Project Description

The 'Great War to Race Riots' Project centres on an archive of original, significant documents covering the period 1919 to 1921. It relates to the position of black ex-servicemen, seamen and factory workers stranded or left destitute in Liverpool after the First World War. It includes letters and testimony from soldiers and merchant seamen from Africa, India and the Caribbean, who had fought for England on land and at sea during the Great War, or had worked in factories to support the war effort. The documents reveal a plight of daily racism and loss of jobs because of the boycott by white workers, a boycott often supported by the trades unions. This tension led to the race riots of 1919, which resulted in many serious assaults and attacks on the black community and the murder of a black seaman, Charles Wotten, by a white mob. The unique nature of this material is that it contains the written word of those ex-servicemen, sailors and workers who were being confronted with verbal, physical and racial abuse on the streets of Liverpool, abuse which was compounded by institutional indifference and racism. The first phase of the project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, involved cataloguing of the material, bringing it to public access in Liverpool's Records Office. Writing on the Wall commissioned Levi Tafari to produce new poetic works in response to the archive. Levi then led workshops which invited the public to also respond creatively to the material. The work was celebrated at public events during Writing on the Wall's annual writing festival; WoWFest. A publication was produced and a plague was erected, in partnership with David Olusoga's 'Black and British' TV series, in memory of Charles Wotten. An art installation of Black Poppies was created involving over 60 members of the public. The second phase of the project was delivered in partnership with the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Liverpool and was funded by AHRC, via the 'Centre for Hidden Histories' (University of Nottingham). This phase mapped the residences of the men named in the archive and the events of the race riots. A walking tour was devised and a short film was produced. With additional funding from the Department of Geography and Planning, a national conference was held during the centenary of the 1919 Race Riots which brought together representatives from other port cities that had experienced race riots in 1919. With the support of Liverpool's Mayors office and Arts Council England, the race riots became the focus of Black History Month in Liverpool in 2019. The walking tours were animated by performance from Tmesis Theatre and events were brought to life with an augmented reality trail produced in partnership with First Take. Since its onset the project has worked with twenty two regular volunteers, providing training in archiving and experience of film making, public speaking and in leading guided tours. There have been a number of exhibitions of the archive material curated in partnership with the Liverpool Records Office and The National Archives. The project continues to offer guided walking tours, exhibitions, illustrated talks and participation in seminars and conferences.
Plaque erected in memory of Charles Wotten who was murdered during the the 1919 Race Riots In Liverpool P


Organised by

Writing on the Wall


North West England


L8 1XF


Focus and Research

Resources used for research

Archives kept at Liverpool Records Office and The National Archives, text on race in the UK and the British Empire, genealogy sites.