Black British History Timeline
20th century Black British history includes the first and second world wars and the mass immigration boom spurned on by the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948 which help create the modern Britain of today.
1900 to 1999
The First Pan African conference was held in London. It was set up to end colonial rule and racial discrimination, and demand human rights and equality of economic opportunity for Africans across the globe.
Almost 3 million soldiers and labourers from across the British Empire served alongside the British Army in the First World War. Walter Tull was the first person of African-Caribbean heritage to become an officer in the British Army despite a ban on Black officers and dies in action in 1918.
After World War 1 there was a jobs boom in the UK and Empire soldiers and seamen began settling in UK port cities such as Liverpool, Glasgow and Cardiff. The competition for jobs lead to trade unions setting up a ‘colour bar’ to prevent the employment of BAME workers. This was a key contributor to the 1919 Race Riots which lead to the death of Caribbean seaman Charles Wotton and the forced deportation of Empire citizens back to their homelands.
Grenada-born singer and musician, Leslie Arthur Hutchinson aka ‘Hutch’, arrived in London and became one of the biggest cabaret stars in the world during the 1920s and 1930s.
The second World War brought thousands of American GI soldiers to the UK. The troops were racial segregated and American servicemen tried to implement their Jim Crow laws in the UK. But the majority of the British population didn’t share the US Army’s segregation attitudes and Black serviceman were welcomed into British homes, pubs and clubs. There were frequent clashes between Black and White servicemen which cumulated in the Park Street Riots of 1944.
Black Trinidadian cricketeer, Lee Constantine OBE, sued the Imperial Hotel in London after it refused to fulfil his hotel reservation. The hotel cancelled his reservation after receiving a complaint from American servicemen about his presence in the hotel. Constantine won the landmark case and was awarded damages, but the ruling didn’t end the colour bar in some British hotels and other establishments.
The Empire Windrush arrives in Tilbury Docks, Essex on 21 June 1948 carrying hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean and Latin America who wished to start a new life in the UK.
Human Rights activist and journalist Claudia Jones founded Britain’s first major Black newspaper, West Indian Gazette. Just over twenty years later ,The Voice newspaper is launched in 1988 and a decade later the New Nation newspaper joins it on the newsstands.
Claudia Jones creates the ‘Caribbean Carnival’ to ‘’wash the taste of Notting Hill and Nottingham (race riots) out of our mouths’’. She went on to organise five more indoor carnivals which are thought to be a precursor to the Notting Hill Carnival.
The Commonwealth Immigrants Act is passed and ends the automatic right of people of the British Commonwealth and Colonies to settle in the UK
John La Rose and Sarah White founded New Beacon Books - the UK’s first Black bookshop and publishing house.
Roy Hackett, Paul Stephenson, Audley Evans and Guy Bailey joined together to organise a boycott to force the Bristol Omnibus Company to change its racist policies that stopped Black and Asian people from working on the buses. The protest attracted national attention and ultimately lead to the passing of the Race Relations Act in 1965 that banned all discrimination in the workplace.
Bill Richmond was a former enslaved African-American from British America who became a leading boxer in the UK. He travelled to England in 1777 and worked as a cabinetmaker in York. In 1804 he began boxing and went on to become the world’s first Black sporting superstar.
The Notting Hill Festival is started and later evolves into Europe’s largest street party – the Notting Hill Carnival.
Margaret Busby became Britain’s youngest and first Black female book publisher, when she co-founded the publishing company Allison & Busby.
The Mangrove Nine, a group of British Black activists including members of the British Black Panthers were tried for inciting a riot at a protest, in 1970, against the police targeting of the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill. After 55 days in the dock, they were all acquitted of the most serious charges and the trail became the first judicial acknowledgement of racial prejudice and wrongdoing in the Metropolitan Police’s operations.
Black Britons create a new musical genre called ‘Lovers Rock’ and one of its rising stars, Janet Kay, hits the top ten of the UK charts with her single ‘Silly Games’. Two years later, they create ‘Brit Funk’ and it goes mainstream when Brit Funk band Hi Tension scored a top ten hit single.
The Race Relations Act is passed, and the Commission for Racial Equality is formed to enforce it. The law banned racial discrimination in public places and made the promotion of hatred on the grounds of ‘colour, race, or ethnic or national origins’ an offence.
First black TV show ‘The Fosters’ is broadcast on London Weekend Television (LWT), now part of ITV London. The show was a remake of the hit American sitcom ‘Good Times’ and starred a young Lenny Henry.
The New Cross Fire kills thirteen young Black people aged between 14 and 22 years. Protests follow after perceived indifference of the police investigating the cause of the blaze cumulating in the Black People’s Day of Action march on 2nd March 1981.
A group of Lewisham mums headed up by Mavis Best, campaign to stop SUS laws in the UK with the support of MP Paul Boateng. The law was abolished on 27 August 1981 but three years later the government introduce the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which reintroduces stop and search.
Len Garrison and others founded the Black Cultural Archives to record, preserve and celebrate the history of people of African descent in Britain. In June 2013, it moved to its now permanent address in Windrush Square, Brixton to become the UK’s first national Black heritage centre.
MPs Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott and Paul Boateng are elected to parliament.
Naomi Campbell becomes the first Black British female model to grace the cover of Vogue.
Black History Month UK is started by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, Linda Bellos and Ansel Wong.
This period is marked by the re-emergence of the British Soul scene with artists Soul II Soul, Loose Ends and Sade breaking the American music market.
Choice FM is launched and becomes the first ever licensed Black radio station in the UK.
Ben Okri becomes the youngest ever winner of the Booker Prize with his novel The Famished Road.
The Black female lifestyle magazine ‘Pride’ is launched.
Bill Morris becomes General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union - the first Black leader of a trade union in the UK.
Victor Headley’s book ‘Yardie’ becomes the first Black British best-seller and in 2018 was adapted as a feature film of the same name by Idris Elba.
Black Britons create another musical genre – Jungle music which later morphs into Drum and Bass.
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Rinse FM starts as a pirate radio station and is a key player in the promotion of the new Black music genres of Jungle, Drum and Bass, UK garage and Grime.
Kanya King CBE founded the MOBO awards to honour achievements in ‘music of Black origin’.
Operation Black Vote (OBV) is created to encourage Black British and other ethnic minority groups to register to vote and use their voting power to tackle racial equality in the UK.
Mathematician Kate Okikiolu wins the Sloan Research Fellowship award.