Black History Month


About Black History Month

Black History Month is an opportunity to draw attention to the historical and current experiences, lives and achievements of Black people worldwide.

This month allows us all to celebrate often overlooked contributions made by Black people historically and currently, and to understand struggles and inequalities that impact on Black people in Britain and worldwide, now and in the past.

Black History Month began in the US after Carter G Woodson, an American historian, author, and journalist, campaigned for schools and organisations to take part in events that encouraged the study of African American history. These events still take place every February in the USA.

In 1987 Akyaaba Addai-Sebo developed Black History Month in the UK, which we celebrate annually in October.

"Our original goal was to first create an enabling cultural space in the UK celebratory calendar and after public acceptance and recognition extend the observance of October as a month to a Black History Season. To make Black History Season a celebration of the magnificence of cultural diversity and the enriching value in peaceful co-existence. To the African mind, to achieve harmony – both the black and white keys of the organ in tune." Akyaaba Addai-Sebo & Ansel Wong, London Strategic Policy Unit, 1988


What can we do?

  • We can seek out and promote positive contributions of Black people to literature, science and the arts.
  • We can explore, celebrate and promote the role and achievements of Black people in Britain and worldwide.
  • We can listen to Black people’s experiences in order to better understand what it means to be Black in Britain in 2020

We may find it hard to know what we can proactively do to support this celebration and why it is needed.

It is important that we think critically about the world around us and the society into which we fit:

  • Does everyone feel like they belong?
  • Is everyone represented?
  • Can we all identify with our communities?
  • How are different communities represented in the media?
  • What can we read to provide a balanced and fair point of view?
  • What are our prejudices?

Even just quiet introspection on our own actions, beliefs and subconscious biases is a worthwhile and valued action.

Continuing to listen and learn is also key to help people progress and develop.

Other ideas could be:

  • joining local community groups that promote the positives of ethnic diversity;
  • donating to charities such as Black Lives Matter;
  • signing petitions;
  • promoting and supporting black owned businesses;
  • if you have them – educate your children – what books do you read them? Do they promote and celebrate diversity?
  • You could contact your MP;
  • share helpful information on social media;
  • listen to voices with lived experience – what can you learn from them?

The aims of this month are to celebrate the richness of cultural and ethnic diversity, and every individual can make valuable contributions if they consider their own feelings, and the feelings of others.

Below we have highlighted some of the many stories that we hope will raise awareness of Black lives and history, that promote the positive contributions to British society by Black people, and which we hope will impact on perceptions of ethnic identity in a positive way.

You may already be aware of some of these stories and some may be new to you. This is the point of Black History Month, it gives us an opportunity to celebrate those we know about and to find out more about those we know little about.


People you may know

You may be aware of Black pioneers like Mary Seacole who travelled to the frontline to provide vital medical aid to soldiers in the Crimean War and established the British Hotel, despite the British War Office refusing her request to do so.

You may already have heard of Britain’s first professional footballer Arthur Wharton who played from 1865-1930, or British writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano who campaigned for the abolition of the Transatlantic slave trade.

You may know about African-Americans like Garrett Morgan known for inventing the modern day gas mask and traffic light system or Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, a civil rights activist and journalist who fought for racial equality and was key to the women’s suffrage movement.

You may have read about W E B Dubois, a civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, editor, poet, and scholar who’s work and activism is often felt in the civil rights leaders that have followed.

You may be aware of the passing of congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis who died this year and left an incredible legacy behind from a lifetime standing against racial inequality.

You may also be aware of the global Black Lives Matter movement that raised awareness of how racism, overt and subtle, still significantly impacts the lives of Black people around the world.


People you may not be aware of

Black pioneers like physician and activist Dr Harold Moody who faced considerable racism whilst studying and practising as a Doctor in London in the early 1900’s? He campaigned against racial inequality and co-founded the League of Coloured Peoples (a British civil-rights organisation) in London in 1931.

John Kent – Britain’s First Black police officer, who served as an officer from 1835 to 1846 or Sislin Fay Allen, Britain’s first Black female police officer who joined the Metropolitan police in 1968.

The first Black church of England bishop Sir Wilfred Wood who campaigned against racism and developed initiatives and organisations that supported local communities and was bishop of Croydon from 1985 to 2003.

Ira Aldridge, who was one of the first Black actors to take on roles in Shakespeare plays and achieve recognition and fame across Europe.


People you may not have heard of

Figures like John Blanke a Black trumpeter who played at the courts of Kings Henry VII and VIII.

Margaret Busby who became Britain’s youngest and first Black female publisher in 1967.

Olive Morris was a Black community activist in South London in the 1970s, who committed her life to the struggle against racial, sexual and class oppression and left behind an incredible legacy.

Marsha P. Johnson, who was a American gay rights activist and a prominent figure in the American LGBTQ+ movement and the Stonewall uprising of 1969.

We often don’t hear about how Black female civil rights activists like Mary Church Terrell had significant roles in the US suffragette movement nor do we hear about the Black and Asian women who fought with the suffragette movement in the UK.


Did you know about...

Mary Prince, published writer and abolitionist and the first woman to present an anti-slavery petition to Parliament.

Were you aware of the evidence that Black people have been living in Britain at least since the 3rd century or about the sacrifices made by Black soldiers fighting in the first world war which included over 15,000 Black Caribbean soldiers and 135,000 African soldiers.

Did you know that in 1893 African-American Daniel Hale Williams performed one of the first-ever successful heart surgeries?

How about the fact that Charles Darwin was taught and mentored by John Edmonstone, a teacher who, after gaining his freedom from slavery, taught students taxidermy?

Let’s not forget Joshua Beckford, a Black British boy from Tottenham, who, at the age of 6, became the youngest person in the world to study Philosophy and History at Oxford University.

And did you know about the medieval king of the Mali empire, Mansa Musa, who is considered one of the richest men in history and, amongst other achievements, established the University of Sankore.

You may not be aware of the continent of Africa’s rich and diverse history, which includes keys roles in the early development of mathematics, or being home to the world’s oldest writing systems.

There may be many things you did not know about the continent of Africa; and Black History Month can be a great opportunity to learn more and even begin to challenge previously held misconceptions in ourselves and others.

These are just some examples, of course, there is a host of information available about the many Black contributions and stories we should recognise and celebrate.

These stories will help you to explore what Black history means in its broadest sense. Below are some more sources that we hope will support you to explore the diverse reality of Black history that is often unheard.

It is also important to remember that Black History Month is not just about celebrating or raising awareness of the stories of historic figures its about recognising the day to day stories of all Black people.

As Prof. Matthew F. Delmont (creator of website Black Quotidian which details historic everyday stories of African-Americans) states:

"Black lives are about more than marches and martyrs. Black lives are not just heroic and tragic figures that we read about in the news or in history.

"There's a joyous complexity and diversity of everyday black lives and communities that many people may not have heard of before."


Events

West Sussex County Council run events

Youth Cabinet Racial Inequality Webinar

West Sussex County Council’s Youth Cabinet are planning a series of three online webinars during Black History Month as part of their Racial Inequality campaign.

They are welcoming anyone aged 11+ to this session and will be teaching the audience about various topics on black history.

Each online webinar will be hosted on Zoom and will run from 6pm to 7.30pm.

Date: Tuesday 20 October
Topic: Black History
Start time: 6pm
Visit Zoom Webinar Registration for more information and to book a place.

Date: Wednesday 21 October
Topic: Religion and Culture
Start time: 6pm
Visit Zoom Webinar Registration for more information and to book a place.

Date: Thursday 22 October
Topic: Racial Inequality
Start time: 6pm
Visit Zoom Webinar Registration for more information and to book a place.

Other events

Online events - a list of online events for Black History Month.
London events - details of how Black History Month is planned to be celebrated in London.


Further resources

Black History Month sites

Information that supports discussion

Articles and videos that explore and challenge stereotypes about the continent of Africa

Videos

Home Team History videos

A Youtube Channel that explores African history, culture and worldview and what it means for us today.

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