HIDDEN HISTORIES
BBC History Magazine|October 2021
EMMA DABIRI explores lesser-known stories from our past
EMMA DABIRI

In 1904, an accomplished young Krio man from a middle-class family in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, set sail from the west African coast to London. Aged just 26, his aim was to make his mark on the literary world. Augustus Merriman-Labor had every reason to be optimistic. He was hard-working, gifted and successful, with a rising profile in his home country, and moving to London to take advantage of the opportunities the city afforded was a logical but brave next step. As scholar Danell Jones writes: “The Sierra Leone Weekly News had assured him that his colour would be no obstacle there,” and he could “go anywhere, wherever his merits… will take him”.

The Krios have a fascinating history. In 1787, the Sierra Leone Resettlement saw 411 people “repatriated” to an area of land on the west African coast. Most were members of the black poor community in London; many were formerly enslaved people freed after fighting for the British in the American Revolutionary War, but who had ended up destitute. Attitudes towards black people shut down almost all opportunity and employment.

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