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  • Floella Benjamin: A Trailblazer in Children's Television

    Windrush Month 2024 'Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s & 1950s' - exploring the lives and stories of the the early Caribbean people who came to Britain after the 2WW. Floella Benjamin was born on 23 September 1949 in Pointe-a-Pierre, Trinidad and Tobago. She was one of six children, with an older sister, three younger brothers and a younger sister. Her father was a policeman and a talented jazz musician, who decided to migrate to England to play jazz saxophone. Her mother later joined him along with Benjamin’s youngest sister and brother. While the four older children, including Floella were left in the care of family friends who were secretly abusive to them. Benjamin and her sister often tried writing to their parents to tell them about the abuse, but the letters were always read, and censored before they were sent. Two years later, her parents sent for all their children, and they travelled by ship to England. Floella was just ten years old when she boarded the Marques de Comillas with her siblings. They arrived at Southampton docks on the 2 September 1960. That early childhood experience was the focus of her first memoir “Coming to England,” which she wrote, she says “because there was nothing that reflected my experience.” The family of seven initially lived in one room in Chiswick in West London before settling in the affluent London suburb of Beckenham, in Kent. Floella has talked candidly about the abuse she and her family faced whilst growing up with neighbours and at school. “For the first four years of being in England. I fought almost every day. You never knew who would spit at you, or try to pee on you, or lift your skirt and say “Where’s your tail, monkey?” she said. At school, Benjamin was an outstanding athlete, but she was prohibited from taking the running trophy home because of colour. She recalls her mother’s advice to focus on her education, as it was the passport to success in England. Benjamin remembers realising that she had to double her work rate and had to be dually accomplished to succeed in England.[1] The turning point in her life she, says, came in 1964 at 14, when she nearly killed a boy who was shouting racist names at her, as she walked to the shops in Penge High Street. She grabbed his lollipop and jamming it down his throat, watching him turn blue. Benjamin calls it her “spiritual moment”; the moment when she says she realised that violence was not the answer. She pulled out the lollipop and walked off proud. [2] And the Benjamin family — high achievers all – made the classic immigrant journey so often held up by politicians of all persuasions. Working hard at school, gaining qualifications and entering the professions. [2] Her sister Sandra is writer and author, and her brother Lester Benjamin was honoured in 2015 for his dedication to duty and services to Parliament over nearly two decades. Floella’s ambition was to become a teacher, but her parents couldn’t afford the educational fees to keep her on at school 16. So, she left school and spent three years working for a bank. Eventually, raising enough money to do her ‘A’ levels at night school, and passed her banking diploma with the intent of becoming the first Black female bank manager. However, realising that her dream would be unlikely to come true, she auditioned for a part in a touring musical called Hair. [3] Used to singing on stage with her clerk and part time jazz musician father’s band and organising dance nights for the West Indian Student Centre in London’s Earl Court, Benjamin responded to an advert in a newspaper in 1973 seeking non-professionals for a new musical tour. The show was “Hair,” famously controversial for its hippie onstage nudity. Going in her lunchbreak from the bank, you know all you need to know Benjamin’s steely determination from the fact that she not only got cast, but also rather presumptuously announced at the audition that she wouldn’t be taking her clothes off. [2] But she still got the role. It was during this time that she met her husband Keith Taylor, whom she now lives with in London together with their children. Benjamin went on to get several parts in a variety of musicals including Jesus Christ Superstar and the Black Mikado. However, she was keen to break into television and made her debut on television in 1974 in an episode of Love Thy Neighbour. Her true acting opening occurred when she appeared as a prisoner in six episodes of the prison drama Within These Walls, which ran from 1973 to 1978. She also acted in the situation comedy Mixed Blessings (1978) and the drama serial Send in the Girls (1978). In 1976 she auditioned for the presenter role in Play School and got the part. Benjamin was the first person in Britain to wear beads in her hair in the 1970s – it was to become her trademark look. Benjamin was the first children's television presenter to appear on her show pregnant. Playaway followed Playschool and Benjamin dressed up as whole range of characters – from queens to witches – alongside well-known actors such as Brian Cant, Tony Robinson, Anita Dobson and Griff Rhys-Jones. In 1977, she appeared in her first and only leading role in the UK Black film called Black Joy alongside Norman Beaton and Paul Medford. The movie was about a young man coming to live in a big city and learning to fend for himself. Benjamin was critically acclaimed at the Cannes film festival for her portrayal of ‘Miriam’ in the film, which was the British entry that year, the first Black led film. By this time Benjamin had become recognisable by her beaded hair and was not best pleased when one photographer tugged at it when she walked down the red carpet. In 1987, Benjamin set up a production company with her husband and was commissioned by Channel Four to write a children's programme called The Tree House. The programme was a huge success, and the company went on to make other programmes for different places around the world, including Cuba, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica. They produced children’s programmes Jamboree, Hullaballoo and an adaptation of her autobiography Coming to England, documentaries, cookery series programmes such as A Taste of Barbados, Caribbean Light and Caribbean Kitchen. [3] Beyond her on-screen persona, Floella Benjamin has been a vocal advocate for children's rights and education. Her dedication to empowering young minds through storytelling and educational programming has made her a beloved figure in the hearts of countless viewers. Floella Benjamin's journey from a dreamy-eyed young girl to a beloved icon of children's television is a testament to the power of perseverance and the impact of representation in media. Through her trailblazing career, she has not only entertained audiences but also instilled lessons of diversity, resilience, and empowerment in the hearts of millions. Floella Benjamin's story is a reminder that with passion and dedication, one can truly make a difference in the world of entertainment. Sources: Historical Geographies: Biography - Floella Benjamin (archive.ph) [1] Swinging racism: Floella Benjamin’s memoir of 60s London | Samira Ahmed: Journalist, Broadcaster, Writer [2] h2g2 - Floella Benjamin - Activist, Actress and Producer - Edited Entry [3]

  • E. R. Braithwaite: the incredible life of the author of ‘To Sir, with Love’

    Windrush Month 2024 'Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s & 1950s' - exploring the lives and stories of the the early Caribbean people who came to Britain after the 2WW. Eustace Edward Ricardo (ER) Braithwaite was born in Queenstown, Georgetown in the then British colony of British Guiana (now Guyana). He was one of five children. Both his parents were graduates of Oxford University and he described growing up surrounded by education, achievement, and parental pride. Braithwaite was a studious child who attended the prestigious Queen’s College in Guyana (a secondary school modelled on the English public school) and, in 1940, earned a BSc in Physics from The City College of New York. He then moved to Britain to study and suddenly saw the English in a new light. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. White porters in the college. White waiters in the dining halls. Barmen. Servants. In far off British Guiana they were served,” said Braithwaite. “All the whites in British Guiana were in managerial positions. I never associated poverty with white persons.” Then Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and England declared war. Braithwaite and his fellow students heard a new word on the radio “blitzkrieg.” London and other British cities were being heavily bombed, and Britain desperately needed manpower to help defend their cities. So, in October 1939, they lifted their ‘colour bar’ in the military and the RAF began recruiting Black aircrew. Braithwaite initially joined the Cambridge University Air Squadron and learned how to fly, then signed on as an aircrew cadet with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1940. He described his time in the RAF as one where he didn’t experience any discrimination based on his skin colour nor ethnicity. “I was at one with everything. A part of everything. Black and different as blonde was different from red. The colour of my skin was no weight on my shoulders. I was proud in my skin, not defensive of it. There was a war on, and I was a warrior. War drew the people together.” After the war, Braithwaite resumed his studies and graduated from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge in 1949 where he earned a master’s degree in physics. But despite his qualifications and experience – Braithwaite was a Spitfire pilot and had graduated top five in his class at Cambridge – he couldn’t find work as an engineer. Nothing prepared him for the brick wall of institutionalised racism he faced. His credentials got him in the door. But once a potential employer saw his skin colour, they made excuses. One man chatted with Braithwaite about his background, his time in the RAF, and his research at Cambridge. Braithwaite dared to hope. [1] Then, “Mr Braithwaite, I’m sure my colleagues would wish me to say that we are deeply impressed with your qualifications and your obvious abilities. Were the circumstances different we would be only too happy to appoint you a member of our staff. But we have a problem. All our employees are British, and we would face the reality of their almost certain reluctance to work with and perhaps under a person of colour…” [1] He experienced that scenario over and over again for nine months. Finally, after his umpteenth rejection, he found himself sitting on a park bench contemplating his future when an old man sat down next to him. He started feeding the ducks and mumbling. Braithwaite ignored him but the old man turned to him and said, ‘how people could be hurt by other people and things, but mostly themselves, and that hatred solved nothing.’ [1] Braithwaite lost it and replied “Look, why don’t you shut up? You white people are all the same. All this philosophical drivel has no meaning because, in fact, you are white and when you look out on the world you see it in a certain way. For Black people like me it has to be different…” [1] They then fell into a conversation in which, a despondent and almost defeated Braithwaite told him of his difficulties in finding work. Finally, the old man said, ‘Why don’t you try something else? A man like you, with your educational background, shouldn’t think that physics is the end of the world,” and told Braithwaite that London City Council was desperate for teachers, that they’d welcome someone with his credentials. [1] Braithwaite called the council the next day and they offered him a teaching job immediately. Braithwaite reluctantly accepted the job as a schoolteacher at St George-in-the-East Central School (now the Mulberry House apartments) in the Wapping area of East End of London. “Making plans on the half-realized dream of achievement as a physicist. Dreaming. Then the bitterness of seeing the dream whittled away, bit by bit, day by day, into weeks and months, until the only place on the whole arid horizon was a mangy schoolhouse beside a bomb-racked, rotting graveyard, and a smelly classroom with forty-six foul-mouthed youngsters. White, English youngsters.” His teaching career formed the basis of his autobiographical novel ‘To Sir With Love (1959),’ which won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. It was later adapted into the sentimental 1967 movie of the same name starring Sidney Poitier. Although the movie was a box-office success, Braithwaite hated it. In the movie, Sidney Poitier played the well-educated, middle-class graduate forced to deal with casual racism, violence and antisocial behaviour by a group of disadvantaged pupils. Hardest to bear was the self-hatred the racism brought out in him and the low expectations of colleagues for their charges. [2] While in contrast, the Braithwaite’s book was a gritty and unsentimental account of how he gradually turned his class around through a mix of affection and respect. It also revealed his love affair with a fellow teacher – controversial at the time because the other teacher was white. Braithwaite criticised the movie adaptation for downplaying the love affair. [2] “I detest the movie from the bottom of my heart,” he said in 2007. “I don’t like it because the movie is about the classroom, while my book is about my life.” The book also contrasted his experience of race relations in Britain with those in the US, where he studied before joining the RAF. He wrote: “The rest of the world in general and Britain in particular are prone to point an angrily critical finger at American intolerance, forgetting that in its short history as a nation it has granted to its Negro citizens more opportunities for advancement and betterment, per capita, than any other nation in the world with an indigent Negro population.” [2] To Sir, With Love has been hailed as a seminal work for immigrants from the colonies to postwar Britain. In an introduction, Caryl Phillips wrote: “The author is keen for us to understand that the Ricky Braithwaites of this world cannot, by themselves, uproot prejudice, but they can point to its existence. And this, after all, is the beginning of change; one must first identity the location of the problem before one can set about addressing it.” [2] In 1958, after nine years of teaching, Braithwaite turned to social work. He founded foster homes for ethnic minority children for the London City Council and worked as a welfare consultant for immigrant families from the Caribbean. That work inspired his second book, Paid Servant: A Report About Welfare Work in London published in 1962. Braithwaite’s writings in both books explore his challenges as an educated Black man in a society with few places for such individuals. [3] After social work, he moved to Paris in 1960 to work for the World Veterans Foundation as a human rights officer. In 1962, he transitioned into a diplomatic career, after the United Nations appointed him as a lecturer and education consultant to UNESCO in Paris. Five years later, he became Guyana's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York from 1967 to 1969. He was elected to the presidency of the United Nations Council for South West Africa in 1968. Later, he served as Guyana’s ambassador to Venezuela. In the 1960s, European colonies in Africa gained independence, and there was increasing pressure on South Africa to do the same with Namibia, which was then called South West Africa. When the International Court of Justice dismissed a complaint in 1966 from Ethiopia and Liberia about South Africa's continued presence in the territory, the UN General Assembly took over responsibility for Namibia and established a governing council for it. In response to international pressure, South Africa attempted to legitimize its control of Namibia by creating a commission to administer the territory under apartheid. Braithwaite was appointed as the president of the UN governing council and heard firsthand accounts of the suffering caused by apartheid from witnesses. In 1973, a friend in Guyana sent him a clipping from the South African Official Gazette announcing that the ban on Braithwaite’s ‘To Sir, With Love’ book had been lifted. On an impulse, he called the South African Consul General and asked if this meant he could travel South Africa. To his surprise, he was granted a visa to the country as an ‘honorary white’ which gave him far more privileges than allowed for the Indigenous Black South African majority population. A situation which he found detestable. During his six weeks in South Africa, he recorded his experiences and the horrors he witnessed in his third book, Honorary White (1975). In the early 1970s, Braithwaite retired from diplomatic work to move into academia. He taught English Studies at the universities of New York, Florida State and the renowned HBCU Howard University in Washington, where he also served as writer-in-residence. His last academic appointment was as a visiting professor at Manchester Community College in Connecticut during the 2005-6 academic year. He also served as the college’s commencement speaker for that year and received honorary degrees. Throughout his incredible life, Braithwaite continued to write novels and short stories well into his 90s! His other books included A Kind of Homecoming (1962), about searching for his ancestral roots; Choice of Straws (1965), a mystery novel set in London; and his first children’s book, Billingsly: The Bear With the Crinkled Ear (2014). In his book Reluctant Strangers (1972), which records the increasingly contentious conversation between Braithwaite and a white American businessman, who grudgingly took the last seat on a train next to him. As their conversation progresses, the American becomes more and more astonished by Braithwaite’s life story. “Evidently you’re an exceptional man,” he tells Braithwaite. “Funny thing is that inside myself I don’t feel exceptional. There are lots like me, strong in themselves, feeling they can do things. But perhaps they’re not as lucky as me. They’re denied the freedom, the opportunity and the right to give expression to what they feel.” Braithwaite was a remarkable man. He was a Black man that grew up under British colonial rule, he endured the prejudice and institutional racism of post-war Britain, but through his sheer tenacity he was able to live a long and varied life. He was a teacher, diplomat, professor, and social worker, all whilst writing 22 books – memoirs, novels, and academic texts. When Braithwaite turned 100 in 2012, he went back to his native Guyana to serve as the patron of the Inter-Guiana Cultural Festival. He was also awarded the Cacique Crown of Honour by the then President Donald Ramotar. The following year, at 101, Braithwaite returned to Britain to attend the first live performance of the stage version of To Sir, With Love. Eustace Edward Ricardo Braithwaite died on December 12, 2016, at the Adventist Healthcare Shady Grove Medical Centre in Rockville, Maryland at the age of one hundred and four. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/14/to-sir-with-love-author-er-braithwaite-dies-aged-104 (2) https://laterbloomer.com/e-r-braithwaite/ (1) ‘To Sir with Love Author’ E.R Braithwaite is a Special Person - Kaieteur News (kaieteurnewsonline.com) Eustace Edward Ricardo Braithwaite (1912–2016) • (blackpast.org) (3) https://youtu.be/H5yWCk7EzBM?feature=shared E. R. Braithwaite: To Sir, With Love (1959) - Literary London Society

  • Sam King - From the Royal Air Force to Windrush pioneer

    Windrush Month 2024 'Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s & 1950s' - exploring the lives and stories of the the early Caribbean people who came to Britain after the 2WW. The impact of the Caribbean passengers on HMT Windrush can not be ignored or forgotten. These individuals and those who followed in their wings, now referred to as the Windrush generation, opened the door to the multicultural Britain that is taken for granted today. And Sam King is a true proponent of their fighting spirit. He first came to the UK to volunteer to fight in the Second World War and later as a Windrush pioneer who became the first Black mayor of the London borough of Southwark and helped pave the way for Britain’s first multicultural street festival – Notting Hill Carnival. Sam Beaver King was born in the small village of Priestman’s River in the rural parish of Portland in Jamaica on 20 February 1926. He was born into a traditional Christian family and was the second eldest of ten children. As a youngster he worked on his father’s banana farm with the intention of taking over after his dad retired. But the war in Europe meant that his life was going to take a different path. King was planning to go to the United States to work when he spotted an advert in the Daily Gleaner appealing for volunteers for the British army. After passing the RAF test, he and the other men received a month’s basic training at an army camp in Kingston before travelling to the UK. The new recruits arrived in Greenock, near Glasgow, in November 1944. King recalled: "I left Portland, Jamaica, in temperatures of 75F. I landed at Greenock, which was 39F. I thought I was going to die.” Then moved onto RAF Hunmanby Moor in Filey, Yorkshire for technical and combat training. After three months, the men were split up into categories for ground crew training – King was posted to the fighter station RAF Hawking near Folkestone and served as an engineer. “My mother said, ‘Sam, the mother country is at war, go’. Let us get this straight: the Germans wanted to rule the world, and if Hitler had won, they would have put us [black people] in ovens and lit the fire. We had to fight for our own salvation.” Within a few months, King was promoted, and then trained as an aircraft engineer at RAF Locking in Somerset. He had another four postings, finishing in Yorkshire, at RAF Dishforth in Ripon, maintaining transport planes. King said of his war efforts, that the locals were welcoming and the few incidents of racism he experienced were from the American GIs. Indeed, during one posting in Rivenhall in Essex, Fred Seagraves, a serviceman he befriended, took him home to Nottingham to meet his parents. Mr and Mrs Seagraves became Sam’s English ‘Mam and Pap’ with whom he kept in touch until their death’s decades later. (1) In 1947, King’s war service officially came to an end and Sam, then aged 21, succumbed to RAF pressure to return to Jamaica. He had contemplated staying on in Britain after the war but recalled that attitudes suddenly seem to change overnight. “When we were in the uniform, you’re reasonably respected,” he said. When the war was over, they said, ‘What are you doing here? You should go home. I came to help them and now that they have their freedom, they said I should go home." King returned to a colonial Jamaica struggling to recover from the 1944 hurricane – of which an estimated 90% of Jamaica’s banana trees and 41% coconut trees were lost – and high unemployment rates. His family’s banana farm was devastated, and he found it difficult to find work because of the discriminatory racial policies of the British colonial rulers. King said, “I could not see myself making a headway socially or financially at Priestman’s River or in Jamaica for that matter.” He had changed but Jamaica had remained the same. In Tony Sewell’s 1998 book, Keep on Moving – A Windrush Legacy, he elaborated further: “Having been in England and read a few books I decided I could not live in a colony. Everything was done by Westminster through the Governor. Only one man in 10 had the vote and 85 per cent of the land belonged to big English landowners.” (1) So, King – enticed by another Daily Gleaner advert – booked passage on the Empire Windrush to return to the UK and re-enlist. His family sold three cows to raise funds for a troop deck berth. On board, there was a bit of a holiday atmosphere, and special camaraderie among the RAF veterans. However, he noted in his memoir that there was also enough apprehension about the government turning the ship back that he organised two ex-RAF wireless operators to play dominoes outside the radio room – and monitor incoming messages. (2) King and his fellow West Indian passengers were met by officials from the Ministry of Labour and the Colonial Office. One was, the British civil servant Ivor Cummings – the first Black official in the British Colonial Office – and of course, a curious British press. The welcome he received on his return was hardly fitting for a British ex-serviceman. Black men who had risked their lives during the war now faced a second battle. In his 1998 autobiography, Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain, King recalled: “The host nation saw the influx as an imposition and became hostile ... The acute shortage of accommodation was the biggest problem facing immigrants who were arriving from the new Commonwealth countries.” (1) King re-enlisted in the RAF in 1948 and served until 1953. While Black service personnel found they were respected and supported when they were in uniform, civvy street was far too often a different story. Racism restricted job opportunities: Mr King applied unsuccessfully to the Metropolitan Police in 1953 – it took them another 14 years to appoint its first Black officer. Racial discrimination also made it extremely difficult for many Black people to find housing — and thereby start putting down roots. (2) In 1950, Mr King, then an RAF corporal, and his brother Wilton attempted to buy a house in Sears Street, Camberwell, but bank officials responded to a mortgage request with a letter suggesting he return to Jamaica. Mr King took the letter to the owner of the house, who was so disgusted that he gave him a mortgage himself. He made him swear on the bible that he would repay the cost of the house – £1,000 – in ten years’ time. He managed to do so in five years with the help of a ‘pardner’, a traditional Caribbean saving scheme, and by renting rooms to other West Indians. The Kings were the second Black family in Southwark to own a home. For other black Caribbean residents, the only way to own a home was to join a ‘pardner’ and Mr King took an active role in setting up many pardners. King left the armed forces in 1953 and joined the post office. No doubt, his status as an army veteran helped ensure that his application was successful, but throughout his career he repeatedly experienced racism. In his autobiography, Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain on his experiences at the South Eastern District Office: “I was not welcomed by some; not a smile crossed the faces of those who were too busy guarding the overtime. I spoke only when necessary. One week into the post, I asked for overtime on the Irish section sorting letters beyond Dublin to Limerick. There, my colleagues saw that I was not as green and naive as they thought. One fellow in particular was most obnoxious whenever I put in for overtime work. He made hurtful remarks and was not co-operative. Others joined in, but I was there to do a job and nothing was going to make me flounder or even show resentment. My performance was far above these petty non-entities. I held fast to my integrity’. King worked for the Royal mail for 34 years, beginning as a postman in Waterloo and ending as senior manager for the South Eastern postal district. (He recalled being greeted with a heckle from a resentful white worker who yelled: “Send ‘em back!” King’s quick-witted riposte was: “I’m all in favour of sending them back, as long as you start with the Mayflower.”). (1) He became involved with the Brixton-based newspapers the West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News, which had been founded in 1958 by the communist Trinidadian journalist Claudia Jones. He was among those who helped her to organise the first Caribbean-style indoor carnival at St Pancras town hall the following year, which laid the foundations for the Notting Hill carnival. (1) Faith played a significant role in his life, and like many African and Caribbean Christians in the 1940s and 1950s, he and his family had to hold their worship gatherings at home due to the racism they faced in British churches. When he and his first wife, Mae, moved to Herne Hill in south London in 1958, they didn't feel welcomed at the local Baptist church and never returned, although they allowed their children to attend Sunday school there. Years later, as the Mayor of Southwark, he was invited as a guest to the same church, and he made sure to be addressed as ‘Your Worship’ and wore his full regalia as Mayor, which he considered as 'poetic justice' for the church to give him the respect and recognition he deserved. He was involved in community activism on migrant welfare issues and was active in the post workers’ union. He joined the Labour party, too, seeing it as a political vehicle that could improve the life of black people. In 1982 he was elected the Labour member of Southwark council for Bellenden ward, Peckham, and a year later, when the Labour party Black Sections campaign for greater representation was formed, he was nominated to become mayor. At the time, the National Front was very active in the area. “[They] let it be known that if Sam King became the mayor of Southwark, they were going to slit my throat and burn down my house. My reply was ... I am not against them slitting my throat, but they must not burn down my house, because it is not a council house.” In 1983, King was elected as Mayor of the London Borough of Southwark, making history as the first Black mayor of Southwark, in the face of abuse and death threats. This milestone came seventy years after John Richard Archer became the first Black mayor of a London borough back in 1913. As Mayor of Southwark, he played an active role in pushing to get the pirate stations playing gospel music to become community radio stations. But this was rejected by the Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, but it didn’t deter him and others, and, in many ways laid the foundation for Premier Christian Radio to be awarded a license years later. Sam, alongside Diane Louise Jordan, was instrumental in organising the first gospel-inspired BBC 'Songs of Praise' at Southwark Cathedral in April 1985. This ground-breaking event allowed the British public to experience gospel music and Pentecostal fellowship on a BBC national show for the first time. The programme also served as a platform for Basil Meade and the London Gospel Community Choir, providing them with national exposure. As a result of the event's success, the BBC began incorporating more gospel music into their various shows. In his capacity as a local councillor, Sam presented several motions to the British Council of Churches to enable Black Majority Churches to rent or purchase church venues that were derelict or underutilized. This motion played a crucial role in facilitating the growth of Black-led church buildings and places of worship. After retiring from local politics, King focussed on preserving the experiences of his generation. He founded the Windrush Foundation with Arthur Torrington in 1996 to recognise and keep alive the memories of the young men and women who were among the first wave of post war settlers in the UK. In his later years, Sam King was best known for his efforts to establish the anniversary of the Empire Windrush's arrival as a holiday, earning him the nickname "Mr. Windrush." In 1998, he was awarded the MBE during the 50th anniversary celebrations for Windrush and also published his autobiography, "Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain." In 2009, a public vote led to the installation of a Southwark blue plaque at his long-time home on Warmington Road. This was followed by the freedom of the borough of Southwark being granted to him in May 2016. Sam King MBE died on 17 June 2016, less than a week before the 68th anniversary of his arrival on the Empire Windrush: more than 500 people attended his funeral at Southwark Cathedral. Arthur Torrington, a close friend and colleague, paid a heartfelt tribute to Sam, describing him as: “a giant with a voice that commanded respect that provided a positive message to all about the contribution of the Caribbean community but the wider benefits of migration. We need to give our gratitude to men and women like Sam who made sacrifices and laid the foundations that we take for granted today in the community.” Two years after King's death, the UK government officially designated the 22 June as Windrush Day to recognise the contributions of the Windrush generation's contributions in helping to rebuild a post-war Britain. King paved the way for people such as Labour MP Diane Abbott, who aptly said after his death “[King] played a crucial role in breaking down barriers for Black people in politics. [For] someone like me, who was fortunate to become an MP, [I} stand on the shoulders of people like Sam King.” Sources: "Sam King 'Mr Windrush' Ebook". Windrush Foundation https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jun/30/sam-king-obituary?CMP=share_btn_tw (1) https://www.keepthefaith.co.uk/2016/07/06/sam-king-mbe-by-patrick-vernon-obe/ https://southwarkheritage.wordpress.com/2020/06/19/sam-king-and-the-windrush/ (2) https://archive.voice-online.co.uk/article/mr-windrush-sam-king-passes-away-90 https://www.postalmuseum.org/blog/sam-king-a-postal-worker-of-the-windrush-generation/#:~:text=Sam%20King%20is%20celebrated%20for,today's%20Notting%20Hill%20Carnival%20%E2%80%93%20and https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/families/time-travel-tv/a-significant-person/

  • Althea McNish - the first Caribbean British designer to achieve international acclaim

    Windrush Month 2024 'Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s & 1950s' - exploring the lives and stories of the the early Caribbean people who came to Britain after the 2WW. Althea Marjorie McNish was born in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago around 1924. She was the only child of a well-to-do couple Joseph and Margaret Bourne. Her father, a teacher and writer, was descended from the Merikin settlers in Trinidad and her mother was a dressmaker. McNish showed a precocious talent for art at her mother’s knee: “My mother made clothes, but she didn’t draw,” she said. “She would say ‘I want a round collar’ and I would draw it. I was only four or five.” An enthusiastic painter from an early age, while still in school she landed a job as an entomological illustrator with the colonial Trinidad and Tobago government. “I had to go into the field and do detailed drawings of insects to help in the sugar and cocoa pest control programme.” Later she became a junior member of the prestigious Trinidad Arts Society and had her first work exhibited at the age of 16. At the time, Trinidad was at the centre of a Caribbean cultural renaissance, propelled by the struggle for independence and the need to forge a national identity. This would throw up an extraordinary array of talent that would produce some 50 novels between 1948 and 1958 and several internationally renowned artists. As McNish said, “There was quite an artistic thing going on at the time.” (1) Inevitably, McNish would take influence from the leading lights of this movement, taking inspiration from local artists such as Sybil Atteck, Amy Leony Pang Boscoe Holder and M.P. Alladin. She also enjoyed European modernists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Gauguin. “Van Gogh was one of my favourites – he was very tropical” she said. In 1951 McNish moved with her mother to London, England to join her father, who had already moved there to work. In London she won a scholarship to study architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture but chose instead to take a course in print studies at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts (now the London College of Communications) where she developed an interested in textiles. She took an extra class at the Central School of Art and Design, where renowned artist Eduardo Paolozzi taught. After completing her undergraduate studies, she went to complete a postgraduate degree at the Royal College of Art (RCA) where her talent was recognised by Hugh Casson. In 1957 during her final year at the RCA, McNish took a trip to the Essex home of her tutor, the painter and graphic artist Edward Bawden and his wife Charlotte, a potter. When walking in the countryside near the Bawdens' home, McNish encountered a wheat field for the first time, which for her recalled sugar cane plantations in Trinidad. This trip and the organic forms found in the English countryside made a significant impression on McNish, and in 1959 she used the wheat motif in Golden Harvest – her first design for commercial design company Hull Traders. Produced in four colours, the furnishing fabric of printed heavy cotton satin was Hull Traders' best-selling design when released the following year and stayed in production until the 1970s. (2) After graduating, McNish was hired by Arthur Stewart-Liberty – chairman of London’s Liberty department store – who famously commissioned the young graduate to create new exclusive designs for both fashion and furnishing fabrics. “He thought Britain was ready for colour and it was” said McNish. On that same day, Liberty despatched McNish in a taxi to fashion supplier Zika Ascher, who likewise immediately booked her to create a new collection, this time for Dior. Successfully designing for such prestigious clients, McNish was the first Caribbean woman to achieve prominence in this field. (1) McNish designed a range of fabrics for Liberty including a furnishing fabric called Cebollas with a strong tropical flavour – featuring blue onions set against a brown background – and another called Hibiscus, an even bolder furnishing textile boasting bright-red hibiscus flowers set against a sharply contrasting black background. (1) One of her most popular designs for Liberty included the abstract Cascade – a heavily textured cotton poplin fabric from 1959, featuring a black and blue background with small, overlaid circles repeated in bright reds, greens and blues. The pattern fizzed with energy and was reminiscent of observing a living organism under a microscopic eye. (2) In 1959, for Hull Traders, a company later responsible for many of the colourful and irreverent pop designs of the swinging 60s, she created a sensation with Golden Harvest, a screen print on cotton satin used for upholstery fabrics that featured a bright-orange, yellow and black graphic pattern inspired by the wheat fields of Essex, which reminded her of Trinidad’s sugarcane plantations. (3) By 1960 she was taking on jobs for Cavendish Textiles and then for Heal’s, for whom she designed Trinidad, a printed furnishing textile covered with a loosely sketched dense tropical forest, filled with green palm trees of different shapes and sizes. At this time, she also worked for Ascher’s textile company, which commissioned her to create printed silk dress fabrics. (3) Other British manufacturers who approached McNish included Danasco Fabrics, for whom, in 1961, she produced Tomée, an exceptionally vivid monoprint of an abstract pattern made up of pink, orange and lemon stripes. In 1968, for the Bridlington-based firm Sanderson-Rigg, she designed a space-age-style wallpaper, named Zircon, featuring a dazzling abstract pattern coloured orange, mustard and yellow. (3) McNish's reputation was such that she designed fabrics for Queen Elizabeth II's wardrobe for the 1966 Royal Tour of Trinidad and the Caribbean. Throughout the 1960s McNish also ensured that she retained her links with the West Indies. She was a founding member of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) and took part in their art exhibitions held in 1967, May 1968 and January 1971, exhibiting textiles as well as ‘plastic panels in laminate.’ For the Caribbean edition of the BBC TV magazine programme Full house, produced by John La Rose and transmitted on 3 February 1973, she brought together the work of CAM visual artists as a studio setting for CAM writers, musicians and filmmakers. In 1969, she married John Weiss, architect, jeweller and historian, and worked in partnership with him from 1971. At the same time McNish’s artwork was being displayed in exhibitions – beginning with Paintings by Trinidad and Tobago Artists at the Commonwealth Institute in London in 1961. Over the years her paintings and drawings were shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum (1978), the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester (2007) and, most recently, at Somerset House in London (2019). Examples of her textile design can be found in the V&A, the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture in London, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. (3) In 1976, McNish was awarded the Chaconia Medal Gold for her contributions to art and design, and in 2006 an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the University of Trinidad and Tobago, where she mentored many of its student designers. She also appeared on the BBC4 documentary Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? aired in 2018, and in the same year a section of the book Women Design, by the design historian Libby Sellers, was devoted to McNish and her work. More recently, her work — represented by three printed textiles from early in her career: Golden Harvest, Pomegranate and Fresco — was featured in the exhibition RCA Black: Past, Present & Future (31 August–6 September 2011), organised by the Royal College of Art in collaboration with the African and African-Caribbean Design Diaspora (AACDD) to celebrate art and design by African and African-Caribbean graduates. McNish was also an important presence in the wider British design scene. She was a member of the board of the UK’s Design Council and a Vice-President and Fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers. (3) Althea McNish died in April 2020 in a London nursing home at the age of 95. A major retrospective of her work was held in April 2022, entitled Althea McNish: Colour is Mine. The exhibition was sponsored by Liberty Fabrics who reissued a capsule collection of her designs to coincide with the it. Co-curator Rosie Sinclair of Goldsmiths College said: “McNish was a rare Black woman within the international textile history. She broke boundaries [and] perhaps following this exhibition people will take another look at furnishing and fashion fabrics and wonder why colour became such an important part of new design taste in post-modern society and think about the individuals, a design pioneer such as Althea, who made this happen.” On the 15 May 2023, coinciding with the 99th anniversary of her birth, a Nubian Jak blue plaque was unveiled in her honour at her former home on West Green Road in Tottenham, north London. McNish was a gifted and pioneering force in textile design who brought colour into the lives of young consumers desperate to move beyond the greyness of post 2WW Britain. Her contribution to post-war British design and pioneering creative vision changed the character of British Modernism. Source: https://angelacobbinah.wordpress.com/2008/07/30/a-dash-of-colour/ (1) https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/althea-mcnish-an-introduction (2) https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/may/04/althea-mcnish-obituary (3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Althea_McNish#cite_note-17

  • Windrush Month 2024 - Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of 1940s & 1950s Britain

    Every year on the 22nd June the UK commemorates the contributions of Caribbean people to the post-war economy on Windrush Day. We’ll not only recognise the day but celebrate the whole of the month as Windrush Month, and this year we’ll be exploring the lives and impact of the Windrush generation through our theme ‘Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of 1940s and 1950s Britain.' ​ The HMT Empire Windrush is widely recognised today for bringing one of the first large groups of post-war West Indian immigrants to the United Kingdom. However, the Empire Windrush wasn't the only ship. In fact, there are two ships documented to have sailed from the Caribbean to the UK  before the Windrush’s arrival in June 1948. We'll be taking a closer look at this story and also examining the lives of some of the early Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s and 1950s such as: Sam King,  Sam King and Althea McNish. ​ Profiles Features Why did Caribbeans come to the UK after the 2nd World War? The Ships that came before Windrush. Why do we celebrate Windrush Day in the UK? Test your knowledge and play our specially themed Windrush 2024 Big Fat Quiz!

  • Why do we celebrate Windrush Day in the UK?

    June 22nd marks a significant day in the United Kingdom - Windrush Day. It is a day dedicated to celebrating the rich heritage and invaluable contributions of the Windrush generation to British society. But why do we commemorate this day, and what is the significance behind it? A Journey of Resilience The Windrush generation refers to the Caribbean migrants who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971, primarily on the ship MV Empire Windrush. These individuals were invited to rebuild post-war Britain and fill labor shortages, contributing their skills and hard work to the country's development. Despite facing numerous challenges and discrimination, they persevered with resilience and determination. Cultural Enrichment and Diversity One of the key reasons why Windrush Day is celebrated is to honor the cultural enrichment brought by the Windrush generation. Their music, food, traditions, and customs have become integral parts of British culture, shaping the diverse and vibrant society we live in today. From reggae music to Caribbean cuisine, their influence is seen and felt across various aspects of British life. Recognition and Remembrance Windrush Day serves as a poignant reminder of the struggles and injustices faced by the Windrush generation. The scandal in 2018, where many Caribbean migrants were wrongly detained or deported, highlighted the need to acknowledge and rectify past mistakes. Celebrating Windrush Day is a way to recognize the contributions of these individuals and ensure that their legacy is remembered and honored. Educational Awareness Another important aspect of Windrush Day is its role in promoting education and awareness about the Windrush generation's history and impact. Through events, exhibitions, and educational initiatives, people are encouraged to learn about this significant chapter in British history and understand the challenges faced by the Windrush pioneers. By sharing their stories, we ensure that their experiences are not forgotten and that future generations appreciate their legacy. Unity and Solidarity Windrush Day also serves as a platform to promote unity, solidarity, and inclusivity within society. By celebrating the diversity and contributions of the Windrush generation, we emphasize the importance of respecting different cultures and backgrounds. It symbolizes a commitment to building a more inclusive and tolerant society where everyone is valued and celebrated for their unique heritage. Conclusion: Honoring a Legacy In conclusion, Windrush Day is a time to reflect on the remarkable journey of the Windrush generation and pay tribute to their enduring legacy. It is a day to celebrate resilience, diversity, and cultural heritage while acknowledging the struggles and challenges they faced. By commemorating this day, we reaffirm our commitment to recognizing the contributions of all communities in shaping the multicultural tapestry of modern Britain. So, let us come together on Windrush Day to honor the past, celebrate the present, and pave the way for a more inclusive and harmonious future. Celebrating Windrush Day is not just about remembering the past; it is an opportunity to embrace diversity, acknowledge the contributions of the Windrush generation, and commit to building a more inclusive society. Let's stand together in unity and celebrate the legacy of resilience, culture, and community that the Windrush pioneers have left behind.

  • Why did Caribbeans come to the UK after the 2nd World War?

    Caribbean Migration to the UK Post-World War II: A Story of Resilience and Opportunity After the end of World War II, a significant wave of Caribbean immigrants made their way to the United Kingdom, a journey that marked a pivotal moment in history and paved the way for diverse cultural influences in the UK. But what motivated Caribbeans to embark on this journey across the Atlantic? Let's explore the reasons behind this migration and the impact it had on both the immigrants and the UK society. The aftermath of World War II left the UK in need of labor to help rebuild the country and support its post-war economic recovery. At the same time, many Caribbean nations, former British colonies, were facing economic hardships and political instability. This intersection of needs and circumstances set the stage for the mass migration of Caribbeans to the UK in search of better opportunities and a chance at a brighter future. The Promise of Employment One of the primary driving forces behind Caribbean migration to the UK was the promise of employment opportunities. With industries in the UK facing a labor shortage post-war, Caribbean immigrants were recruited to fill essential roles in sectors such as transportation, healthcare, and manufacturing. The prospect of steady work and the ability to support their families back home motivated many Caribbeans to make the long journey to a new land. Seeking a Better Life Beyond economic reasons, many Caribbean immigrants saw the UK as a land of opportunity, where they could build a better life for themselves and future generations. The promise of access to education, healthcare, and a higher standard of living fueled the aspirations of those who sought to escape the limitations and challenges they faced in their home countries. The UK represented a beacon of hope and possibility for these individuals and their families. Facing Challenges and Overcoming Adversity Despite the allure of new opportunities, Caribbean immigrants encountered numerous challenges upon their arrival in the UK. From experiencing discrimination and prejudice to navigating unfamiliar social norms and cultural differences, the journey to integration was fraught with obstacles. However, the resilience and determination of the Caribbean community enabled them to overcome these adversities, forge strong bonds within their communities, and contribute positively to the fabric of British society. Cultural Enrichment and Diversity The influx of Caribbean immigrants profoundly influenced the cultural landscape of the UK, bringing with them vibrant traditions, music, cuisine, and languages that enriched the multicultural tapestry of British society. Their contributions to art, music, literature, and sports left an indelible mark on the cultural identity of the UK, fostering a spirit of diversity and inclusivity that continues to shape the nation to this day. Legacy and Impact The legacy of Caribbean migration to the UK is one of resilience, perseverance, and cultural exchange. The journey undertaken by these individuals in the aftermath of World War II paved the way for future generations of Caribbeans to thrive and succeed in a new homeland. Their experiences serve as a testament to the power of human resilience in the face of adversity and the enduring bond between nations forged through shared history and shared aspirations. In conclusion, the migration of Caribbeans to the UK post-World War II was a transformative moment that brought together diverse cultures and narratives, shaping the identity of both the immigrants and the UK society. The stories of these individuals serve as a reminder of the enduring spirit of perseverance and hope that transcends borders and generations, leaving a lasting impact on the fabric of British society. Embark on a journey through history and discover the motivations behind Caribbean migration to the UK after World War II. Explore the resilience, challenges, and cultural contributions of these individuals as they forged a new path in a foreign land and left a lasting impact on the UK society.

  • The forgotten migrant ships that came before Windrush in 1947

    By Dr Hannah Lowe Wind back the hours, the days and months, a year –and out of fog, Ormonde sails like a rumour,or a tale about how what’s too soon forgottenwill rise again – light up, awaken engines,swing her bow through half a century,return a hundred drifters, lost-at-sea. From Ormonde by Hannah Lowe The Empire Windrush is commonly believed to be the first boat to have brought post-war migrants from the Caribbean to Britain in 1948. This moment was captured by the Pathé newsreel of the famous calypsonian Lord Kitchener tentatively singing, London is the Place for Me. Since 1998 – the 50th anniversary – the ship’s arrival has been commemorated in hundreds of public accounts, and the name Windrush has become symbolic of the generation of Caribbean people who arrived during this period. It is the first moment of black British experience to become mainstream British history. But far less is known about the two ships that arrived before the Windrush, carrying smaller but still significant numbers of migrants: the SS Ormonde, which docked in Liverpool in March 1947, carrying 108 passengers, and the Almanzora, carrying around 200 passengers, which arrived in December of the same year. My father Ralph Lowe, a clerk by trade, was on the Ormonde, which led me in 2014 to publish a book about it, containing a series of poems about “the other ship” that has largely been forgotten, along with the Almanzora. Forgotten voyages Like the Windrush, these ships were returning troopships. And like the Windrush, passage on these ships was advertised in Jamaica’s national newspaper, the Kingston Gleaner. Ormonde’s arrival is mentioned briefly in the Evening Standard on April 1 1947, and in the Times on April 2 1947, concerning the trial in Liverpool of its 11 stowaways. But the Almanzora was not mentioned at all in the press at the time, a fact bemoaned in 2008 by one of its passengers, Alan Wilmot: … [Our arrival] wasn’t like the Windrush – there was no publicity for us. It was a case of every man for himself. The Jamaican poet James Berry, who became a voice of the Windrush generation, also arrived in Britain on board the Almanzora. In his poem, Beginning in a City, from 1948, he wrote: Stirred by restlessness, pushed by history, I found myself in the centre of Empire. A young man’s journey My father Ralph kept a notebook about his early life and wrote of his plans for travelling to England: I soon found out that you could book a passage on ships bringing back servicemen who had fought in the second world war. So I duly booked my passage on the SS Ormonde paying the princely sum of £28 to get to England. Before his death in 2001, he told me that he had travelled to London from Liverpool with two boxers he had befriended on the boat. It was quite wonderful, many years later, to find both his name (R. Lowe), and the names of the boxers (Thompson) on the Ormonde’s passenger list. A few recent accounts that do discuss these earlier voyages include Robert Winder’s Bloody Foreigners which acknowledges that the Windrush was not “the first ship in this story”. American author Tony Kushner’s study of migrant journeys also includes a discussion of these two ships, considering whether it is London’s dominance in migration history that might account in part for the sustained focus on the Windrush over the Ormonde or Almanzora. The Ormonde docked at Liverpool and the Almanzora at Southampton – both ports of equal or more significance than London in terms of the numbers of ships that docked there. And they are also equal regarding their importance to migration history, but certainly less discussed. Why Windrush? If the arrival of Windrush close to London might account for its fame, so too do numerous other historical factors. Windrush carried 492 passengers, a spike in numbers commonly attributed to the newly passed 1948 Nationality Act, which awarded colonial subjects a new status: “citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies”. The boat was met at Tilbury Docks by officials from the Ministry of Labour and the Colonial Office. One, called Ivor Cummings, was the son of an English mother and Sierra Leonan father. Cummings helped to organise accommodation for many of the passengers in the former air-raid shelter beneath Clapham Common South underground station. Also present were journalists and photographers, resulting in numerous newspaper accounts, the Pathé newsreel and the small, but now iconic, number of photographs of the ship. Unlike the Windrush, the Ormonde and the Almanzora arrived without ceremony to their respective ports. There was no meeting committee, no press and no assistance for their passengers. In fact, the story of the Empire Windrush was atypical of voyages made at this time, and quite different to the ships that came before or immediately after, which carried far fewer migrants. In the 1950s, at the height of this period of migration when ships regularly sailed a direct route from the Caribbean to Britain, passengers were left to fend for themselves on arrival. Many ships of this period are intricately tied to the machinations of the British empire and the second world war. The SS Ormonde went on to transport British orphans to Australia under the controversial child migration programme, while the Windrush (a German warship until it was seized by the British in 1947) later sank in the Mediterranean, bringing home servicemen from Asia. Both the Ormonde and the Almanzora were eventually scrapped in Scotland (the Ormonde had been built on the Clyde in 1917), but their post-war migration legacy has begun to feature more often in recent discussions of this period. The stories of these ships are evidence of how “history” is so often a complicated and nuanced process of selection – and omission. They tore the Ormonde up in ’52for scrap. I google what I can. If youwere here, you’d ask me why I care so much.I’d say it’s what we do these days Dad, clutchat history. I find old prints – three orphanson a deckchair squinting at the sun; a crewmanwith his arm around a girl, both smiling, windswept;a stark compartment where you might have slept… From Shipbreaking by Hannah Lowe This article which is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original.

  • A Profile of David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead

    As Windrush Day approaches, it's essential to reflect on the significant contributions and stories of individuals who have shaped the Windrush generation's narrative. One such influential figure is David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead. Born in Grenada in 1913, Pitt made a remarkable impact on the political and social landscape of the United Kingdom. David Pitt's journey began in the medical field, where he worked as a doctor before transitioning into politics. He became the first Black person to be elected to the Greater London Council in 1958, paving the way for future generations of Black politicians in the UK. His dedication to advocating for equality and social justice earned him a place in the House of Lords in 1975, where he served as a Labour peer. Baron Pitt of Hampstead played a pivotal role in championing the rights of the Windrush generation and the broader Caribbean community in the UK. He advocated for fair treatment, access to healthcare, and acknowledgment of the contributions made by Caribbean migrants to British society. His tireless efforts helped raise awareness of the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and pushed for meaningful change. David Pitt's legacy extends beyond his political achievements. His commitment to social equality and his advocacy for marginalized communities left a lasting impact on British society. His work laid the foundation for greater representation and inclusivity in politics and paved the way for a more diverse and equitable UK. As we celebrate Windrush Day and honour the resilience and perseverance of the Windrush generation, it is essential to remember trailblazers like David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead. His dedication to social justice, equality, and the rights of marginalized communities serves as an inspiration for us all. Let us carry forward his legacy by continuing to advocate for a more inclusive and equitable society for everyone. As we commemorate Windrush Day and reflect on the stories of resilience and achievement within the Windrush generation, let us not forget the individuals like David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead, whose contributions have significantly impacted the fabric of British society. Their stories deserve to be celebrated and remembered as we strive for a more inclusive and diverse future.

  • Women's History Month 2024

    March is Women's History Month - an annual month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. The 2024 theme celebrates “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.” This theme recognizes women who understand the need to eliminate bias and discrimination from individuals' lives and institutions. We'll be exploring the lives of African & Caribbean heritage women who contributed to change in the UK and overseas via biographies, media recommendations and blogs throughout the month. ​ Remember, you can explore Black British History beyond a designated month and we’re committed to helping guide you through your journey learning about UK Black History all throughout the year. Start your journey today by learning about amazing Women of African and Caribbean heritage such as: Yvonne Conolly, Emma Clarke, Jessica Huntley, Claudia Jones, Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, and Kathleen Wrasama. ​ Alternatively, you can check out our social media accounts or why not test your knowledge in our Women’s History Month quiz. Don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter for regular updates!

  • Our top reads for Global Black History Month(s) 2024

    Check out our list of non-fiction books to read and enjoy during this year's Global Black History Month 2024. You can purchases any of the books listed in our IBHM Heritage shop on our IBHM Heritage shop, which helps support IBHM-UK website and independent bookshops. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite Our book of the month is a wonderfully sharp and funny tale from Nigerian writer Oyinkan Braithwaite. Her debut novel revolves around sisters Ayoola and Korede living in Lagos, Nigeria. Ayoola is a stunningly gorgeous young woman who is notorious for killing her lovers and Korede is a fastidious nurse who helps cover up Ayoola's crimes. Until Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse and she isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back, but to save one would mean sacrificing the other… Finding Me by Viola Davis An inspiring memoir that explores Viola’s childhood in poverty, her journey to Hollywood, and the importance of embracing one's true self. She offers a glimpse into the experiences that shaped her as a woman and an artist, and shares the lessons she learned along the way. Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley Nightcrawling details the story of seventeen-year-old Kiara Johnson, a young Black teenager who turns to sex work to pay her family's rent and care for the abandoned nine-year-old boy next door. Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo Inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Glory is set in the animal kingdom of Jidada. After a 40-year rule, the “Old Horse” is ousted in a coup, along with his much-despised wife, a donkey named Marvellous. At first there was great rejoicing and hope for change under a new ruling horse, Tuvius Delight Shasha (the former vice-president turned rival of Old Horse). Hope, however, quickly vanishes and into the period of post-coup despair steps a young goat named Destiny, who returns from exile to bear witness to a land where greed, corruption and false prophets are rampant. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw An award-winning, deliciously rebellious short story collection that teems with feeling, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies follows a cast of Black women navigating social pressure, the hurdles and joys of being in love, and joyous respites from being ‘good’. There is fourteen-year-old Jael, who nurses a crush on the preacher's wife; the mother who bakes a sublime peach cobbler every Monday for her date with the married Pastor; and Eula and Caroletta, single childhood friends who seek solace in each other's arms every New Year's Eve. With their secret longings, new love, and forbidden affairs, these church ladies are as seductive as they want to be, as vulnerable as they need to be, as unfaithful and unrepentant as they care to be, and as free as they deserve to be. Thicker than Water by Kerry Washington Thicker than Water is a moving and honest story of how her parents huge secret effect her even before she knew that they had a secret. Kerry has had to deal with sexual abuse, eating disorders, self esteem issues and constant feeling that something was off in her life. Kerry Washington is an intensely private person. The Gilded Ones - Gilded by Namina Forna The first book in the best-selling fantasy series in an ancient West-African inspired world, in which girls are outcasts by blood and warriors by choice. Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs. Leslie F*ucking Jones: A Memoir by Leslie Jones In this audacious memoir, Leslie Jones opens up for the first time about how she faltered and triumphed on the road to success and, in doing so, encourages others to let go of the fear and self-doubt that has holds them back. Leslie F*cking Jones is a love letter to regular people just trying to make it day to day. The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa Mia Sosa delivers a hilarious enemies-to-lovers romance about wedding planner Lina and her ex-fiance’s brother Max and about opening yourself up to a chance at love. Wedding coordinator Carolina Santos is left at the altar. Three years later, she has an opportunity to win a dream job. She is assigned a marketing specialist - Max Hartwell, her former fiancé's brother and she loathes him. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler Parable of the Sower (1993) is the story of Lauren Olamina, a young woman who lives in a near-future dystopian California. When her home community succumbs to the destructive forces of the world around it, Lauren is forced onto the road in search of a new life. You can purchases any of the books listed in our IBHM Heritage shop on IBHM Heritage shop, which helps support IBHM-UK website and independent bookshops. Disclosure: If you buy books linked to our site, we may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops.

  • Our TV picks for Black History Month USA 2024

    Swarm streaming on Amazon Prime Dominique Fishback was nominated for an Emmy for her role as Dre, a young woman who is obsessed with a pop star, whose fanbase is known as ‘The Swarm.’ Her obsession goes to increasingly violent lengths for her favourite R&B singer. The Other Black Girl streaming on Disney+ Based on Zakiya Dalila Harris’ thrilling satirical 2021 novel The Other Black Girl, the series centres on Nella Rogers, an ambitious editorial assistant working at a white publishing firm. When a Black co-worker arrives she gets excited, but is the new girl a friend or foe? Twenties streaming on BBC IPlayer Twenties is a comedy series follows a queer Black woman in her twenties, Hattie and her two straight best friends, Marie and Nia, as they try to find their footing in life, love, and the professional world in Los Angeles. Selah and the Spades streaming on Amazon Prime Originally released in 2019, Selah and the Spades is the directorial debut of Tayarisha Poe. This smart and stylish teen drama tells the story of Selah, who leads the faction named Spades at her school, and is looking for a protege to replace her. Things take a turn when Paloma transfers to the school. Survival of the Thickest streaming on Netflix Comedian Michelle Buteau turned her Survival of the Thickest memoir into this charming romantic comedy series that has recently been renewed for a second season. After a bad breakup, a passionate stylist Mavis Beaumont (Buteau) seizes the opportunity to start over in life and love while finding happiness on her own terms. Lawmen: Bass Reeves streaming on Paramount Plus Lawmen: Bass Reeves is a western based about the legendary lawman, one of the greatest frontier heroes and one of the first Black deputy U.S. marshals west of the Mississippi River. The Changeling streaming on Apple TV Lakeith Stanfield stars in the horror fantasy The Changeling which is based on a novel of the same name. Stanfield is a bookseller from Queens who meets a librarian from Virginia. They fall in love, marry, have a baby - and trigger an unimaginable series of events. Power Book II: Ghost streaming on Amazon Prime The Power spin-off and sequel Ghost follows Tariq navigating his new life, in which his desire to shed his father’s legacy comes up against the mounting pressure to save his family. Along the way, Tariq gets entangled in the affairs of the cutthroat Tejada family, adding further complications as he tries to balance his drug operations with his education, love life, family affairs, scrutiny from local and federal law enforcement. I’m a Virgo streaming on Amazon Prime I’m a Virgo is a brilliant absurdist comedy created by visionary director Boots Riley and starring Jharrel Jerome. It follows the story of Cootie, a 13-foot-tall (4m), 19-year-old Black teenager raised by his Aunt Lafrancine and Uncle Martisse in California. He is shielded from the outside world until being accidentally discovered by a group of teenage political activists. Lupin streaming on Netflix This French heist-thriller became an international phenomenon when it was released in January 2021 on Netflix and is now on its third season. Winner of Csear Award for Leading Man, Omar Sy, is perfectly cast to play Assane Diop, the gentleman gem thief inspired by the classic French tales of Arsene Lupin by Maurice Leblanc.

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