In 2019, Jamaica Society Leeds embarked on The Eulogy Project, celebrating the lives and journeys of first generation Jamaicans who settled in Leeds in the 1940s to 60s, and are no longer with us.
The families of 76 Jamaicans shared precious photographs, keepsakes and memories of their loved ones. The collection resulted in the widely acclaimed Eulogy Exhibition at Leeds Central Library.
Telling human stories for all humans, the expected and unexpected, poignant and uplifting, it was seen by over 18,000 local, national and international visitors – the most popular exhibition in the library’s history.
Now, the Chapeltown based charity has published Eulogy a photo book capturing the stunning images from the exhibition that told the story of a generation, their legacy and of Leeds.
Jamaica Society Chair, Rev Dorothy Stewart said, “The powerful images and real-life stories in the Eulogy book are preserving for posterity the lives and contributions of ordinary and extraordinary Jamaicans in Leeds.”
Around 200 guests including family members of Jamaicans featured in the book and exhibition, attended a moving evening launching the book at Tiled Hall Café at Leeds Art Gallery.
Eulogy has been written and edited by Susan Pitter, who also curated the exhibition. Susan, whose parents came from Jamaica in the early 60’s, and are included in the book said, “ The Eulogy book is a fitting culmination of a wider project which has helped to ensure that the history of Leeds will always include the story of my parents’ generation of Jamaicans who helped to make it the great city it is today.”
As well as reflecting themes around arrival, work and activism, the hardback book designed by Lee Goater (also Leeds 2023’s designer!), includes 20 Family Legacy Portraits, of children to great-great grandchildren, alongside those of their first generation loved ones in younger days. The portraits were taken by award-winning photographer Paul Floyd Blake on the site of the former Gerald Donne Photo Studio on Chapeltown Road, where most Jamaicans and other new to Leeds West Indians had formal studio portraits taken shortly after arrival to send home to family back in the Caribbean. The premises are now the home of East Street Arts’ Union 105 studios.
In tribute to their peers, Eulogy also includes Jamaican born Alford Gardner (age 93) and Lionel Roper (age 96) who, in 1944, both volunteered to answer Britain’s call for help during World War 2. The two veterans, thought be the city’s only surviving Jamaican WW2 servicemen, presented a copy of Eulogy to Council Leader, Cllr Judith Blake CBE who accepted on behalf of Leeds.
Also attending were children of Jamaican RAF servicemen who volunteered during WW2 and would form the beginnings of the Leeds Caribbean community. Some of their children, now in their late 60s were reunited at the launch for the first time in over 50 years.
Jamaica’s Honorary Consul Mr Wade Lyn CBE also received a copy of the book on behalf of the Jamaican High Commission (UK) and copies are on their way to the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Hon Andrew Holness, ON, MP and Eulogy project partners, the National Library of Jamaica.
Looking ahead, Ms Pitter said, “Today, the oldest of that first generation of Jamaicans in Leeds is 102 years old – the oldest of their children, in their eighties. It is more important than ever, that their story continues to be visible and representative of their lives – both ordinary and extraordinary – their legacies and contributions.”
Eulogy has shared just a fraction of their story. Lest it is forgotten or misrepresented, we are determined that this is not the final chapter”.
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