The British Library

Joanna’s Story

My mother Margaret Eyatunde Williams came to England in 1960 from Freetown, Sierra Leone. She was already a British citizen due to Sierra Leone being Britain’s first colony in Africa.

Freetown was settled by Liberated Africans, Jamaican Maroons, Black Loyalists and the Black Poor of London as part of a British repatriation scheme to establish a colony for formerly enslaved Africans at the end of the eighteenth century. Many of these people were promised freedom and land in Novia Scotia or settlement in London in return for fighting on behalf of the British in the American War of Independence. However, when these promises were not realised, the settlement project was developed instead.

So, ironically, my ancestors, though originating somewhere in West Africa prior to enslavement, actually were potentially Londoners before they were Sierra Leoneans.

Margaret trained as a nurse and worked tirelessly for almost thirty years for the NHS in London, mainly on night duty. She was a warm, compassionate and humorous woman, fired by a steely resilience. Her extensive group of friends lived mainly in London but hailed from all over the world - such is the world of nursing - and she was a jewel of her local community. She was proud of her profession, proud of her British citizenship, and proud of her identity as a Sierra Leonean woman.

She died young due to sickle cell anaemia but not before making a colourful and vibrant impact on those who knew and loved her.

-Joanna, London

© Yinka Shonibare, 2018 | Website by Hanna Sorrell