The Woyingi Blog

Britain’s Black History Month

October is Britain’s Black History Month. 2010 marks its 23rd year. Black History Month celebrations have spread since the first was held in London in 1987, a period declared African Jubilee Year by the then Greater London Council in recognition of the centenary of Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey’s birth, the 25th birthday of the Organisation of African Unity and the 150th anniversary of the emancipation of the Caribbean. British Ghanaian Akyaaba Addai Sebbo, then coordinator of Special Projects at the Greater London Council (GLC) is acknowledged as the originator of UK’s Black History Month along with Linda Bellos, daughter of a Jewish mother and Nigerian father, who was the Chair of the Greater London Council at the time. At one of the Month’s first celebrations, Bernie Grant MP stated that “Ignorance of Black history and heritage breeds low self-esteem.”

Although there were Blacks in Britain before since Roman times, 1948 marks the first major influx of Blacks to Britain. They came as migrants on the ship Windrush from the Caribbean. According to the BBC History website:

The Empire Windrush’s voyage from the Caribbean to Tilbury took place in 1948. Believe it or not, very few of the migrants intended to stay in Britain for more than a few years.

If it hadn’t been for the Second World War, the Windrush and her passengers might not have made the voyage at all. During the war, thousands of Caribbean men and women had been recruited to serve in the armed forces.

When the Windrush stopped in Jamaica to pick up servicemen who were on leave from their units, many of their former comrades decided to make the trip in order to rejoin the RAF. More adventurous spirits, mostly young men, who had heard about the voyage and simply fancied coming to see England, ‘the mother country’, doubled their numbers.

June 22nd 1948, the day that the Windrush discharged its passengers at Tilbury, has become an important landmark in the history of modern Britain; and the image of the Caribbeans filing off its gangplank has come to symbolise many of the changes which have taken place here. Caribbean migrants have become a vital part of British society and, in the process, transformed important aspects of British life.

In 1948, Britain was just beginning to recover from the ravages of war. Housing was a huge problem and stayed that way for the next two decades. There was plenty of work, but the Caribbeans first clashed with the natives over the issue of accommodation. But alongside the conflicts and the discrimination, another process was taking place.

Excluded from much of the social and economic life around them, they began to adjust the institutions they brought with them – the churches, and a co-operative method of saving called the ‘pardner’ system. At the same time, Caribbeans began to participate in institutions to which they did have access: trade unions, local councils, and professional and staff associations.

The following is a list of some Black British Firsts:

John Archer (1863 to 1932), Britain’s First Black Mayor

Lord Leary Constantine (1902 to 1971), Britain’s First Black Peer

Bernie Grant (1944 to 1998), Britain’s First Black Councillor and one of the country’s first Black MPs

Paul Boateng, Britain’s First Black Cabinet Minister and one of the country’s first Black MPs

Diane Abbott, Britain’s First Black Woman MP

Baroness Valerie Amos, Britain’s First Black Woman Peer

Arthur Wharton (1865 to 1930), Britain’s First Black Footballer

Vic Anderson, Britian’s First Black Footballer to represent England

Mike Fuller, Britain’s First Black Chief Constable

Bishop Wilfred Wood, Britain’s First Black Bishop of the Church of England

Further Reading:

100 Great Black Britons Website

Black History Month UK Website

Norfolk Black History Month Website

Oral history of passengers on the Windrush from the BBC Website

blackhistory4schools is the leading website in the UK dedicated to the promotion of Black and Asian British history in schools.Since its inception in 2006 more than 120,000 people have used the website.The resources are freely available and cover topics ranging from the Romans to the Windrush

Black Presence: Asian and Black History in Britain 1500 to 1850 Website

Moving Here Website: Caribbean Migration Histories

Untold London Website

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  1. Kam Jobe said, on September 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    BRITISH MUSIC EXPERIENCE CELEBRATES BLACK HISTORY MONTH WITH EXHIBITION OF RARE PHOTOGRAPHS

    MUZIK KINDA SWEET BY POGUS CAESAR

    Date: 1st – 30th October 2011

    Venue: British Music Experience at The O2 Bubble, London, UK

    The British Music Experience presented by the Co-operative, in association with OOM Gallery will be showcasing an exclusive exhibition of 38 rare photographs celebrating legendary black musicians working in the UK.

    Using a simple camera photographer Pogus Caesar followed the musicians and singers around the famous venues producing a collection that celebrates a style of black music that brings together the UK, USA and the Caribbean.

    From Stevie Wonder in 1989, Grace Jones in 2009 and Big Youth in 2011, this unique exhibition documents how black music, in its Reggae, Soul, Jazz and R&B tributaries of sound, has changed and renewed itself over the decades.

    Journeying from Jimmy Cliff to Jay-Z via Mica Paris and Mary Wilson of The Supremes to David Bowie’s bass player Gail Ann Dorsey, these images conjure up an alphabet of the music of the Black Atlantic.

    The photographs selected from OOM Gallery Archive are also as much about the clubs and venues, as it is about the singers, producers and musicians. The Wailers at The Tower Ballroom, Sly Dunbar at The Hummingbird Club, Courtney Pine at Ronnie Scott’s, Cameo at the Odeon Cinema, Ben E. King at the Hippodrome and the at BBC Pebble Mill, many venues now lost to regeneration or renewal, and only recalled through memory and imagery.

    In their day such venues welcomed black music with open charms, giving safe havens to their audiences, and helping to shape the city’s own distinctive underground and mainstream sound.

    Author and historian Paul Gilroy remarks “Pogus Caesar’s emphatically analog art is rough and full of insight. He conveys the transition between generations, mentalities and economies. These images record a unique period in what would come to be called black British life.”

    In a 30-year career of taking pictures, Pogus Caesar has uniquely captured moments of everyday life with a simple Canon 35mm camera, spontaneously recording the unfamiliar, as well as the celebrated and the iconic. With reference to the title Caesar says ” In my teens, when listening to the latest records, if the song had a wicked rhythm and cool lyrics and we would nod our head and say yeah man, the Muzik Kinda Sweet!


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