Esther Bruce

(1912—1994) seamstress

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(1912–1994). Black Londoner whose life as a working-class seamstress was documented in Aunt Esther's Story (1991), published by Hammersmith and Fulham's Ethnic Communities Oral History Project, and co-authored with Stephen Bourne. Aunt Esther's Story provides a first-hand account of Bruce's life as a black Briton in the pre-Empire Windrush years. Her father, Joseph (1880–1941), arrived in London from British Guiana (now Guyana) in the early 1900s and settled in a tight-knit working-class community in Fulham. He worked as a builder's labourer. When Bruce was a young child, Joseph instilled in his daughter a sense of pride in being black. After leaving school, she worked as a seamstress, and in the 1930s she made dresses for the popular African-American stage star Elisabeth Welch. She also befriended another black citizen of Fulham: the Jamaican nationalist Marcus Garvey. She told Bourne, ‘he was a nice chap who wasn't treated with respect like I was. He was middle-class and the costers wouldn't speak to him. He told me the English are no good but I said there are some good people in this world.’ She also remembered the community spirit that existed during the Blitz they arrived in Britain on ‘a ship and a prayer’ from British Guiana in 1959. Friendly and outgoing, Bruce integrated easily into the multicultural Britain of the post-war years. The success of Aunt Esther's Story gave her a sense of pride and achievement towards the end of her life.

From The Oxford Companion to Black British History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: British History.

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