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Papers of Len Garrison

Identifier: GARRISON

Scope and Contents

Community activist and academic, Lenford Kwesi Garrison (1943-2003), was born in St Thomas, Jamaica. His parents moved to London in the early 1950s, and Len followed a few years later to complete his secondary education.

A keen photographer, at a young age Garrison worked as a part time projectionist at a cinema in Clapham Junction, and a medical photographic assistant at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine from 1962-66. During his time at the Royal Free Hospital he set up, and managed the Medical Illustration Unit at the Institute of Psychiatry in South East London. He went on to work at the Maudsley Hospital, Institute of Psychiatry from 1966 -71, where he was appointed head of the Media and Photographic Unit. While working, Garrison studied part-time, participating in courses in Photography at Regent Street Polytechnic, London College of Printing, and Media Studies at Goldsmith's College. Taking on freelance opportunities, Garrison worked with Claudia Jones photographing events for the West Indian Gazette in the early 1960s.

In 1971, Garrison returned to full time education and completed a Diploma in Development Studies at Ruskin College, Oxford. He continued his studies at Sussex University, and Kings College, London. While at Sussex University, Garrison co-edited the Afras Review Journal, a publication specialising in African, Asian, and African-Caribbean affairs. Garrison also completed an MA at the University of Leicester, specialising in the post-war settlement of African-Caribbean people in Nottingham. In 1977, Garrison represented Britain at the colloquium of the Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC 77) in Nigeria, presenting his paper "Self Image and West Indian Black Youth in Britain". This paper was later expanded and published by the Afro-Caribbean Education Resource Project (ACER), under the title "Black Youth, Rastafarianism and the Identity Crisis in Britain".

Garrison was heavily involved in voluntary work, and was passionate about the importance of community. He was a founder member of the International Social Group in the early 1970s, this later became the Wandsworth Council for Community Relations (WCCR). He was the founder and Director of ACER , an independent educational charity researching, developing and producing learning materials drawing on the black experience. Home schools were supported by ACER, and links were forged with community schools. The Inner London Education Authority endorsed ACER's work and their resources and publications were used across the country. The project established the Black Youth Penmanship Awards scheme to enable young black people to be celebrated for their literary achievements. A number of black professionals including music critic Clive Davis, and novelist and barrister Nicola Williams, received the award in their youth.

Afro-Caribbean Family and Friends (ACFF) in Nottingham, was another project on which Garrison sat as Director. The objects of the association were to advance the education of the public, in particular those of African-Caribbean origin or descent through the establishment of an education, study and culture centre. While there, he established a successful mentoring project, known as BUILD, and gained funding for Timeout, a scheme for supporting the carers of orphaned and abandoned black children. He also set up East Midlands African Caribbean Arts (EMACA). Garrison played a large part in the production of The Black Presence in Nottingham, an exhibition in 1993, at the city's museum.

While in Nottingham, Len was remotely involved in the Black Cultural Archives which he had set up in Brixton in 1980. Returning to London in 1997, he picked up where he left off and was involved in a joint project between the BCA and Middlesex University with the aim of establishing the first Archive and Museum of Black History. Garrison was also a trustee of both the Yaa Asantewaa Arts Centre, and the Caribbean Teacher in Education Project. His portfolio of published material includes a volume of poetry "Beyond Babylon: Collection of Poems, 1972-82" (1985)

These papers relate to Len Garrison, including material regarding the organisations he was involved in; aspects of his research, and academic papers written and gathered by him; personal papers, photographs, postcards and invitations; and educational resources.


  • 1947-2003

Biographical / Historical

This administrative history was compiled using material from the collection. Additional sources include the following sites


19 boxes

Language of Materials


Custodial History

The collection was formed in a piecemeal fashion. As Len Garrison was a founder of the Black Cultural Archives and its predecessor, ACER, it is likely some material has always been in the custody of the BCA. However, a substantial amount of material was also donated by Marie Garrison after Len's death in 2003.


5 Additional material collections have been donated during 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015

Black Cultural Archives: Papers of Len Garrison
Black Cultural Archives
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Repository Details

Part of the Archives Collection Repository

Black Cultural Archives
1 Windrush Square