Black History Month: A Hitchin family’s story in Letchworth author’s new book

PUBLISHED: 10:00 02 October 2017 | UPDATED: 10:09 02 October 2017

The cover of Dev Delay's new book Mother Country?, showing West Indian immigrants in front of St Mary's Church in Hitchin. Painting by Alan Hunnisett

The cover of Dev Delay's new book Mother Country?, showing West Indian immigrants in front of St Mary's Church in Hitchin. Painting by Alan Hunnisett

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A Letchworth author is marking Black History Month with the release of a new book exploring Hitchin’s Caribbean story.

What is Black History Month?

Black History Month is marked during October in Britain and February in the US and Canada. It is meant as a period of remembrance for important figures and events in the history of the African diaspora.

Dev Delay’s book, Mother Country?, tells the story of a Jamaican family who arrive in Hitchin in the 1950s and face daily prejudice in an era when the landlord’s notice in the window often said “no coloureds” or “no West Indians”.

The book is being released as part of the Letchworth Caribbean Harmony Group’s West Indian Front Room exhibition, which is running from Thursday to Saturday at the Community Museum in The Arcade.

Dev’s last book, Here to Stay, was inspired by his own life as an Indian immigrant to Letchworth – and he says this work of fiction based on the Caribbean experience has similar themes.

The book opens with the three Donaldson children, aged 14, 12 and 11, becoming the first non-white pupils at a Hitchin school in 1954.

The youngest child, Monica, grows up and falls in love with a boy from outside the community – prompting hostility from both sides of the divide.

Dev, 70, told the Comet that he wants his story, aimed at children aged 11 or 12, to help British youngsters learn where they came from and inspire them to write their own stories.

Dev Delay from Letchworth, author of Mother Country?. Picture: JP Asher Dev Delay from Letchworth, author of Mother Country?. Picture: JP Asher

He said: “So far as I’m aware, there is no written material in Herts about the Caribbean community other than what I and my colleague Eric Blakeley put together many years ago.

“Children aren’t taught about colonial rule or slavery in English schools, and feel cheated not learning about their past. Everyone has the fundamental right to know who they are and where they came from.

“Intervention needs to be made in the national curriculum, so all children have the opportunity to discuss and learn what happened in our history – whether it’s African, Indian, British or something else – so they have a clear understanding of the issues of race, colour, immigration and how we all came to be in Britain.

“Today I hear politicians talking about diversity. Of course, the world has changed since the 1950s and the British way of life has also changed – but the experience of the immigrant is the same as it was back in the 1950s. They are looked down upon and told to ‘go back where you came from’, time and time again.”

The book, which Dev has dedicated to his friend Eric Blakeley, is based on true stories of the Caribbean experience in North Hertfordshire since the 1950s and 1960s.

Dev said: “By writing about these issues I’m hoping to inspire the next generation to write their own stories. What I’ve learned in the process is that it doesn’t pay to hold back on what you believe to be true – you should tell the truth as it was back then and is now. If the truth upsets people, then so be it.

“I believe these stories have to be told and I’m so happy that people in the community relate to them and appreciate them. That’s what inspires me to keep writing.”

Dev is now working on another book set to land by next spring.

The West Indian Front Room exhibition at the Community Museum runs from 10am to 5pm until Saturday, and has been supported by a £450 Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation grant. It’s free to visit, open to everyone and gives a glimpse of what it was like growing up in the 1970s and ’80s.

On Saturday, it will feature a free workshop run by Dr Michael McMillan. Booking is recommended for the workshop as there will be limited numbers.

Copies of Mother Country? will be on sale at £5 each, and are also available from David’s Bookshop.

For more about the Letchworth Caribbean Harmony Group, see facebook.com/letchworthcaribbeanharmonygroup or give Grace Crawford a call on 07767 766292.

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