Chapeltown Through the Eyes of a Community Organizer and Social Activist

Chapeltown, Leeds: A Personal Summary

Chapeltown in Leeds, which has been my home for the past twenty-three years, lies approximately three miles north east of Leeds city centre. Leeds; 53.48 degrees north and 1.34 degrees west; is located in the centre of the UK. Sixty years ago the Chapeltown area was considered a White middle-class strong-hold that was specially built with wide roads, large sturdy terraced houses and detached mansions. Situated on hills that guaranteed clean fresh air beyond the confines of the congested central industrial areas the Chapeltown confines of four square miles was a retreat for people of the right social economic class and ethnicity.

During the intervening period the area has changed from being a Jewish enclave, accommodating refugees from Eastern Europe after the Second World War, to embracing African Caribbeans, South Asians and Continental African refugees and asylum seekers. The latest migrants have been various waves of Eastern Europeans, coinciding with the enlargement of the European Union.

The Chapeltown area has been a place of safety, creativity, culture and social justice haven for waves of minority ethnic groups. Presently, people of African and South Asian descents feel a strong attachment to the space.

What I have termed the artistic and cultural ‘Chapeltown Renaissance’, has its beginnings in the post-Second World War Caribbean migration to Leeds. Chapeltown is the most multi-cultural area of Leeds and is at the heart of Leeds’ Caribbean and African communities. Similar to the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ in New York during the 1920s and 1930s where musicians, poets, writers, visual artists, playwrights and various other types of cultural performers used artistic creativity to retell and solidify the stories of their existence – in Chapeltown, people of the African diaspora use their cultural arts as a means of retelling their African and Caribbean
stories to act as resistant-tools against individual and institutional racism.

This is where I live, work and fight for social justice locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

Dr Carl Hylton

Dr Hylton is Chairperson of Leeds West Indian Centre Charitable Trust (LWICCT), social justice activist, cultural historian and archivist. He is also supervisor of the LWICCT project called RACE CARD. (2 April 2013)

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