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  • 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 Black women who changed the UK 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 Black British Women 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. 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.

  • 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.

  • Celebrating Global Black History Month(s) and UK Pride Month in 2024

    The first of February marks the start of Black History Month in several countries including the USA, Canada, and Germany. And the start of Pride month in the UK too! Throughout the month of February, join us in learning about the Black Britons who have led the way in LGBT+ history in the UK and stories behind some of the faces of other global Black History Months. 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 Black British LGBT+ trailblazers: Ivor Cummings, Pearl Alcock, Justin Fashanu, and Olive Morris. Or check out our features on Ira Alridge, who was Britain’s first Black Shakespearean actor, media recommendations for the month, and our Global Black quiz to play with family and friends. Check out our social media accounts or subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter for regular updates!

  • Our Movie picks for Black History Month USA 2024

    American Fiction available nationwide in cinemas only Cord Jefferson's debut American Fiction is a funny, fresh and insightful satire that follows a frustrated novelist-professor who writes an outlandish satire of stereotypical 'Black' books, only for it to be mistaken by the liberal elite for serious literature and published to both high sales and critical praise. The Colour Purple streaming on demand on all platforms This musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Colour Purple, includes a star-studded cast in Taraji P. Henson, Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, Coleman Domingo and Halle Bailey. Mea Culpa streaming on Netflix Mea Culpa is a legal thriller written and directed by Tyler Perry. A criminal defence attorney played by Kelly Rowland takes on the case of seductive artist (Trevante Rhodes) who is accused of murdering his girlfriend. But when desire takes hold of them both, things get hot - and dangerous. Miss Juneteenth streaming on ITVX and Amazon Prime Nicole Beharie gives an amazing performance as Turquoise, a former beauty queen who tries to mold her rebellious teen daughter into her Miss Juneteenth pageant footsteps and grows closer to her in the process. Back on the Strip streaming on demand on all platforms Back on the Strip is a raucous comedy starring Kevin Hart, Wesley Snipes and Tiffany Haddish. It tells the story of Merlin, who moves to Las Vegas after losing the woman of his dreams. He gets hired as a frontman in a revival of the notorious Black male stripper crew, the Chocolate Chips. The Blackening streaming on demand on all platforms The Blackening is a horror comedy directed by Tim Story and starring Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Antoinette Robertson, Sinqua Walls, Jay Pharoah and Yvonne Orji. The film, set on Juneteenth, follows a group of Black friends targeted by a masked killer while staying at a cabin in the woods. Honk for Jesus. Save your Soul streaming on demand on all platforms Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is a mockumentary comedy film written, directed and produced by Adamma Ebo, in her feature directorial debut. It stars Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown as the first lady and the pastor of a megachurch, who attempt to reopen and rebuild their congregation, following a major scandal. Rustin streaming on Netflix Coleman Domingo gives an Oscar-nominating performance as social activist Bayard Rustin who faced racism and homophobia as he helped change the course of Civil Rights history by orchestrating the 1963 March on Washington. Single Black Female streaming on Paramount Plus Amber Riley and Raven Goodwin star in this bonkers, so ‘good it’s bad’ thriller Single Black Female. Goodwin plays talk show host Monica who becomes close friends with her new assistant, Simone (Amber Riley), a deranged woman who plans to take over Monica’s life for good. Focusing on black talent.... The Creator streaming on Disney+ Action star John David Washington stars in the sci-fi action movie The Creator. In the future, the human race and artificial intelligence are at war, ex-special forces agent Joshua (John David Washington) is recruited to hunt down and kill the Creator, the elusive architect of advanced AI. The Creator has developed a mysterious weapon that has the power to end the war and all of mankind. As Joshua and his team of elite operatives venture into enemy-occupied territory, they soon discover the world-ending weapon is actually an AI in the form of a young child. Cold Copy streaming on demand on all platforms Girlfriends and Black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross plays a famous journalist known for her hard-hitting exposes in the drama/thriller Cold Copy. When an ambitious journalism student (Bel Powley) falls under the thrall of an esteemed yet cut-throat news reporter (Tracee Ellis Ross) whom she's desperate to impress, even if it means manipulating her latest story and the very idea of truth itself. Image credits: Vertical Entertainment, 20th Century Fox

  • Google Doodle celebrates James Baldwin at the start of Black History Month USA

    Google Doodle celebrates the brilliant American writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin, who is remembered for his many literary works, which often explored themes of social justice. On the1st February 2024, in honour of Black History Month USA, Google Doodle celebrated the life of the extraordinary writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin. He was born on the 2nd August 1924 in New York City. He grew up in Harlem and helped raise his eight siblings. As a young teenager, he followed his step-father’s influence and became a junior minister at a church in Harlem. He also got involved in his high school’s magazine where he began publishing poems, short stories and plays. His time working on the magazine honed his literary skills and solidified his passion for writing. In his late teens and early 20s, he took on odd jobs to support his family and, in parallel, set a goal to write a novel. In 1944, Baldwin’s promise as a writer earned him a fellowship, but he found himself struggling to write his first novel which ended up taking 12 years to produce. This novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, is a semi-autobiographical story which is now considered one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century. At age 24, Baldwin made the decision to move to Paris for another fellowship. Distance from New York allowed him to write more freely about his personal experience. He wrote essays such as Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time. His depictions of Black masculinity in America were as poetic as they were groundbreaking , and they resonated far beyond Black communities. He released his second novel, Giovanni's Room, in 1956. The novel was one of the first to bring in-depth characterizations of homosexuality to mainstream culture, well before the gay liberation movement had gained steam. In the following years, Baldwin continued to write essays and novels that addressed racial tensions in America head-on. In 1974, he wrote If Beale Street Could Talk, a tragic love story set in Harlem. The story was later adapted into an Academy Award-winning film in 2018. In 1986, Baldwin earned the Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur, the highest French order of merit. He went on to receive numerous awards during and after his lifetime. But, Baldwin’s influence is much greater than any award — his works provided valuable representation to people whose stories often went untold, and inspired many civil rights leaders who, in turn, made progress in society that impacted generations. Thank you, James Baldwin, for your massive contributions to the literary cannon - your voice has shaped how we approach conversations of identity and social justice.

  • Google Doodle celebrates Adelaide Hall's 122nd birthday

    Adelaide Hall was the jazz singer who introduced scat singing and was a household name in 1930s Britain. On the 20th October 2023, in honour of UK Black History Month, Google Doodle celebrated the 122nd birthday of Adelaide Hall, a jazz singer who is widely recognised for introducing scat singing during the Harlem Renaissance. The American-born, UK-based entertainer had a record-breaking career that spanned more than 70 years. The Doodle artwork was illustrated by London-based guest artist Hannah Ekuwa Buckman. Hall was born on this day in 1901 in Brooklyn, New York. Adelaide’s father taught her and her sister piano from a young age. After the tragic deaths of her father and sister, Adelaide had no choice but to support herself and her mother. She began her career singing in the chorus line for Shuffle Along (1921), a popular all-Black musical on Broadway that helped establish African American show business. In 1925, Hall embarked on a European tour for Chocolate Kiddies playing in numerous cities including Hamburg, Geneva, Paris, and Vienna. The show was a resounding international success. Later, she returned to Manhattan and continued performing on Broadway’s biggest stages. Her breakout moment came in 1927 when she hummed along to a show tune by Duke Ellington. The jazz star was entranced by her wordless yet emotive melody and asked her to record it with his band. A year later, that same song, Creole Love Call, landed on the American Billboard charts at #19 — and just like that, scat singing was born. It wasn’t long before Adelaide Hall became a household name in both the U.S. and Europe. Soon after, Hall joined the cast for Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1928. The musical ran for more than 500 performances and attracted over a million viewers before moving to the Moulin Rouge in Paris. The audiences in Europe welcomed her with open arms, so much so that she decided to permanently move to the U.K. in 1938. Her international success only grew from there. Hall’s entertainment career spanned an impressive eight decades — in fact, she currently holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s most enduring recording artist. Her songs continue to move listeners with each note and lyric, and her legacy lives on in the hearts of many. Happy birthday, Adelaide Hall!

  • 6 activities to celebrate Black History Month UK at school

    There are lots of creative ways your school can recognise Black History Month UK beyond school assemblies and we've come up with a few ideas. Black History Month UK is an opportunity to ensure that all young people, no matter their background, learn about the contributions of Black Britons to UK History. As David Olusoga said:“this is our national story, this is British history, it belongs to all of us.” 1. Here's how your school can participate in this year's Black History Month UK Take part in our Before Windrush campaign by getting your classes to research and create a visual installation using the eight individuals from this year's campaign: Learie Constantine, Fanny Eaton, Ivor Cummings, Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Princess Ademola, Ignatius Sancho, and Princess Tsehai. For young children, you may want to look at Black Britons from time periods and we suggest you check out our Black to the Past campaign for inspiration. We’re encouraging all schools and colleges to send us a picture or video of your installations by tagging us on any of our social media sites. 2. Try our #BHMFamilies selfie challenge Get your pupils to bring in a picture or item that reflects a family tradition and use this as a talking point to discuss the contributions of Black Britons to UK history and culture. You could explore cultural events such as the Notting Hill Carnival and why it started; explore how the British diet has changed over the years with the introduction of new foods like Jollof Rice and Jerk Chicken; and the British music scene by exploring new musical genres such as Lovers Rock, Jungle, and Grime. 3. Take part in our #BHMLandmarks challenge You could organise a class trip to explore your locality to take a picture of statues and plaques that recognise the achievements of African and Caribbean heritage people in the UK. You can find information on the whereabouts of statues and plaques on the websites of Nubian Jak and the English Heritage or the Black London: History, Arts & Culture book. Post your pictures with the hashtag #bhmlandmarks and tag us on any of our social media accounts. 4. Virtually visit the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) and explore key events in British History The Black Cultural Archives has lots of resources covering different time periods in British history including Black Abolitionists in Georgian London, Victorian Britons of African heritage whose work significantly impacted the arts, science and technology, and the Windrush generations who campaigned for legislative change that transformed the lives of all British migrants. 5. Turn your classroom into a living museum to celebrate the lives of past and living Black Britons Have your students choose a notable Black British pioneer they'd like to know more about, such as Georgian writer Ignatius Sancho, Victorian circus owner Pablo Fanque, Henry VIII's trumpeteer John Blanke, or Dr Harold Moody who campaigned against racism in Edwardian Britain and provided free medical care to the poorer members of his local community before the establishment of NHS. Then using their research, have them create a living museum in your classroom. They can create posters and do presentations to show what they've learnt through their research. Our website is great way to start your research or you can review resources from the Black Curriculm, Young Historians Project, BCA, Museum of London, BBC bitesize, The National Archives and Yorkshire Museum. 6. Remember that UK Black History isn't confined to a month At its core, Black History Month UK is about celebrating and recognising the contributions of Britons left out of mainstream UK history. We advise that you avoid emotive subjects like the Atlantic Slave Trade (perhaps tackle the topic during August when International Slavery Remembrance Day is marked) and focus on British rather than African American History during the month. We hope that you choose to participate in any of the activities we've suggested for your school to carry out during Black History Month UK. But do remember this month is also an opportunity for educators to start diversifying the curriculum for the rest of the academic year. Teachers can make sure that all ethnicities and social classes are represented in reading materials and artwork in all subjects all year round. Happy Black History Month UK!

  • Princess Tsehai - Ethiopian Princess who trained as a nurse in the UK

    Black History Month UK 2023 'Before Windrush' - exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. Princess Tsehai Selassie, was the youngest child of Menen Asfaw and Ras Tafari, who would later be known as Emperor Haile Selassie I. She was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 13 October 1919. From age eight, she attended school in England and Switzerland, and during vacations travelled with her royal relatives to France and Germany, learning each country's language as well as English. Ethiopia, one of only two independent African nations (the other being Liberia) at the time, was invaded on 3 October 1935 by Fascist Italy under Mussolini. He wanted to boost his nation’s prestige which was wounded by its defeat to Ethiopia in the Battle of Adowa in 1896, which saved Ethiopia from Italian colonisation. The Italians committed countless atrocities on the independent African state. Poisonous gas, aerial bombardment, flame throwers, and concentration camps were all employed. They also imposed racial segregation and banned mixed marriage. When she was only 15, she gave an impassioned speech at the League of Nations on behalf of her besieged home nation of Ethiopia that had been invaded by Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. It garnered her international fame. (2) The Young Historians Project writes: Prince Tsehai was an irreverent woman who continued to speak on peace and use her status positively. She gave a speech for the Women’s Peace Crusade, and she was the only woman to speak at the Conference on African Peoples, Democracy and World Peace in 1939, held in London. As a sponsor in the creation of the Ethiopian Women’s Welfare Work Association (EWWWA), she worked to ensure the expansion and provision of health and welfare to Ethiopian people. The Princess and her family were sent to the safety of England by the Emperor after Ethiopia was invaded by Italy in 1935. After failing to get the League of Nations to condemn Italy and impose sanctions, he left Ethiopia to join his family in Bath, England where they lived in exile for five years (1936-1941). Princess Tsehai served as an interpreter for her mother and father, and she also became a spokesperson for her country, speaking before both large and small audiences about the plight of her people. At age 17, Princess Tsehai decided that she wanted to gain an education in nursing and build on the work she had started with the EWWWA. Her father gave his consent. Up until that time, no Ethiopian woman had ever trained as a nurse, and no woman of royal blood had ever worked at a profession. She would eventually return to Ethiopia to open medical centres. An interview was arranged for the Princess with the matron of London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, where she began training as a resident student nurse in August 1936. (1) Following three years of training and attaining high marks in her final certificate in December 1939, she qualified as a state registered nurse for sick children. Footage showed the Princess smiling during her training on the ward, a figure treated with kindness by her fellow nurses. (2) Tsehai asked for no favors or special treatment, working alongside the other student nurses for the required 56 hours a week and earning a year's salary of £20. (1) On the 25 August 1939, she graduated as a State Registered Children's Nurse, then received permission to continue her studies at London's Guy's Hospital, with the intention of becoming a State Registered General Trained Nurse. (1) With the outbreak of WW2, the Probationers' School of Guy's had been moved to Pembury Hospital, some 29 miles southeast of London, and it was there that she enrolled in February 1940. The temporary housing for students was primitive, with no central heating and minimal sanitary facilities. The princess accepted a room with five other nurses, and when later offered an opportunity to move to a private nurses' home attached to the main hospital, turned it down. "I would not think of leaving the other nurses," she said. "I must be treated like everyone else." (1) After a year at Pembury, during which time the Nazis made their first mass air bombing on London, the Princess was transferred to Farnborough, another base hospital. In March 1941, she was transferred again, to Guy's Hospital in London. (1) She worked at Guy’s Hospital for two years, but on 5 May 1941, months before she was to take her final state examinations, the Princess was ordered by her father to return home with her mother. Three British Red Cross Nurses volunteered to accompany the royal party to help her continue her nursing work in Ethiopia. (2) On May 5, 1941, just months before she was to take her final state examinations, the Princess was ordered by her father to return home with her mother. Three British Red Cross Nurses volunteered to accompany the royal party to help her continue her nursing work in Ethiopia. The journey home took three months, during which time the liberation was completed. The Princess immediately went to work with the British Red Cross unit, setting up headquarters in the town of Dessie, which had suffered a massive air raid. They kept their London friends assessed of their progress through letters, one of which was published in the Nursing Mirror: We are running three large clinics: the largest is at Dessie, where we have an average of 150 patients. The second clinic is at Lake Haik, sixteen miles away—a most lovely place—and the third is at Bartie on the edge of the desert…. The Senior Political officer here at Dessie is quite sure the Unit has been the greatest thing done to help the people, for they were in grave distress. The Princess works in the morning very hard; we do the afternoons and evenings. She also reactivated the Ethiopian Women's Welfare Work Association, which had been shut down during the occupation. In April 1942, she married Lieutenant-General (later Brigadier-General) Lij Abiye Abebe, a former member of the emperor's imperial guard, whom she had met in England. Before leaving to live in the Welega Province, where Abiye was appointed governor there, she told an English journalist that she intended to carry on her work of establishing hospitals and medical service throughout her country. (1) Princess Tsehai did not have the opportunity to achieve her goals. Less than four months after her marriage, on August 17, 1942, she died from complications during childbirth in Lekempti, Ethiopia. Her baby did not survive. (1) Her patients and colleagues at GOSH would remember her fondly, providing glowing testimonials. Following her death, they led a memorial at the GOSH chapel. One matron reflected on her passion for nursing, "Practically her last words to me were: One day I shall open a children’s hospital: you must come and see it." (2) She was buried in the crypt of the Ba'eta Le Mariam Monastery in Addis Ababa that had been built as the mausoleum church of Emperor Menelik II. Emperor Haile Selassie founded the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in her memory, which also served as a nursing school and received funding from her friends in England. After the 1974 revolution, the hospital was renamed the Armed Forces General Hospital. Sources: (1) (2)

  • Ivor Cummings - the unsung 'gay' father of the Windrush Generation

    Black History Month UK 2023 'Before Windrush' - exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. Ivor Gustavus Cummings was born on 10 December 1913 in West Hartlepool. His mother, Johanna Archer was a white English nurse and his father, Ismael Cummings, was a Black doctor from Sierra Leone. He had come to England to study to be a doctor and was one of several African professionals working on the Tyneside. The couple met whilst working together at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary. After a whirlwind romance they conceived a baby boy they named Ivor. At a young age Ivor and his mother moved to Addiscombe in Surrey, while his father returned to Sierra Leone. Ivor’s family befriended the widow of composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to whom they were related by marriage, and he got to know his cousins Avril and Hiwatha Coleridge-Taylor who were following in their father’s musical footsteps. Growing up in Addiscombe, Ivor was most-often the only person-of-colour in his local environment. One can only imagine how difficult it was for the young Ivor dealing with the prejudice he faced and it certainly help shape the man he would become. Ivor was privately educated and was racially bullied at school. He told how when he was at the Whitgift School how, in one particularly traumatic incident, the boys set his curly hair on fire. After that terrible incident, his father stepped in, and arranged for Ivor to come to Sierra Leone to complete his education. He thought that he would have a better time in Africa, but Ivor also struggled to fit in at school there. He was packed back off back to England and enrolled in Dulwich College in South London. Here, he excelled, and his academic talents were nurtured, but, unlike his half-brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone, poverty prevented him from going further in his education and becoming a doctor. After graduating from Dulwich College, he moved back to Sierra Leone to work briefly as a clerk for the United Africa Company in Freetown. He returned to England to look for medical scholarships but was unsuccessful and then tried to join the British Army as an officer. His application was rejected due to a law stating that all British army officers had to be “of pure European descent”. There had been a colour bar on officers in the British armed forces since the First World War. Under the 1912 Short Guide to Obtaining a Commission in the Special Reserve of Officers to qualify for a commission, a candidate had to be of pure European descent, and a British born or naturalised British subject. This unambiguous regulation was not officially lifted until the Second World War when Harold Moody mobilised the League of Coloured Peoples, the International African Service Bureau and the West African Students Union (WASU) to campaign against the colour bar. By time the ‘colour bar’ had been lifted in 1940, Cummings had taken a job as warden of Aggrey House in Bloomsbury, London and started his career in the civil service. Aggrey House was opened by the Colonial Office in October 1934 as rival accommodation to the West African Student Union (WASU) run hostels. These places provided accommodation to African and Caribbean students who might otherwise have had to face the brutal reality of being barred from renting rooms. The hostels proved to be very successful, providing practical support and creating a sense of community. However, the Colonial Office viewed the WASU-run hostels as hotbeds of Anti-Colonial activism and opened Aggrey House to monitor and discourage political discussion against the then British Empire and Commonwealth. WASU lobbied against the hostel and successfully convinced African and Caribbean students to boycott it. Aggrey House remained empty for an entire year until a deal was brooked between WASU and the Colonial Office. In his role as warden, Ivor looked after student welfare, including organising meetings and lectures and arranging dances and social events to which he invited the small contingent of black British women in an attempt to make life more pleasant for his almost exclusively male charges. He was clearly politically engaged, with speakers at Aggrey House covering themes such as ‘Present day slavery and the problem of its abolition’ by Anglo-Irish anti-slavery activist Lady Simon and hosting esteemed pan-Africanists such as George Padmore. There continued to be competition between Aggrey House and the WASU run hostels. In August 1937 Cummings even informed the police that two Aggrey residents had taken girls to spend the night at the WASU hostel.  Aggrey House closed in 1940, after reports that communists had come to dominate the House Committee and that one student had brought a sex worker into the hostel. Despite the controversy connected to Aggrey House, this was one of many instances that showed Ivor’s interest in the welfare of Black individuals. Shaped by the racial discrimination he had experienced from his school days and beyond, he tirelessly advocated for Black Britons. Rallying against police brutality, after receiving reports that Black people were being “unduly molested” by officers in the 1930s. He was a prolific press correspondent. The merest hint of a slur against people of Black Britons caused him to lift his pen. He even had an indirect hotline to the monarchy through the good offices of Edwina Mountbatten, a supporter of the 'coloured cause' (a phrase used at the time), who would report back the King's ‘supposed’ displeasure at incidents of discrimination. In their book Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain, authors Mike and Trevor Phillips describe Cummings as “a fastidious, elegant man, with a manner reminiscent of Noel Coward” who “chain-smoked with a long cigarette holder and addressed visitors as ‘dear boy’”. Ivor was gay and socialised in Black queer intellectual circles in the 1930s and 1940s. He enjoyed London’s night life, as a gay member of ‘the group,’ a set of African intellectuals in London which included the American singer John Payne and the British composer Reginald Foresythe, to whose Nigerian family Cummings's father was doctor in Lagos. Like these two and many others in the social and diplomatic circles in which he moved, Cummings was gay at a time when openness about homosexuality was illegal. Despite criminalisation, there was a significant underground gay community in interwar London. Individuals frequented private members clubs and other spaces. Particularly popular with the Black community was the Shim Sham club, a venue that championed jazz music from across the Atlantic. Though we don’t have evidence that Ivor visited such places, it’s entirely possible, as some of his acquaintances were known to. One of Ivor’s closest friends was the gay Guyanese dancer and bandleader Ken Johnson, a leading figure in Black British music in the 1930s. When Ken died in the 1941 bombing of the Café de Paris, Ivor led on the memorial arrangements through his position of influence at the Colonial Office and was able to obtain exemption from munitions work for band members injured in the bombing. Cummings never hid his gay friendships, according to the Conversation he provided emotional support to mixed heritage actor-turned-lawyer Paul Danquah. At Cummings’ memorial service, Paul recalled how Ivor advised him “You must not disparage your father. Your father is a very important person, and you have his heritage.” Which perfectly encapsulates his relationship with his own father and how he saw himself in the world, as a Black man living in Britain. At the onset of the Second World War, Cummings joined the Colonial Office in 1941 becoming the first Black person to obtain the position. Not surprisingly, the Colonial Office’s public relations team tried to spin his appointment as proof that there was no racial discrimination in Britain. He also served as a secretary of a new Advisory Committee on the Welfare of Colonial People in the United Kingdom, a Colonial Office initiative to assume direct responsibility for housing colonial students. And rapidly gained a reputation of someone who would help any person of colour, whatever their social standing. He used his position to fight the colour bar in boxing and prevented African and Caribbean merchant seamen from entering air raid shelters to helping British Honduran foresters in Scotland. With the arrival of the first Caribbean RAF volunteers, his responsibilities grew, and he travelled widely to combat difficulties arising from racial prejudice. Initially minimal, these increased when the segregated US forces appeared. Although both Ivor Cummings and Learie Constantine were both members of the Welfare Office. We don’t know for sure if their paths ever crossed. In 1942, the League of Coloured Peoples commended the increasingly important and visible roles being taken up by Black individuals such as Cummings and Constantine. But they also received backlash for supporting government institutions which were perceived by many to be upholding systems of oppression at home and across the Colonies. After the war, when extra nurses were needed for the National Health Service, he recruited them via his family in Sierra Leone. He continued to work in the Colonial Office and was on close terms with many future political leaders. Like Constantine, he was recognised for his work with the Welfare Office. Ivor was awarded an OBE in the 1948 Birthday Honours. It was following this that Ivor became the official representative for West Indians immigrants arriving on the Empire Windrush. When the Colonial Office was informed of the imminent arrival of 492 job-seeking Caribbean migrants aboard the Empire Windrush via a delayed telegram from the governor of Jamaica. They became the responsibility of the second most senior officer in the Colonial Office – the 35-year-old Ivor Cummings. Cummings replied with apprehensive determination: “Although we shall do what we can for these fellows, the main problem is the complete lack of accommodation and being unable to put in hand any satisfactory reception arrangements.” Though Ivor Cummings’ involvement with Windrush was officially to greet the West Indian arrivals as an envoy of the crown and instruct them on how to find housing and jobs, he continued to support many for as long as they needed. For example, records document Cummings’ dogged efforts to help one Dudley Yapp, 30, secure employment, which Yapp finally did in Warwickshire in September 1948. It was Cummings who, after all other options were exhausted, negotiated the use of a former air raid shelter beneath Clapham Common as temporary accommodation for Windrush arrivals without any prearranged accommodation. The choice of location led to the nearby Brixton becoming a permanent centre for the African Caribbean community in Britain. Despite Cummings huge influence behind the scenes, his name is hardly ever mentioned in the Windrush story. Incredibly, the Independent newspaper revealed that he was omitted from a Brixton History Tour app. So why is Cummings’ name not remembered in the Windrush story? The answer probably lies in his sexuality. Cummings was an openly Black Gay man and consequently, over the years his story has deliberated erased. But activists within the LGBT+ community and people interested in UK Black history are reclaiming and telling his story. Cummings resigned from the Colonial Office in 1958. He’d been offered a high-ranking post in the Colonial Service in Trinidad, but he turned it down. Instead, he accepted an offer from Kwame Nkrumah, then prime minister of the newly independent Ghana, to train diplomats for foreign service. He was widely tipped to be the country’s first Black governor but was posted instead to the Ghana High Commission in London to recruit West Indian professionals, including Ulric Cross. He later worked as a training officer for Yengema Diamond Mines in Sierra Leone and then as a public relations adviser to the London-based distillers Duncan, Gilbey and Matheson. Cummings died of cancer in Westminster Hospital, on 17 October 1992, just shy of his 80th birthday. Sources:

  • Samuel Coleridge Taylor - famed 18th century British composer

    Black History Month UK 2023 'Before Windrush' - exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was a Black British composer, whose father was from Sierra Leone. He rose to acclaim during the 20th century, and his most famous work was Hiawatha's Wedding Feast. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born on 15 August 1875 in Holborn, London. His father was from Sierra Leone who came to Britain to study medicine at King's College London. His father returned to Sierra Leone and he was raised in Croydon, South London, by his mother Alice. Starting at the age of five, Coleridge-Taylor played the violin and sang in his local church choir in Croydon. His talents were noticed and he was sponsored to study at the Royal College of Music in 1890, studying composition under Charles Villiers Stanford. Coleridge-Taylor is considered a pioneer in classical music and an iconic figure in Black British history. His notable works include ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’ (1898), ‘The Death of Minnehaha’ (1899), and ‘Hiawatha’s Departure’ (1900). They received popular acclaim rivalled that of Handel's Messiah’ and Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’. The Hiawatha trilogy was popular with British choirs and orchestras. From 1903 until his death in 1912, he was a professor of composition at the Trinity College of Music and Guildhall School of Music in London. He also judged numerous competitions around Britain, and was the conductor of the Handel Society, the Rochester Choral Society, and many provincial orchestras. The early 20th century saw the formal emergence of Pan-Africanism and Coleridge-Taylor’s music and career embody these influences. Coleridge-Taylor was the youngest delegate to participate in the First Pan-African Conference in 1900, when he was 25. He spent time abroad in both Africa and America, where he developed diasporic connections with leading thinkers and activists fighting for racial equality. In 1904, Coleridge-Taylor visited Booker T. Washington in America, who lead civil rights campaigns for Black empowerment through education and economic advancement. His relationships with Black community across the diaspora encouraged shared experiences and an engagement with Pan-African principles and theories. The Pan-African movement advocated for Black communities to recognise their African heritage and cultural roots. Coleridge-Taylor’s works were also inspired by African American author and civil rights activist W.E. B. DuBois. W. E. B. DuBois’ Pan-Africanist ideologies strongly influenced the liberation and civil rights activism of the 20th century. His prolific essay ‘The Soul of Black Folks’ inspired Black diasporic communities internationally. Coleridge-Taylor also worked closely with another African American, the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar setting some of his poems to music. The cantata, ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ was symbolically adopted by the American civil-rights movement during the early 20th century. Despite Coleridge-Taylor’s popularity amongst British aristocrats he still faced racist abuse in his everyday life and critics often downplayed his achievements as “domesticated” and appeasing his mixed-heritage. Nevertheless, Coleridge-Taylor’s success is undeniable as his works were presented in concerts, orchestras, choirs and theatres. He became one of a new generation of musicians who brought innovation to classic composition. Coleridge-Taylor often proclaimed his own African heritage through his music and sought to draw on African melodies, and saw it is a form of his own expression and exploration. Most notable pieces include ‘Touissant L’Overture’ and ‘Twenty Four Negro Melodies’. In this way, Coleridge-Taylor’s work has been described as demonstrating Pan-African sentiments and the early connection of the Black Atlantic. This composition is a tribute to the Ethiopian victory over Italian forces in the Battle of Adwa in 1896. Italy attempted to invade Ethiopia during the scramble for Africa, but were defeated by the Ethiopian military. The battle of Adwa has since been celebrated as an important turning point in African history and has come to symbolise the possibility of European colonial defeat. Coleridge-Taylor’s work has been used in academic research to exemplify the power of musicology to influence social power, economic dominance and institutional spaces. As academic George Revill notes, ‘music has long served church, state, and aristocracy, accompanying ritual and ceremony, playing a fundamental role maintaining and justifying the power of elites. In the twentieth century, for example, art music has served the causes of imperialism, nationalism, and totalitarianism.’ (Edward Said, 1992). Coleridge-Taylor died in 1912, his death was widely reported across the Black Atlantic with news reports in Sierra Leone Weekly News and The Norwood Review and Crystal Palace Reporter in London. He was considered a beacon of hope and an iconic figure of Black British history for his achievements and success in classical music. Sources:

  • Princess Ademola - the African Princess who served as a nurse during wartime Britain

    Black History Month UK 2023 'Before Windrush' - exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. From Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent to Princess Alice of Greece, princess nurses have gifted their talents to hospitals and medicine, particularly during wartime. However, missing from this history of royal altruism are the African princesses – notably Princess Omo-Oba Adenrele Ademola. (1) Princess Adenrele Ademola or Omo-Oba Adenrele Ademola was born in Nigeria on 2 January 1916. She was the daughter of Ladapo Ademola, the Alake of Abeokuta. She arrived in Britain on 29 June 1935, and initially stayed at the West African Students’ Union's hostel in Camden Town. This space acted as a haven for Ademola, as it did for many other African students and visitors during the early 20th century. It is here that she attended social events and committees, and the Africa Hostel is noted as her residence address until she returned to Lagos temporarily in 1936. (1) During her early career in Britain, Ademola balanced her role as a princess with the demands of her vocation as a nurse. As a princess, she returned to England in 1937 with her father and brother, Prince Ademola III (the future Chief Justice for the Federation of Nigeria) for the coronation of King George, staying at the Grosvenor Hotel, London. (1) While it’s unclear whether Princess Ademola attended the coronation of George VI on 12 May 1937, she attended many royal social events from May to July 1937, including royal garden parties at Buckingham Palace and a royal gathering hosted by her father at the Mayfair Hotel, in May 1937. She also conducted royal visits to the Mayor and Mayoress of London at Mansion House and notably the Carreras cigarette factory in June 1937. It is likely that she continued to attend royal appointments until her father’s departure to Paris in early July 1937. (1) She attended a school in Somerset for two years, and by January 1938 had started training as a nurse at Guy's Hospital. A photograph of Ademola appeared in a 1942 pamphlet about the BBC's international activity. The film ‘Nurse Ademola’ centralised her role as a nurse but is now lost. Made in 1943 or 1944–5, it was a 16mm silent newsreel film in a series for the Colonial Film Unit called The British Empire at War. (2) The Colonial Film Unit was established in 1939 as part of the Ministry of Information to tell “the story of the War with the right propaganda.” During WW2 Britain pumped propaganda into Africa on an unprecedented scale as information offices were established in the colonies and propaganda activities directed and co-ordinated by the Ministry of Information in London. (1) War information and propaganda were communicated via radio broadcasts, touring cinema and loudspeaker vans, the press and through public meetings. The propaganda messages were aimed at keeping Africans war conscious, combatting apathy and ensuring their identification with the allied cause. The Film Unit produced 200 propaganda films on the African continent and closed down in 1955. (1) ‘Nurse Ademola’ played an important part in this as a uniquely feminine perspective. It ‘depicted an African nurse at various phases of training at one of the great London hospitals’, it was said to have inspired many African viewers at its screenings across West Africa. (1) When she arrived with her father in 1937, Princess Ademola was recorded as a ‘midwife’, which epitomises her presence in the historical records after this. In 1939 she was listed as a part of the nursing staff at St Saviour’s ward at Guy’s Hospital, and by 27 June 1941 she was a registered nurse at Guy’s hospital, having passed her nursing examinations after six years of training. (1) From 1941, she moves between hospitals and is recorded at Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital in London before being listed at New End Hospital in Hampstead in December 1942, having passed her Central Midwives Board exam. (1) Ademola's patients apparently called her "fairy" as a term of endearment. "Everyone was very kind to me", she told journalists at the time. At this stage, her last definitive sighting in the archives was in September 1948, before her father’s departure from Nigeria and abdication of the throne. She returned from Lagos with a man believed to be her husband, Timothy Adeola Odutola, a 46-year-old trader. Here she again lists herself as a nurse, residing in Limpsfield, Surrey before moving, accompanied by her husband, to Balmoral Hostel in Queensgate Gardens, South Kensington in 1949. Little is known about her activity after the 1940s, with the last record of her being in 1949, when she was working as a nurse in South Kensington. Despite her royal status, the historical records about Princess Ademola are not detailed or complete. Research on her has been hampered by the haphazard recordings of her personal details such as name and birth dates. For example, The National Archives found five variations of her name whilst researching her. Such challenges are rife when examining Black populations and represent a larger issue: the failure to consider Black people/Black histories a priority. Contemporarily, the lives of Black people were considered ‘second-class’ and therefore detail and accuracy in records were deemed unnecessary. (1) But historians of Black history and community groups such as ourselves and the Young Historians Project, are beginning crucial initiatives to recognise and promote the histories of Black people in the British archives. The National Archives says: African nurses such as Princess Ademola, through their migration, settlement and contribution to British society, hold equal claim to the attentions of historical archives as any Florence Nightingale or Edith Cavell. They must also be recognised for their struggles against social and racial adversity. It is our responsibility to bring forth histories like Princess Ademola’s and transition the narrative of Black women in Britain from the abstract to the celebrated. Sources: The British Colonial Film Unit and sub-Saharan Africa, 1939–1945 by Rosaleen Smyth (1)

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