmore Institute we can build a rough outline of the circumstances that led to the house's closure in approximately 1978, unraveling a story that maps and examines a series of inexcusable examples of Islington Borough Council's misconduct towards the Harambee project. With the help of this found archival material we can chronicle the well-being of young people being completely and intentionally neglected by a local government that failed to provide financial aid that was both promised and required to continue the project. In response to this missing piece of London history, our access to the Colin Jones collection at LCC provides a unique opportunity for us to actively challenge London's colonial hierarchies by retroactively examining its recent history of sociopolitical injustice and racial animosity.
Through archival and contextual research we have also attempted to re-assamble the lost legacy of Brother Herman and Harambee outside of their altercations with the council, instead looking at their wide reaching attempts to genuinely support disenfranchised youth in north London through education, legal council, and cultural events among other things. We by no means want to adopt or misrepresent a story that is not ours; instead we aim to provide a resource that is as clear and concise as possible and presents and contextualises the relevant material we were able to find. We look to mediate the complex process of navigating archives and gathering information for an audience while emulating the thrilling experience that encountering and piecing together new findings can be.
Perhaps most importantly, we would like to extend the legacy of the house far beyond the photography of Colin Jones, providing an online resource page as a digital testament to its history that will hopefully be expanded upon as time progresses.
GET IN CONTACT
We hope to bring stories and experiences together through an online space, providing a resource for these marginalised lived experiences in north London.
If you would like to share an experience or insight into the Harambee project or the events surrounding it, we warmly encourage you to do so.
We have managed to gather only a fragment of the story, and we want to continue collecting resources and insights to give clearer and more complete picture of the house as a hostel, as a community centre, and as a point of cultural reference.
This online Archival/Curatorial project is the work of Andreas Andronikou, Ula Deru, Alex Blackbourn, Amelia Kedge, Rosie Mell, Sana Bhatia, and Shine Lin, seven Central Saint Martins MA Culture, Criticism and Curation '22 students with varied backgrounds, compiling both UK and international students.
As this is a digital project, we wanted to keep it as sustainable as possible during the climate crisis. In order to support sustainability we have invested in carbon credits from Earthly on the Mai Ndombe forest protection project, an investment to fight against climate change.