‘Her mum was murdered in St Ann’s race war’: Nottingham woman preserving stories of Notts’ historical mixed-race relationships

Coleen Francis' parents, third to the left and right, pictured on their wedding day in 1957. Photo: The Colour of Love.

A woman is highlighting the stories of ‘trail-blazing’ white Notts women who were in relationships with black men from the 1940s.

Coleen Francis is the project manager of the Colour of Love Project, based in St Ann’s.

Coleen, 57, who lives near St Ann’s, is working with a team of 15 volunteers to ‘capture’ the stories of Notts women in relationships with black men from 1940 to 1970.

She says the men and women have “made it easier for mixed-race relationships to be accepted” in modern society and research has shown Nottingham has the ‘largest cohort’ of women in relationships with black men from the 1950s onward.

Coleen was inspired by the story of her mum who met her Jamaican dad who came over in 1957 – a relationship her mum’s family did not approve of.

She said: “My grandma physically beat her [Coleen’s mum] up and locked her in the house and wouldn’t let her out because she was dating a black man.

“Of course things have changed since then and it’s made me think that there will be all these women with all these stories and, if we don’t capture them, they’ll all be gone. And it’s part of our history.”

The Colour of Love received an £81k grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Photo: The Colour of Love.

Coleen is hoping to capture the stories of at least 12 people and said one of the most emotive stories she has heard is of a woman in her mid-70s whose mum was murdered during the St Ann’s race riot in 1958.

More than 1,000 people went on the rampage on the streets of St Ann’s and reports at the time suggested one of the factors which caused the riot was relationships between black men and white women.

Coleen said: “She’s got a wonderful story to tell about her life. Her mum was murdered in the St Ann’s race war.

“It’s important that this history is captured and there for future generations.

“These women were trail-blazers and they’ve made it easier for mixed relationships to be accepted today. It’s important people do know that history.”

Coleen’s parents pictured in 1982. Photo: The Colour of Love.

Each person will be interviewed and their stories will be adapted into a DVD which will be kept at the Nottingham Black Archive, in Hockley, for future generations to watch.

Coleen says ‘quite a few people’ in mixed-race relationships moved to Clifton and Bulwell when ‘slums’ in St Ann’s and the Meadows were bulldozed in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for new estates.

She said: “What we’ve discovered is that Nottingham has got the biggest cohort of mixed-race people – that shows us that Nottingham is a good place to do this project.

“It’s important to me as it’s part of my history. I’m in my 50s and mixed-race. My generation was the first mixed-race generation.

“We will pose questions to try and get the information from people that we’re looking for in Clifton, Bulwell and the Meadows. We’ve already spoken to people in St Ann’s, Hyson Green and Radford.

“There were quite a few people in those sorts of relationships who moved to Clifton and Bulwell when estates in St Ann’s and the Meadows were demolished, as part of the ‘slum clearance’ as they call it.”

The project received a £81k grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in March to preserve the black history, and a cheque was formally given to the team on Wednesday (July 5).

The DVD will be kept at the Black Cultural Archives, West London, and be available to rent from Nottingham Central Library, Angel Row.

An event at Nottingham Playhouse in October 2018 will show the DVD for the first time, before copies go to the archives in Nottingham and London.