There's a tendency to think about the Second World War in national terms, in tales of either triumphant victory or guilt-laden defeat. But the war between Allied and Axis powers was a global conflict in every sense of the word and black people – as diverse a collection of individuals and communities as could be imagined – were active parts of this history. This was not only true in the far flung reaches of empire: London, the imperial capital and a focal point for European resistance to Nazi expansion, saw a range of people and historical forces collide in spectacular fashion. This project collates existing scholarly work alongside a raft of new primary research to allow researchers and the public to uncover hidden ways in which the city shaped, and was shaped by, diverse groups of black people.
The map below demonstrates the breadth and depth of the black presence in wartime London. You can turn layers featuring different types of activity on and off, and you can click the points within each to find out why each place was significant:
About the Project
The Mapping Black London in World War II project began in January 2020 and was completed in March 2021 by a team of Northeastern researchers in Boston and at the New College of the Humanities in London. In that time, the team discovered evidence of a black presence in the capital across over 500 locations involving 425 named individuals from across the world. The results, in our view, provide a powerful and visually impactful tool that demonstrates the long-range presence of non-white people in London. In addition, using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to explore this data opens up a range of exciting analytical possibilities for researchers to explore new lines of enquiry about the nature, scale and local dynamics of the multiracial city.
The interactive map above allows users to explore this history on their own. Its layers consist of:
- Key Locations: a collection of sites identified as being of particular historical significance to the black wartime story
- All Locations: over 300 places where people have been tied to specific places, with short descriptions of what occurred
- Heatmap and Locations discovered by Nancie Hare in her 1935 Survey of Black London: the original version of this primary source that surveyed pre-war black settlement has been missing for some years, but the team have been able to digitally plot its contents by using a scanned reproduction
- Known Residences: places of habitation by black Londoners, sub-divided into five overarching (albeit imperfect) categories
- African American Individuals: a layer showcasing the extensive American presence in the city, a subject also addressed in this journal article
- Key Nightlife Locations and Sites of Nightlife: places centred in Soho that reflect the importance of social and cultural life
Further information on the project's rationale and method can be found in a series of blog posts written during the first phase of work conducted in Spring 2020: