Black miners: Northumberland museum celebrates their work

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Image source, Black Miners Museum Project
Image caption,
The Black Miners Museum project aims to celebrate and remember coal miners of Black and African-Caribbean heritage

The role of black miners in UK collieries is being celebrated in an exhibition at a Northumberland museum as part of Black History Month.

One of those - Mac Williams, 75 - worked at Dawdon Colliery in County Durham from the age of 16 and said the display brought back "good memories".

He said looking at the show's pictures felt like "standing at the pit shaft".

The Digging Deep, Coal Miners of African Caribbean Heritage exhibition is at Northumberland's Woodhorn Museum.

Image caption,
Mac Williams worked as colliery ventilation officer at Dawdon Colliery for 11 years

"I think it's important for the stories to be told to enlighten people's minds that we did have black miners working underground," he said.

"I really filled up when I saw my picture in there because I wasn't expecting it… Mac Williams from County Durham - local boy - has been recognised, been invited here today. Magic, marvellous.

"The miners must never be forgotten."

Image source, Black Miners Museum Project
Image caption,
Very little was known about the role of black miners before the Black Miners Museum Project

The exhibition forms part of the Black Miners Museum Project which has collected more than 240 names of miners and their collieries and carried out more than 60 interviews.

Exhibition curator Norma Gregory started her research 10 years ago when she discovered a miner in her own family history.

After World War Two men travelled from the Commonwealth to the UK in search of employment opportunities and some found work in collieries, settling in mining communities.

Image caption,
Norma Gregory said she wanted to preserve mining history and show appreciation to the miners through this exhibition

Ms Gregory said she hoped by bringing the project to the north-east of England more stories like Mr Williams' will be unearthed.

"Very little is known about black miners in this area from the local mining communities in the North East," she said.

Ms Gregory has spoken to other ex-miners to find out about their time underground.

"Time is pressing and this history needs to be documented while we still have our miners," she says.

Image source, David Severn
Image caption,
Ex-miner Fitzalbert Taylor is among those featured in the exhibition

Coming from foreign countries and standing out at majority-white pits meant some of the men down the mines faced discrimination, Ms Gregory said.

"Things were tough, were challenging, particularly for black miners, they did talk about experiences of difference," she said.

"Racism in the form of banter or names and nicknames which were offensive but they tolerated them."

But Mr Williams, who was born in the UK, said he had a different experience.

He said: "The mining community is excellent, the team spirit and the companionship and they treat everyone with respect, they certainly did me."

Image source, David Severn
Image caption,
Ex-miner Kenneth Bailey also had his photograph taken for the exhibition

Digging Deep, Coal Miners of African Caribbean Heritage will be at the Woodhorn Museum, Ashington until Sunday 1 November 2020.

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