We focused the research period of Drawing Over the Colour Line on the inter-war period because we felt is was important to include the race riots that erupted in Britain during 1919 and to see if artists responded to the violence in any particular way. Juliet Gilkes-Romero’s radio play, broadcast on 30 May on BBC R4, provides a hard hitting insight into the lives of Black men who lived through the violence that erupted in Liverpool during that year of international uprisings and racist violence. The play gives us a glimpse of imagined conversations between the men who try to understand how their British nationality and their recent military service has been so quickly forgotten by their white neighbours. Their anger, fear and disbelief is set against reports on the escalating violence from local newspapers, including the murder of Charles Wootton who features as a friend of the main group. Although mentioned by others, the voices of Black women are absent, Jacqueline Jenkinson’s work on 1919 notes a number of black and white women were involved in the riots, both as victims and the perpetrators of violence. The only woman who really features in the play is Rose, a young white Liverpool girl caught up in the riots because of her friendship with the ‘angry young man’ of the group, Liverpool born Sam. The play effectively recreates an atmosphere of fear and takes us into the personal lives, hopes and dreams of a group of male friends. Although women are absent, through Gilkes-Romero’s play we hear determined, if frustrated, resistance to racist violence through voices that have proved so difficult for historians to recover. CB
Listen to One Hot Summer on the BBC iplayer here
Read more about the 1919 riots in Jacqueline Jenkinson’s Black 1919: Riots, Racism and Resistance in Imperial Britain, Liverpool University Press. Also, Gemma has explored the collective and public memories of the 1919 riots in chapter 6 of her book Connecting Histories (Kegan Paul, 2006) called ‘Re-remembering and Forgetting Histories: Memories of Racist Riots in Britain’ and C. E. Wilson carried out oral histories with the Black Liverpool community on their memories of the riots in the thesis ‘A Hidden History: The Black Experience in Liverpool, England, 1919-1945’ (University of North Carolina, Ph.D. thesis, 1992).