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April 6 – The Globe Theatre and a bit of British Black History

6 Apr

We went to Shakepeare’s Globe Theatre as our group activity today. I was more interested in the folks building the set for Romeo and Juliet set to start April 22nd, than I was in the information on the tour.  I spent a great deal of time people watching here today.  I saw a nonverbal example for low level of tolerance for the American millennial and the French teenager.  I think it has a lot to do with the “cloud of sound” (a term coined from my husband’s trip to Poland in the early 2000s) that these groups tend to be.  This is more an observation of behavior clash than anything else.  I don’t think the British are purposefully rude to these groups, nor do I believe these groups to be intentionally troublesome to the British.  It is clearly an expectation violation issue here.  The British culture expects a level of reserve in public spaces and these two youth groups expect the freedom to enjoy the company of their friends however that may happen.  Watching the nonverbal reactions of the groups to one another was quite amusing.  My research ethics does not allow me to have pics of these exchanges, but imagine the church mother spying the young girl in the short skirt walking into church and how they would react to one another during the church greetings.

I decided to go with a group to Greenwich after lunch in Borough Market (Which I highly recommend, there is food for EVERYBODY there.  I had the best vegan burger, vegan cupcake and drink all for less than 10 British Pounds. They are only open Thursday-Sunday though).  At first, I thought I was merely going to be accompanying my students who had research interests in Greenwich, politely exploring the Maritime Museum while they took copious notes and then going back to the hotel.  I was pleasantly surprised.  I walked up to the upper level and ran smack into this door:

Here folks, is where my Black British History moment for the day begins.  This was an exhibit that explains the Salve trade from the British perspective.  What I found most interesting, is much like in the US, the atrocities are  about glossed over and the British role in abolition seem to be at the forefront.  It was almost an inconvenient factoid to mention that the British were responsible for transporting 1.4 million of the slaves in the Ma’afa, because they were in fact “adamantly opposed to the horrors of slaving.”  The juxtaposition of these two quotes found in the museum just a few hundred feet from one another highlights my point:

Found inside the Atlantic Trade Exhibit

Found just before you enter the Atlantic Trade Exhibit

Overall, the exhibit was quite moving.  There were artifacts I had never seen before.  China plates with slaves caricatures, news articles demanding the abolition of slavery, audio accounts of Toussaint’s revolt, actual whips from the sugar plantations and “ID bracelets.”

I took so many pictures!  I won’t bore you with all of them here, but there was so much to read into the presentation, the rhetoric and the artifacts.  The combination of them all is a bit more matter-of-fact than how we “discuss” (we really don’t, but it’s the word of choice) slave history in the USA.  Even though it is still from the perspective of the slaver, there is more of a sense of “we did some bad ish to the Africans and this is what it looked like”  in the UK versus the “Blacks came here as immigrants too looking for opportunity” garbage that we  perpetuate in US History.

I also managed to find a few books in the gift shops. 

SPOILER ALERT for my family. These are some of y’all’s gifts.

Yes.  I am absolutely that woman that came all the way to London and bought only Black books about Britain (even the Shakespeare has a Black tragic protagonist).  But you already knew that about me. 🙂 

April 5 – Castles and Children

6 Apr

The garden side of the palace

Today, we visited Hampton Court Palace and I must say this place had children in mind. When you exchange your London Pass for a ticket, there are rows of velvet robes hanging in various sizes so that you can “dress like a Tudor” for your tour. The audio guides have a general guide, a family guide and an actor’s guide that will allow you to hear characters talk about life in the castle. Just about every area had a hands-on table and the appropriate props are in most rooms. For example, the kitchen has the fireplace actually going, with meats vegetables and breads strewn around the kitchen.

There were period actors in the Tudor section reenacting the day Henry VIII proposed to Katherine Parr. That was exciting to watch.  I kept going back and forth between the audio tour and the live actors. 

The Tudor actors in Base Court in Hampton Court Palace

There is a LOT to see in Hampton Court Palace and I noticed that many families do indeed make the day of it. There was a special family activity that is running through Easter where children need to find golden  bunnies hidden throughout the castle.  When they find them, they are given a chocolate treat.  This had the children actively engaged as in order to get the chocolates from some of the docents, they had to give them a fact from history or the exhibit. Between this activity and the many families getting cozy in the gardens eating lunches and letting the children play, it was nice to see that it appears the castle wants to make this “home” for children. The actors make a special point to engage the children in their scenes and the docents seem so kind and nurturing to all of the children.

I guess to put in perspective for some of you, the castle employees are like Disney cast members (do you see it now?).

The palace also has a “Magic Garden” that is basically a huge play area for children with super sized jungle gyms, slides and swings.

Gardens at Hampton Court Palace

Overall, despite this place being a bit outside of the city (you have to take an overland train to Surrey), it is well worth the trip. I would suggest giving yourself time to experience the whole grounds. Take time in the garden, do the full audio tour, and let the children try the hands on activities and hear the actors tell the stories.

For my Black British History tidbit, I leave you with an image from the Caesar relief painting in the Baroque section  of Hampton Court Palace. This man is in the very front of the first panel of the relief:

An African man included in the front of the relief painting of Caesar’s Triumph subtitled “The Trumpeters and Standard Bearers”

I also bought a book on Black presence in London from Foyle’s Bookstore 😉.

Family Fun in Westminster

4 Apr

Today, my students did a bunch of mini-explorations in small groups.  I decided to use today as a chance to look at visiting London from the eyes of a mom.  I have a few tips that will be helpful for families with children around the same age as mine with a few things that would be of interest for the tween/teen.

1) Whatever you do, GET THE LONDON PASS.  This thing has been fantastic!  You pay for the pass for the number of days you will need it.  Because we are here for the week, we included the 6-day pass in their fees.  This pass gets you into just about every tourist site (except the London Eye, Aquarium and Shrek Adventure), the Hop on/Hop off bus tour, the Hop on/Hop off cruise and the Canal Boat Trip.  Now most of the museums are already free, but you get discounts in the gift shops and/or free audio tours with the pass.  With my mom lens, this is sooooo efficient.  All we have to do is show the cards at entry.  Some places may ask you to get an actual ticket, but if I’m not trying to wrangle children, figure out money and wait in long ticket lines, I’m fine with that.

2) The pre-paid Oyster card is the business!  We have enough money on the card to average a typical week using the London Underground.  If we weren’t taking a day trip to see Hampton Court Palace tomorrow, it would be the perfect amount for our trip. If you find you need more money on the card, you can “top up” at any tube station (with a credit card) or at any bodega that sells cards (cash or credit).  It is possible to get the Oyster card and the London Pass together.  Check the website for more information.

The sites I visited today

We were in Westminster and the Abbey was closed, so we had to find alternatives to visit.  I took a group over to see the Churchill War Rooms.  This was surprisingly engaging.  I’m not a WWII history buff by any means, but the museum is set up in a way that is interactive and engaging.  Much like the Museum of London, there are many activities that you can do with children of any age.  They also have the “war rooms” set up as they were in the 1940s (now if you get weirded out by mannequins, beware).  It was quite an engaging tour.  It was also not something I would have jumped at doing on my own, but it was entertaining enough, that I would recommend it.  The mom in me suggests you let the kids explore the Churchill Museum portion for as long as they want because the tour of the rooms can move a bit slow if there are crowds.  There are videos, hidden compartments and tactile artifacts that would encourage the curiosity of most children.

Churchill War Rooms

The Hop on/Hop off tour is a fun way to see all of the London sites.  You get one day ride with the London Pass and you can use it to get around to all the sites without taking the Tube.  I picked up the bus (a double decker–which I could hear my own children squealing about) about a block away from the Churchill War Rooms and rode the red line circuit.  This route took me past Hyde Park, Harrod’s, Piccadilly Circus, The Natural History Museum, Royal Albert Hall, Victoria and Albert Museum and Buckingham Palace.  All of these places have stops so you can get off, explore, and catch the next bus when it comes around.  I rode the bus to Buckingham Palace, took a few pictures, and then hopped back on to get back to Westminster.

The rare instance I remember to catch myself on camera. Me in front of Buckingham Palace.

So, I took one for the team today.  When I purchased a ticket for the London Eye earlier this week, I took advantage of a deal to get essentially two for one and added the London Dungeon tour.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I thought it would be theatrical and entertaining.  It was, but not quite for me.  This would be one of those activities for the tween/teen.  Not appropriate for younger ones (lots of loud noises, blackouts and strobe light effects that may be a bit much for younger children). Not to mention, there are two rides in the tour, one on water and one with a free fall drop.  These have height restrictions so younger ones wouldn’t be able to do these anyway.  I was going through it identifying the exact moments my own children would “done with it” and “ready to go.” I counted about 15 instances.  The entire tour is quite entertaining though.  The actors played their characters well.  A nice blend of tourist cheesy and actual chops.  There is some water involved, not enough to need a change of clothes, but it does spray on your clothes and sometimes in your hair in certain spots, but you’re dry by the time you leave.

Fun for teens, not really for this Momma though

Overall, the London Pass as shown me many more things than I would have considered on my own.  You can buy it online and have it waiting for you at your hotel or sent to your house before you go.  Once you use your card at your first site, your day count begins.  I would encourage using your first day in town to get the lay of land by tube and go to one of the free museums.  Begin to use the pass on your second day and have FUN!

Now because I would not be me if I didn’t keep this going, here is your British Black History for the day:

Nelson Mandela’s statue was erected in Parliament Square in Westminster in 2008. He is the only Black man to join the likes of Churchill, Ganning and other noteworthy British (White) men on the square in Westminster.

Tomorrow, we visit the home of Henry VIII.

The British Museum and a bit of British Black History

3 Apr

Today’s group activity was the British Museum. This is really an all day family activity. There is so much to see. Because we only had about 3 hours at the museum this morning, I took advantage of the fact that I had already been here and breezed through certain sections in order to take more time in others and did a great deal of people watching along the way.  
The collections are grouped by region primarily and then era. Although I went to every section, except for Clocks and Watches, I will focus only on three, Egyptian Hall, The Enlightenment and the Africa Gallery. I took advantage that our London Pass offers a free audio tour at the British Museum and listened as I walked.

Bust of Pharaoh Ramses at the British Museum

The Egyptian Hall is one of the most populated in the Museum save the mummy collection on the 2nd floor. In 2010, I posted about the pillaging that took place worldwide in order for these collections to be here (no need to repeat myself), but I what caught my attention the most were the debates among people in various languages about whether or not Egypt was in Africa. Let me help y’all out: EGYPT IS AN AFRICAN COUNTRY LOCATED IN THE NORTH EAST OF THE CONTINENT. Point. Blank. Period. Yes. They do speak Arabic there, but it’s not a Middle Eastern country. Yes. They do practice Islam there, but they also practice Islam in Senegal. If that’s Africa, so is Egypt. I admit, I may have been more sensitive to these conversations because of my Day 1 conversation, but I really do not understand the fascination with removing Egypt from the continent.  

Wait. Yes I do. It’s for the same reason, that people “cannot be certain” what knowledge came from Egypt and what knowledge originated in Greece. Let me help you again: NEITHER. IT WAS NUBIA AND FILTERED NORTH. This isn’t just my pro-Black sensibilities. There is support for this claim. But, I encourage you to go find it. It is fairly easy to locate.  

The Enlightenment Room at the British Museum

The Enlightenment Room. I’ll be brief here. The entire book collection of King George III as well as “gifts and collectibles” from various lords and dukes in the country who upon their death, donated their “possessions” to the Museum. Many of these things were gifted or “acquired” in expeditions. The story between the lines is pretty clear there. Who exactly gifts the preserved head of an African man to a duke in the United Kingdom? I thought a bottle of wine or flowers was customary (I don’t think I want to up my game though). The funniest thing I saw in this section was a sign that read “Collecting the World.” Am I alone in seeing the humor in this? How do you collect what does not belong to you? Did you ask if it was okay to collect them? I have so many questions, all of which rhetorical, of course. 

The Africa collection is the last section I’ll share. I’m finishing up some research around the African Religious Aesthetic so I found a few pieces that I have helped me finish up that piece for submission. One of the most moving pieces is a contemporary piece shown below:

The picture does not do these pieces justice. It was phenomenal in person! It is inspired by the syncretism of the African masquerade and Carnaval celebrations in the Caribbean. I so wanted the gift shop to have this in print (sadness and sorrow, they did not). So today, still very much focusing on the Black in London.

Ignatius Sancho, portrait by Thomas Gainsborough

I want to end with a tidbit of information about Ignatius Sancho. He was the African whose picture was in the Museum of London. The interwebs have provided me with these facts:

Ignatius Sancho is the first African to have work published in England. He cam to England at the age of 2 after his mother died in New Granada. He grew as a slave in Greenwich, London. The Duke of Montagu frequently sent Sancho books in order to encourage a love of knowledge. He wrote numerous letters, plays and music. Although the conditions behind his freedom are unclear, once Sancho was free, he owned a grocery store in Westminster and lived in the neighborhood with his wife and seven children. He is documented as the first Black person of African origin to have voted in Britain. You can get Sancho’s published letters here. I figured I’d give you a bit of a taste of the Black British history (since I’m still looking for the book).

In keeping with the old stomping grounds of Ignatius Sancho, tomorrow we hit the Westminster area.  More family friendly stuff to come tomorrow……

Hidden gems in the Tower of London

2 Apr

The White Tower at the Tower of London

The group aactivity today was to the Tower of London.  This is definitely on the “must do” list for families.  You can’t come all the way across the pond and not see the Traitor’s Gate, the Yeoman Warders spin their fantastically entertaining tales on the tour, nor get a chance to enter into the vault where all the Crown Jewels are housed and look up close at the queen’s crowns with only an inch of highly secured tempered glass between you and them.  Sunday proved to be a particularly entertaining day at the Tower of London as every costumed player was in full form telling stories of Edwardian London, using visitors to reenact rebel attacks on the massive fort and ravens flying all free everywhere, no, seriously:

Two ravens getting all cozy by the Jewel Tower at the Tower of London (I used my zoom, I’m not that cray)

In 2010, I blogged about the despair I felt looking at the Crown Jewels.  Saddened because I knew that for every diamond, gilded spoon and ivory laden writing pen, there were countless lives indelibly ravished and severed from connections to and with the continent of Africa.  As I walked the same grounds today, I haven’t forgotten about those memories from 2010, but I have also vowed to find the Black in London history this go around.  Here’s what I found:

Phillis Wheatley was an honored guest of the White Tower Castle when she came to London in 1773.  Traveling with her master’s son, her visit was to get a sponsor to publish her poetry because they could not find a publisher in the United States (WE know why, but “the innanets” presents it as bad luck…*side eye*…go figure).  The White Tower actually features her image at the entrance of the castle.

Image of Phillis Wheatley taken at the White Tower at the Tower of London

I do not remember seeing this the last time I was here.  I toured every nook and cranny of the various towers and buildings in 2010 just as I did today.  I combed through my travel notes and even the blog posts here to see if Imentioned it or jotted it down somewhere…nothing.  It’s like Spirit has aligned in such a way that this time around, I needed to see this. I really did need to see this.  So, now that my morning has been pumped, I keep looking.  Coming out the vaulted building where the crowns are housed, I stumbled into a changing of the guard.  Regardless the country or armed servicemen, this is a spectacular scene to witness.  I stopped not thinking too much about it until I realized this:

Yes, brotha, YAAAAAAAASSSSS! Good to see you!

Now it’s the 21st century, I’m clear that there have been a diverse pool of folks serving in the military for a long time in this country and ours, but I had not seen (with my own eyes) this particular type of guard represented by a person of color.  I know, when Uncle Barry came to see the Queen there was one guarding Buckingham Palace who broke protocol to smile for a picture with our 44th, but I’m totally making this post about my yearning for everyday examples of folks who look like me on this trip, so let’s pretend you are just as excited as I am.  My excitement increases as I learn from the audio tour that it is an elite group of military personnel who are selected to be a part of the Tower of London warders, having achieved distinguished service from the Queen’s military.  They also get free housing for themselves and their families.  So, this brotha here, is not “just working.” Arguably he is being acknowledged for going above and beyond while serving his country.  


Later this afternoon, we went the Victoria and Albert Museum.  There was a group that was going to have Afternoon Tea in one of the cafes, I was tagging along because it was a museum, but still my eyes are searching, and I came across these:

Image of a Moor in a tapestry

Mother Nature nursing European and African babies

Bust of a young boy

Bust of an African servant

So now I want to know, “Is there a Black History of the UK?”  I don’t mean this question in a naive sense.  I mean where are the anthologies, textbook, history chronicles that outlines in as thorough a detail as the British are able to provide for the historic relationship with India (a whole ‘nother post, y’all, for real, there was an entire exhibit about India at V&A that still centered around the lived experiences of a privileged white man)? In a shallow dig into the interwebs, I found this place to start: Black Presence in Britain.  Join me.  Let’s learn more about this together.

Museum of London: A family-friendly history lesson

2 Apr


I wish I was sleepy and not WIDE awake…

Welp. Since the time difference is wreaking havoc on my sleep patterns day one, I might as well be productive and talk a bit about the day.  We immediately got off of the plane and into explorations.  The students (and faculty) were exhausted by the end day as evident by a few off color comments I’ll share later.

The Museum of London was our first stop.  I must say, this is an ideal location for the entire family.  There are interactive exhibits all throughout the museum, tactile and digital, as well as many short movies that sum up important moments in London’s history.  Most impressive to me was the prominence of noted Black Britons through history: Olaudah Equiano (Spelman College inaugural ADW class represent!), and other noted Blacks from the Victorian era to present day.  There was also a section dedicated to the Black population in London with images and signage like the ones below showing the emergence of a strong Black voice in London around the same time as the US Black Power Movement in the late 1960s early 1970s.

Overall, this museum is a good way to go through the rich history of the city in a one-stop shop that is entertaining for all ages.  Even my students found themselves caught up in the activities and films throughout the place!

We had a group dinner at a pizza restaurant nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral (I know, I know).  At this dinner it became more apparent how tired folks were becoming.  We were having an interesting conversation about the artifacts in the British Museum and whether or not the UK should be obligated to return these items (see my London Retrospective for a refresher on some of these images).  In this conversation, we debated how secure these artifacts would be in places like Syria in midst of conflict and the comment was made about how some countries just would have a difficult time knowing what to do with them if they were returned.  To which a male traveler notes “Yeah, because since the aliens built the pyramids those people don’t know what to do with them now.”  While that whole section of the table erupted into laughter, I tried REAL hard not to pull out my best Auntie Maxine:

My actual face

I immediately shut down.  Why must the brilliance of the Black mind always be a point of issue?  Why is it that there has to be some inexplicable phenomenon that rationalizes away our greatness?  The fact that even in jest (to them not me), aliens building the pyramids is more plausible than African people, has me giving old buddy a HARD side eye (fortunately, it was NOT one of my students).  Day one, dude? REALLY?!  My response?  Intellectually tactical:  I will be documenting through photos and these posts this week, every single piece of evidence of the beautiful Black mind while I’m here.  My fellow BAfH folks, do you have photos you would like to share of #BlackFolkMagic in London?  Put them in the comments!  Tower of London tomorrow (if I can ever get to sleep)…..

Images of books printed and released in London in the 1960s

Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho (I need to look him up)

Wheels up, AGAIN

31 Mar

As I am doing all of my last minute stuff to prepare for my student trip later this evening, my mind is going in a thousand directions.  First thought, this is my fourth trip taking a group of college students overseas.  I am taking a moment to sit with this.  My commitment to international education and intercultural communication as made it possible to expose groups of students to various parts of the world.  For the most part, these are students who would not exactly jump at the chance to study abroad.  That feat makes me proud.  

Second, this is my fourth trip taking a group of students who don’t look like me overseas.  I have a bit of angst with this thought as I am clear the limited number of opportunities afforded those that look like me and how many times, study abroad, international education and cultural exposure are seen as luxuries unattainable with many ridiculously genius students in my community.  This feeling is more of a motivator than anything else.  Trust me.  I’ll speak more on that on this trip.

Which leads to my third thought, I am visiting a city I have been to with students before…LONDON…so, I kind of already know what to expect.  I need to focus on what I will do as a scholar/researcher while I am there.  For the first time, I’m not really sure.  Sure folks can rattle off ideas surrounding Brexit and diversity and the like, but, to be honest, I’m not really interested. I guess I have a 9-hour flight to figure it out, unless any of you have some ideas….

Until I touch down, toodles!

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