Yesterday evening the Jamaican High Commissioner, His Excellency Seth George Ramocan CD, joined the Lord Mayor of Leeds and Leader of Leeds City Council for the preview of a special new exhibition. “Eulogy” celebrates the lives, journeys and heritage of the first generation of Jamaicans who arrived in Leeds in the 1940s to 60s, and who are no longer with us.
Susan Pitter, curator of the Eulogy exhibition, explained how the eulogies on the orders of service at the funerals of this community were always accompanied by a photograph which most Jamaicans had taken at a local studio, usually Gerald Donne at 105 Chapeltown Road or Roberts Studio on Roundhay Road. Together, the photos and eulogies tell rich life stories and often reveal new details about a whole generation – new even to family members who have known them all their lives. “We’ve spent the past few months gathering precious family mementoes of first-generation Jamaicans. Traditionally, their funeral programmes, eulogies and photos capturing the hopes and dreams of younger days tell a singular life story. Bringing them together for the Eulogy Exhibition tells the story of a generation”.
The Jamaican High Commissioner congratulated Susan and the Jamaica Society Leeds for this unique approach to telling the story of the Jamaican community in the UK. He also congratulated Councillor Eileen Taylor, whose father came to England from Jamaica in the 1960s as part of the Windrush generation, on her appointment as the first black Lord Mayor of Leeds.
The free Eulogy exhibition is at Room 700 at Leeds Central Library and brings together family artefacts, beautiful photos and eulogies sitting alongside contemporary portraits of their descendants. In addition, there will be mini versions in community locations and it will also feature in a Eulogy book later this year.
The Local and Family History team at Leeds Library and Information Service have also been running Caribbean Family History workshops and have created a collection guide which will direct people to books on Jamaican history and the Caribbean community in Leeds. Volunteers have been using Leeds Libraries resources to research information for the exhibition, with loans come coming in from both Thackray and Leeds Museums.
Eulogy is a project of the Jamaica Society Leeds, supported by Leeds City Council’s Leeds Inspired Funding and by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It can be seen at Leeds Central Library from 2 August to 8 September 2019.