10 Feb 2023
City’s untold stories rediscovered by young history lovers
The tragic story of a man who drowned in the River Aire after being racially harassed is being retold in a thought-provoking new exhibition in Leeds.
David Oluwale is among the fascinating figures from the city’s history whose untold or underrepresented lives are being highlighted as part of Overlooked, which opens at Leeds City Museum today (Feb 10).
An apprentice tailor who arrived in the UK from Nigeria in the 1940s, David Oluwale came to Leeds, where he was sadly targeted because of his mental health, homelessness and race.
He drowned in the River Aire on April 18, 1969 after suffering years of harassment by members of the Leeds City Police force.
The circumstances of his death left a lasting and poignant legacy in the city, inspiring a number of books, plays and a recently-opened bridge which has been named in his memory.
A blue plaque commemorating his life was also unveiled on Leeds Bridge last year but was sadly vandalised. But following an overwhelming collective response from the city, it was replaced by Leeds Civic Trust.
Among the objects on display as part of Overlooked will be a replica of David’s plaque, which is inscribed with words by author and playwright Caryl Phillips reading: “The river tried to carry you away, but you remain with us in Leeds.”
Also on display, on loan from the National Archives, will be a collection of documents including photographs and court records relating to David’s life and the police investigation into his death.
They include the original scrapbook created by Gary Galvin, the police officer who notified West Yorkshire Police of David’s abuse.
Overlooked has been put together by The Preservative Party, a group of history-lovers all aged 14-24. They have been working with Leeds Museums and Galleries for more than a decade, planning and curating exhibitions and displays.
Jordan Keighley, Leeds City Museum’s youth engagement curator, said: “The history of Leeds has been forged by so many fascinating individuals who have each made their own contributions to the city we know and love today.
“Some of those people have become a prominent and celebrated part of the city’s story, but equally, there are also many others who have not had their voices heard because they have been marginalised, disregarded and forgotten.
“In this exhibition we want to celebrate those remarkable people, explore their lives and give visitors a completely different perspective on the hugely diverse stories which have shaped Leeds.”
Among the other stories highlighted as part of Overlooked are Ellen and William Craft, two African American enslaved people who escaped bondage. Ellen impersonated a white man as the pair travelled across the US, with William posing as an enslaved person belonging to him.
They eventually fled the US and came to Leeds, where they gave talks and ran campaigns calling for the freedom of all enslaved people.
Also part of the exhibition is Lena Cromack, who during The First World War, joined hundreds of other Leeds women at the Barnbow munitions factory helping to produce between 300,000 and 400,000 shells a week.
A lock of her hair, which she cut off to work safely at Barnbow, will be on display at the museum.
The Preservative Party also worked collaboratively with local community groups to help them tell their own stories through the exhibition.
This has included a partnership with the Deaf Arts Forum, a small focus group who will be sharing their personal experiences and reflections within the exhibition through a series of short films and interviews looking at topics including deaf awareness, identity, culture and community and technology.
Overlooked also includes several films and audio recordings of people with neurodivergence and members of the Leeds Older Peoples Forum.
Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “Modern Leeds is proudly built on diversity, inclusion and the celebration of those do so much to make the city such a unique and vibrant place.
“But that has not always been the case and there are those who have not been recognised and whose stories unquestionably deserve to be told. It’s wonderful to see this group of passionate young people working so hard to bring those stories to light for visitors of all ages.”
Overlooked is free to enter and is open at Leeds City Museum from February 10 until June 25. For more information, including the events programme which runs alongside the exhibition, please visit: Overlooked: People of Leeds as you've never seen them - exhibition at Leeds City Museum
For media enquiries contact:
Leeds City Council Communications team