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  • 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:

  • 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)

  • 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:

  • Six podcasts to listen to during Black History Month UK 2023 & beyond

    The History Hotline by Deanna Lyncook The History Hotline is a fantastic treasure trove of UK Black history delivered by history scholar Deanna Lyncook. Described as: "A space to have honest conversations about Black history and how it impacts the world we live in. We're here to explore some of the facets of Black history ignored by the mainstream, your teachers and the textbooks." Dope Black Mums The Dope Black Mums podcast exists as a digital safe space for Black women to navigate motherhood together. It's a bi weekly insight into the experience of UK Black mums - with inspirational guests, insightful topics, eye-opening honesty and lots of laughter. It's open to everyone. Whether you identify as a Dope Black Mum, Dad, Woman or Man, if you are raising Dope Black little people or if you would just like to learn more about a different culture or perspective. Say Your Mind Hosted by Kelechi Okafor and broadcast every Monday. The Say Your Mind podcast is a unique and hilarious take on Kelechi's take on Tarot, current events and pop culture sprinkled with bad language and an abundance of straws. Opening her show with a tarot reading before dishing out upbeat life advice to her listeners and blasting the week's most problematic figure in her 'Straw Of The Week' feature. The Receipts The Receipts is a fun, honest podcast hosted by Tolly, Milena and Audrey who are willing to talk about anything and everything. The weekly podcast revolves around issues ranging from relationships and situationships to race and religion and everyday life experiences that listeners have sent in for the hosts to discuss. Well-known personalities feature on the show and the podcast has been nominated for several awards. Plus their The Receipts: Official Slay Spotify list aren't too bad either! Dope Black Dads The Dope Black Dads Podcast is an adult-only podcast for all parents or adults preparing for parenthood. Led by Marvyn Harrison with contributions from the Dope Black Dads leadership as well as a host of special guests from the world of healing, media, parenting, TV/film, music, and beyond. They discuss everything from co-parenting, masculinity, and the Black experience all the way to their favourite Netflix show. Don't listen if you're expecting conversations about nappies! About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge Award winning British journalist and author one-off podcast series is a deep dive into the conversations covered in her book 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People Race. Delivering a deep dive into racial injustice and feminism, expect well-delivered and considered investigations. An educational and entertaining listen, this podcast requires your full attention. Photo credits: The History Hotline. Spotify/Deanna Lyncook

  • Our top reads for Black History Month UK 2023

    Check out our list of books to read and enjoy during this year's Black History Month UK that includes fiction and non-fiction titles. Britons Through Negro Spectacles by Augustus B.C. Merriman-Labour Our book of the month and the perfect companion to this year’s Black History Month UK theme of ‘Before Windrush,’ Part of the Black Britain, Writing Back Complete Collection curated by Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo. Merriman-Labour book was originally published in 1909. It’s a riotous, witty travelogue documenting the authors’ experience in Britain in the early 1900s, from an African perspective. In his book, Augustus narrates a day spent accompanying a newly arrived African friend around London. Part travelogue, part reverse ethnology, and part spoof of books by ill-informed ‘Africa experts.’ He slyly subverts the colonial gaze usually place on Africa, and introduces readers to the citizens, culture and customs of Britain with a mischievous glint in his eye. His jokes at the expense of the British attracted condemnation, and the book’s commercial failure push Augustus into bankruptcy. This incredible work of social commentary feels a century ahead of it time, and provides unique insights into the intersection between empire, race and community at this important moment in history. That Reminds Me by David Owusu The debut novel of David Owusu and the first novel to be published by Stormzy’s publishing imprint, Merky Books, tells the story of K, a boy born to Ghanian parents in London. Baby K is place in foster care and grows up relatively happily, he thinks in the countryside. When K is eleven, he returns to his birth family, and to a very different context of working-class British Ghanaian life in 1990s Tottenham. Slowly he finds friends. Eventually, he finds love. He learns how to navigate the city. But as he grows, he begins to realise that he needs more than the city can provide. He is a man made of pieces. Pieces that are slowly breaking apart. That Reminds Me is the story of one young man, from birth to adulthood, told in fragments of memory. It explores questions of identity, belonging, addiction, sexuality, violence, family and religion. It is a deeply moving and completely original work of literature from one of the brightest British writers of today. Keisha the Sket by Jade LB In 2005, a 13-year-old with no internet wrote a series of stories about life in London’s ends that ended up going viral – then, she disappeared. Now in print for the first time, Keisha the Sket tells the story of sharp, feisty and ambitious girl who been labelled ‘top sket’ but she’s making it work. When childhood crush and long-time admirer, Ricardo, finally wins her over, Keisha has it all: power, a love life and the chance for stability. But trauma comes knocking and with it a whirlwind of choices that will define what kind of a woman she truly wants to be. Complete with essays from esteemed contemporary writers Candice Carty-Williams, Caleb Femi and others, this is the complete and defining edition with edits and additional content from the author, perfect for readers - existing and new - to read and fall in love with over and over again. The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward Yrsa Daley-Ward’s book, The Terrible (subtitled as a ‘storyteller’s memoir’) does not run across the pages like a traditional work of creative nonfiction. She has devised a form that combines first and third person, poetry and prose, upside-down printing, and streams-of-consciousness about sexuality and physicality that sometimes make for difficult reading. Essentially, this is the story of Yrsa, the child of a Jamaican mother and Nigerian father who grows up in a northern English market town with her beloved brother, Little Roo. Early on, she realises that her body is dangerous, and she and Roo are shipped off to live with their Seventh Day Adventist grandparents – something to do with a blue nightdress, and Marcia’s latest boyfriend. The power of sex, and the fear of it, are palpable. The Terrible is a coming-of-age story that follows Yrsa from childhood to the loss of her mother, her love of her brother, her coming out, and her recognition of the ways trauma has caused her to zoom in and out of presence. For those who’ve experienced PTSD, the splits of narrative into poetry make intuitive sense. They enact the experience of being fragmented by something larger than yourself. Of occupying the world as an Other. That Moment When: Life Stories from Way Back Then by Mo Gilligan You might know Mo as the critically acclaimed stand-up comedian, BAFTA-winning presenter, Masked Singer judge and social media mega star. But do you know the moments that really made him? Opening up on the turning points, the good times, the challenges and the lessons learned, this is Mo as you've never seen him before. Journeying through childhood memories in South London, Mo reminisces about school days and old-school raving, and takes us behind the scenes of his first comedy gigs, the creation of the original Geezer, selling out national tours and becoming one of TV's most in-demand stars. Share the moment that Mo decided he wanted to be a comedian, the moment he went viral, the moment he realised he was famous (and how to deal with it), the moment his Netflix special dropped, the moment he won his BAFTA and the moments he still has to come. In among the laugh-out-loud observations, life lessons and candid storytelling, there lies the bigger influences in Mo's life - the unsung heroes of the Black British comedy scene, the power of community and the feel-good legacy he wants to create. The Fraud by Zadie Smith Renowned writer Zadie Smith latest work is her first historical novel and is loosely based around the famous Tichborne Trial of the early 19th century. It’s an interweaving tale of Scottish housekeeper Mrs Eliza Touchet, a once famous novelist William Ainsworth, and star witness Andrew Bogle. Mrs Touchet is a woman of many interests: literature, justice, abolitionism, class, her cousin, his wives, this life and the next. But she is also sceptical. She suspects her cousin of having no talent; his successful friend, Mr Charles Dickens, of being a bully and a moralist; and England of being a land of facades, in which nothing is quite what it seems. Andrew Bogle meanwhile grew up enslaved on the Hope Plantation, Jamaica. He knows every lump of sugar comes at a human cost. That the rich deceive the poor. And that people are more easily manipulated than they realise. When Bogle finds himself in London, star witness in a celebrated case of imposture, he knows his future depends on telling the right story. The 'Tichborne Trial' captivates Mrs Touchet and all of England. Is Sir Roger Tichborne really who he says he is? Or is he a fraud? Mrs Touchet is a woman of the world. Mr Bogle is no fool. But in a world of hypocrisy and self-deception, deciding what is real proves a complicated task. Settlers: Journeys Through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London by Jimi Famurewa Daniel Kaluuya and Skepta; John Boyega and Little Simz; Edward Enninful and Bukayo Saka - everywhere you look, across the fields of sport, business, fashion, the arts and beyond, there are the descendants of Black African families that were governed by many of the same immutable, shared traditions. In his book Jimi Famurewa, a British-Nigerian journalist, journeys into the hidden yet vibrant world of African London. Seeking to understand the ties that bind Black African Londoners together and link them with their home countries, he visits their places of worship, roams around markets and restaurants, attends a traditional Nigerian engagement ceremony, shadows them on their morning journeys to far-flung grammar schools and listens to stories from shopkeepers and activists, artists and politicians. But this isn't just the story of energetic, ambitious Londoners. Jimi also uncovers a darker side, of racial discrimination between White and Black communities and, between Black Africans and Afro-Caribbeans. He investigates the troublesome practice of 'farming' in which young Black Nigerians were sent to live with White British foster parents, examines historic interaction with the police, and reveals the friction between traditional Black African customs and the stresses of modern life in diaspora. This is a vivid new portrait of London, and of modern Britain. Just Sayin’ by Malorie Blackman Malorie Blackman OBE is one of Britain's best loved and most widely-read writers. For over thirty years, her books have helped to shape British culture, and inspired generations of younger readers and writers. The Noughts and Crosses series, started in 2000, sparked a new and necessary conversation about race and identity in the UK, and are already undisputed classics of twenty-first-century children's literature. She is also a writer whose own life has been shaped by books, from her childhood in south London, the daughter of parents who moved to Britain from Barbados as part of the Windrush Generation, and who experienced a childhood that was both wonderful and marred by the everyday racism and bigotry of the era. She was told she could not apply to study her first love, literature, at university, in spite of her academic potential, but found a way to books and to a life in writing against a number of obstacles. This book is an account of that journey, from a childhood surrounded by words, to the 83 rejection letters she received in response to sending out her first project, to the children's laureateship. It explores the books who have made her who she is, and the background to some the most beloved and powerful children's stories of today. It is an illuminating, inspiring and empowering account of the power of words to change lives, and the extraordinary life story of one of the world's greatest writers. Wahala: Three friends, three ‘perfect’ lives. Here Comes Trouble by Nikki May Ronke, Simi and Boo are three mixed-race friends living in London. They have the gift of two cultures, Nigerian and English, though they don't all choose to see it that way. Everyday racism has never held them back, but now in their 30s, they question their future. Ronke wants a husband (he must be Nigerian); Boo enjoys (correction: endures) stay-at-home motherhood; while Simi, full of fashion career dreams, rolls her eyes as her boss refers to her 'urban vibe' yet again. When Isobel, a lethally glamorous friend from their past, arrives in town, she is determined to fix their futures for them. Cracks in their friendship begin to appear, and it is soon obvious Isobel is not sorting but wrecking. When she is driven to a terrible act, the women are forced to reckon with a crime in their past that may just have repeated itself. This is Not America: Why Black Lives in Britain Matter by Tomiwa Owolade Across the West, racial injustice has become a matter of urgency. Terms like 'critical race theory' and 'intersectionality' are everywhere and, in the rush to get it right, Britain has followed the lead of the world's dominant political power: America. But what if we've been looking in the wrong place? In This is Not America, Tomiwa Owolade argues that too much of the debate around racism in Britain is viewed through the prism of American ideas that don't reflect the history, challenges and achievements of black communities at home. Humane, empirical and passionate, this book promises to start a new conversation around race and, vitally, shed light on black British life today.

  • Learie Constantine - was a cricketer, statesman, and Britain's first Black peer

    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. Learie Constantine is the epitome of Black Excellence and a truly modern renaissance man. A gifted sportsperson, civil rights activist, and politician whose life was crammed to the brim with Black Firsts. He was born in the small village of Petit Valley in north-west Trinidad on 21 September 1901, and was the second child of the family and the eldest of three brothers. His father, Lebrun Constantine, was a plantation foreman on a cocoa estate and a famous cricketer who had represented Trinidad and Tobago in the first-class cricket and toured England twice with the West Indian team. All his family loved cricket. His Uncle Victor was also a first-class cricketer who played for both the national and West Indian teams, and a third family member, Constantine’s brother Elias, also played for the national cricket team. Constantine wrote that although his family was not wealthy, his childhood was happy. He spent a lot of time playing in the hills near his home or on the estates where his father and grandfather worked. He enjoyed cricket from an early age, and his family regularly practised together under the supervision of father Lebrun and maternal Uncle Victor Pascall. At school, Constantine showed prowess in several sports and was respected for his cricketing lineage. He played for the school cricket team, which he captained for two years. He developed a reputation as a brilliant all-rounder player but didn’t start playing competitive club cricket until 1920 because his father wanted him to have a professional career. After graduating from school, Constantine joined a firm of solicitors in the Trinidad and Tobago capital city of Port of Spain as a clerk. His father saw this as a possible route into the legal profession for his son. But as a member of the Black lower-middle class, it was unlikely that Constantine would progress far. Since few Black Trinidadians at the that time became solicitors because of the social restrictions they faced due to their ethnicity. The Caribbean (or West Indies as it was known at the time) at the turn of the 20th century was still defined by the racial politics of the plantation slave system. For the millions of people emancipated under the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act their freedom didn’t extend to their political and economic freedom. They were still seen and treated by the state as ‘dependents’ rather than citizens. Restricted from moving up society’s social ladder and forced to eke out a living for themselves. With some even being forced to become wage labourers for former owners. For Constantine, this meant that a possible route into the legal profession didn’t exist. He was destined to be a solicitor’s clerk because he was a member of the Black lower-middle class. Because at the time, few if any Black Trinidadians could become solicitors. Unhappy with the lack of opportunities opened to him because of his colour, Constantine decided to pursue a career in professional cricket and use it as a means of securing a contract with an English cricket team. A talented all-rounder he secured a place on the West Indies Cricket team. And in 1928 he was selected for the team’s tour of England and wowed the crowds with his bowling and batting skills. In one notable all-round innings at the Lord’s Cricket Ground against Middlesex, he took seven wickets and hit 103 runs in just one hour. In fact, he was the first West Indian to take a wicket in a test match and the first person to ever take five wickets in one inning. In his memoirs, Cricket in the Sun (1947), Constantine highlighted the problems of racism in cricket. At that time, West Indies teams were almost invariably captained by a white man and whites-only dances were held after matches with England. It was also widely believed that Lancashire Cricket Club would have offered Constantine a contract was it not for the racial prejudice of some leading members. Constantine’s star performance caught the eyes of several English cricket clubs and whilst still touring he was offered a contract with Nelson in the Lancashire League. He signed an initial three-year contract with Nelson worth £500 per season, plus performance bonuses and travelling expenses. His cricket appearances boosted attendances and gate receipts for all Nelson’s matches and was of great financial benefit to both the club and the League as a whole. In Constantine’s eight seasons at the club, Nelson never finished lower than second, won the league competition six times and the knockout cup twice. “When the Constantine family first came to Nelson in 1929, the rag-and-bone was the only other Black man living in the town. Upon their arrival, they received some welcoming letters from the local people alongside racist and abusive ones. Little kids from the school over the road used to peep in through the windows of Constantine’s house, trying to steal glimpses of their local cricket club’s new pro. They pointed at him in the street, asked him if he’d been working down a mine, whether he could wash it off with soap. While his wife Norma was started at whenever she went shopping.” Constantine rationalised that the main reason for the racism his family experienced was out of ignorance rather than spite. Most, but not all. As he found out when he met Jim Blanckenberg, the South African all-rounder he had replaced. Constantine met Blanckenberg in his first year of playing for Nelson. Thousands of locals had come to watch the talented West Indian play his inaugural match against the East Lancashire side. With everyone looking on, Constantine offered the South African his hand and Blanckenberg turned his back on him. A justifiably furious Constantine then proceeded to take out the entire East Lancashire team in a flurry of deadly spin bowls with Nelson winning the match by four wickets. It was reported that after the game, Blanckenberg stormed into the Nelson’s changing room to complain about the bruises he’d received during the match. Constantine never apologised. By the end of their first summer in Lancashire, Learie was ready to return to the Caribbean, but it was his wife Norma who persuaded him to stay and make a home there. They settled in a prosperous and middle-class area of Nelson, No. 3 Meredith Street, and stayed there for over 20 years, making life-long friends, and becoming part of the community. Constantine went on to play with distinction between 1929 and 1938, while continuing as a member of the West Indies in tours of England and Australia. Sometime in 1933 Constantine published his first of many books, ‘Cricket and I’, with the help of his lodger, the prolific writer and political theorist, fellow Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) national C.L.R. James. James was at the forefront of a growing Caribbean nationalist movement, though Constantine had until then consciously avoided politics. Through James' influence, Constantine realised that his position gave him opportunities to further the cause of racial equality and independence for Trinidad and Tobago. He joined the League of Coloured Peoples, an organisation aiming to achieve racial equality for Black people in Britain. He helped James to get a job with the Manchester Guardian, and in return, James helped Constantine to write his first book. In later years, commentators identified Constantine's book as an important step in Caribbean nationalism, and an encouragement to future authors. For the 1938 cricket season, Constantine played for Rochdale in the Central Lancashire Cricket League, although he continued to live in Nelson. He didn’t enjoy the experience despite performing successfully. The pitches were different from his old league and some of the players were resentful of his earnings. Constantine was paid £812 for a season considerably more than other cricket players at the time. But Constantine was the box office draw who was pulling in the crowds and generating thousands in ticket sales. There was also an incident of racial abuse which Constantine believed the Central Lancashire League committee effectively covered up. This season ended Constantine’s career in the Lancashire Leagues, although during the war he returned to play for Nelson as an amateur. Learie didn’t give up his dream of becoming a solicitor and started studying law by correspondence course while still a professional cricketer. In 1939, he was taken into the family solicitor’s office of Alec Birtwell, a fellow Nelson cricketer. Had the war not intervened he would have become articled to this firm and started his new career in the law. When war broke out in 1939, Constantine choose to stay in Nelson rather than take his family back to the safety of Trinidad. He said: ‘I couldn’t run away. I had got a standard of life in England that I could never have achieved in my country. I had made a lot of friends. England to me stood for something and now that war had started, I would have felt like a little dog to have run away from England.’ At almost 40, he was too old for active service and initially worked as an Air Raid Precautions equipment officer, and a billeting officer for incoming evacuees. Although the war had affectively ended his career in top-class cricket, he continued to play league cricket and appeared in many wartime charity games. In 1941, he was offered the role of Welfare Officer with the Ministry of Labour and National Service, in conjunction with the Colonial Office. He was responsible for looking after the interests of West African seamen in Liverpool, and munitions workers and trainees from the West Indies in the north-west. He was initially based in Liverpool’s famous royal Liver Building and was helped by an assistant, Sam Morris, who was active in the League of Coloured Peoples. During Second World War large numbers of servicemen and women from across the Commonwealth were recruited to help Britain’s war effort. They included RAF pilots from the Caribbean, lumberjacks from Honduras working in terrible, bleak conditions in Scottish forests, and Jamaican technicians who worked in munition factories in and around Merseyside. These new arrivals needed support. Learie Constantine’s long experience of living in England, and his understanding of the prejudices and difficulties they would face, made him the ideal person to help them. Constantine worked closely with trade unions in an attempt to ease the fears and suspicions of white workers. He used his influence with the Ministry of Labour to pressurise companies who refused to employ West Indians, but generally preferred negotiation to confrontation, an approach that was often successful. In a newspaper interview with the Liverpool Echo in August 1954, he recalled how he had to resolve a housing issue between Black and white workers in a gunpowder factory. All the workers at the factory, including the Black workers, were put up in hostels. But some of the white workers ‘objected’ to the Black workers being housed. So, Constantine actually stayed in a hostel to promote understanding between the workers. The ruse worked and the Black workers were ‘permitted’ to stay in the hostels. He also went on to remember a racist incident in which he was accosted in a dance hall of one of the hostels by ‘a man in an American Air Force officers’ uniform. The American officer, who had ‘aggressively shouldered the whole length of the hall’ towards Constantine, yelled at him to ‘get out,’ shouting that ‘where we are’ they did not allow Black people to mix with white. However, it was ‘the aggressor who had to get out.’ Sadly, Constantine was to experience another American fuelled racial incident again in August 1943 when he was booked to play a charity cricket match at Lords. Ahead of the game he booked a four-night stay at Imperial Hotel, London for him and his family. He was reassured in advance that his colour wouldn’t be an issue. Upon arrival, he was denied accommodation for the full stay because management insisted his presence would offend the white American servicemen who were staying in the hotel. The case Constantine v Imperial London Hotels ruled in favour of Constantine and set a precedent on challenging racial discrimination in the court and providing Black people with the legal recourse against some forms of racism. Ironically, the British government had asked Constantine to produce radio broadcasts to West Indies, reporting on the involvement of West Indians in the war effort. As a result, he was often asked to speak on BBC radio about his life in England. His radio performances met with critical acclaim, and he became a frequent guest on radio panel shows; he also took part in a film documentary West Indies Calling in 1943 with Una Marson and Ulric Cross. His wartime experiences caused him to increase his involvement in the League of Coloured Peoples, sometimes referring cases to them. He particularly took up the cause of the children of white women and Black overseas servicemen; these children were often abandoned by their parents. However, plans to create a children's home for them came to nothing, leaving Constantine frustrated. He remained in his post until the summer of 1946, latterly concerned with the repatriation of the West Indian workers at the end of the war. He was awarded an MBE in 1947 for his ‘welfare work’ during wartime. After the second World War, Constantine moved his family to London where he worked as a journalist and broadcaster for the BBC whilst he studied law. To supplement his income and finance his studies, he took a few coaching jobs and wrote several books on cricket including Cricket in the Sun (1947) which covered his career and the racism he had encountered. He qualified as a barrister and was called to the bar by the Middle Temple in 1954. Having turned down an offer in 1947 to return to his old employer, Trinidad Leaseholds, in 1954 Constantine agreed to join the same company as an assistant legal advisor. Before leaving England, he published Colour Bar, a book that criticised not only racial inequality, but also British colonialism and empire. Although not viewed as radical by black audiences, it was aimed at white British readers. The British press gave it mixed reviews and criticised him for unfairness in parts of the book; other critics accused him of communist sympathies. Constantine returned to a country that was clamouring for independence from Britain. Feeling isolated in his job from his largely white colleagues. He gravitated towards the political movement for independence and accepted Eric Williams, leader of the newly founded People’s National Movement (PNM), invitation to become a party chairman and member of executive committee. In 1956, Constantine stood for election and narrowly won the constituency of Tunapuna. The PNM formed a government and Constantine became the Minister of Communications, Works and Utilities. He was a popular and successful politician and played a significant role in securing the country’s independence in 1962. After deciding not to stand for re-election in 1961 he accepted the role of Trinidad and Tobago’s first High Commissioner in London. Constantine returned to England with his wife in 1962. He was knighted the same year becoming Sir Learie Constantine and was given the freedom of the town of Nelson. However, his tenure as High Commissioner ended when he got involved in the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963. Politicians in both Trinidad and Tobago and Britain felt a senior diplomat shouldn’t be so closely involved in British domestic affairs, particularly as he acted without consulting his government. Williams effectively withdrew his support from Constantine, who decided not to continue as High Commissioner when his term expired in February 1964. For the remainder of his life, Constantine lived in London. He returned to legal practice and was elected an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple in 1963. He also resumed work in journalism: he wrote and broadcast on cricket, race and the Commonwealth, and produced two more books: a coaching book The Young Cricketers Companion (1964), and The Changing Face of Cricket (1966) which included his thoughts on modern cricket. By the 1960s, Learie was firmly part of the UK establishment. He was founding member of the Sports Council, sat on the first Race Relations Board constituted under the 1965 Act, was appointed to the BBC's General Advisory Committee in 1966 and became a BBC Governor two years later, and in 1967 was elected Lord Rector of St Andrew’s University. However, he remained a vocal campaigner of racial equality and justice. Whilst on the Race Relations Board, he spoke out against the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, a stance that led to an offer from the Liberal Party, which he declined, to stand as parliamentary candidate for Nelson. Later, he was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate the release, after a military coup, of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the overthrown Prime Minister of Nigeria. In 1969, Learie Constantine became the UK’s first Black peer taking the title ‘Baron Constantine, of Maraval in Trinidad and of Nelson in the County Palatine of Lancaster’. Cementing his place as part of the UK establishment. His life peerage attracted widespread media attention, with Constantine stating: "I think it must have been for what I have endeavoured to do to make it possible for people of different colour to know each other better and live well together." In his last years, Constantine was criticised for becoming part of the Establishment. The new generation of Caribbean immigrants believed he was out of touch and the more radical Black activists disapproved of his conciliatory approach to racist incidents. Even the Private Eye mocked him. Reflecting on Learie Constantine’s impact on British society depends on where you stand; on the cricket field, in a broadcasting studio or in the House of Lords, where Learie was able to sit after becoming a life peer in 1969. Learie Constantine is a towering figure in British Black history. A man of many accolades and achievements. But perhaps CLR James described him best when he wrote of him: "Many doors in England were open to him. That doors were closed to other West Indians seemed more important to him.” Baron Constantine died aged 69 at his home in Hampstead, London on July 1, 1971. He was honoured on both sides of the Atlantic with a state funeral in Trinidad and a memorial service in Westminster Abbey. He was posthumously awarded Trinidad and Tobago's highest honour, the Trinity Cross. Several books have been written about him and he has two Blue Plaques, one erected on his former home in Nelson and an English Heritage Blue Plaque on his former address in Earls Court, London. Sources: Cricket and I by Learie Constantine and CLR James Connie: The Life of Learie Constantine by Henry Pearson Learie Constantine by Gerald Howat Learie Constantine by Peter Mason's%20first%20black%20peer%2C%20Sir,%2C%20Colour%20Bar%20(1954).

  • Kofoworola Abeni Pratt - one of the first Black nurses in the NHS and nursing pioneer in Nigeria

    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. Chief Kofoworola Abeni Pratt Hon. FRCN was born into a wealthy family in Lagos, Nigeria in either 1914 or 1915. She was the second of four children - two girls and two boys - of Augustus Alfred Scott and Elizabeth Omowumi Scott (née Johnson). Her paternal grandmother was the daughter of Chief Taiwo, alias 'Olowo', who became the Olofin of lsheri in Lagos State. Brought up in the Anglican faith, she attended St John's Secondary School and CMS Girls School in Lagos. Kofoworola's desire to work within the nursing profession was fired by a tragic event from her early youth. At the end of the First World War in 1918, an influenza epidemic swept across the globe. The cosmopolitan city of Lagos was ravaged by the infection. One morning, the young Kofoworola wandered into her young sister's room to find her father holding her sister to his chest and crying. Her aunt who was also in the room grasped the young Kofoworola and ordered her to go to the room next door. She later learned that her sister, Ayoka, had died at the tender age of two-and-a-half years from influenza. But Kofoworola's wish to become a nurse was thwarted by her father who felt it wasn't a position befitting of a daughter from the Nigerian elite. At that time, in colonial Nigeria, senior nursing posts were only open to white immigrant British women, with the menial tasks delegated to Nigerians. After passing the Cambridge senior school certificate in 1933, she instead went on to study teaching and returned to her old school to teach British history. From 1936 to 1940, she taught at the CMS Girls School. On 3 January 1941, she married Eugene Samuel Oluremi (Olu) Pratt, a pharmacist for the Colonial Civil Service. Her husband was posted in Enugu, Warri and Forcados, so the couple moved around a lot. Their first son died in infancy and their second son, Babatunde, was born in Lagos in 1943. Unsatisfied with their nomadic lifestyle, her husband moved to London the following year to study to become a doctor. Whilst there Olu Pratt made the introduction for his wife to the matron at St Thomas' Hospital in 1946. The matron accepted her, subject to the arrival of the required documents, which proved to be in order. At that time, it was unusual for a married women from the middle classes to enter the nursing profession. Society norms dedicated that married women stayed at home to raise their family, particularly amongst the middle classes. But Kofoworola’s husband Olu strongly supported his wife’s commitment to nursing and provided an unobtrusive support to her achieving her dream career in nursing. In August 1946, Kofoworola moved to England to study nursing at the Nightingale School at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Her son was left with foster parents in Nigeria while she attended the St Thomas’ Preliminary Training School. Kofoworola arrived to, a London still reeling from the Second World War. St Thomas’ Hospital had been bombed in the war, and so her nursing training took place in temporary quarters across London. During her time at St Thomas’s Hospital, Kofoworola experienced racial discrimination, when a patient refused to be treated by a Black nurse. She was active in the West African Students' Union (WASU), an association of students from various West African countries who were studying in the United Kingdom, and which, in 1942, had called for the independence of Britain's West African colonies. Kofoworola passed her preliminary state exams in 1948 and her finals in 1949, qualifying as a State Registered Nurse on 25 November 1949. Ambitious and driven by learning, she followed her nurse training with a succession of further achievements. She qualified as a midwife (and worked as a midwife), then gained a certificate in tropical medicine. Back in the early 1950s, the Royal College of Nursing ran a ward sister course which she completed before moving into children’s nursing. She worked for the NHS for four years from 1950 to 1954. With the NHS beginning in 1948, she is recognised as one of the first Black women to work in the NHS. Kofoworola is often incorrectly cited as being the first qualified Black nurse to work for the NHS. It seems this first appeared in her biography by Justus A. Akinsanya and was then repeated. Recent research shows that Black nurses worked in the UK prior to the founding of the NHS in 1948, such as Annie Brewster and Princess Ademola. By 1948 trained Black nurses predating Koworola's qualification in 1949, were working for the NHS; however, their stories are under-researched and have only recently come to light such as Lulu Coote. Kofoworola broke through many barriers in her lifetime. She was the first Black student at the Nightingale School for Nurses and later became the first Nigerian-born Chief Nursing Officer in Nigeria. (1) The 1950s also marked another milestone in the lives of the Pratt family with the birth of their third child, a boy they named Olufemi in 1952. He was three months old when his mother decided to take advantage of the Nightingale Fund grant previously offered to her. She completed the Ward Sister’s Day course at the Royal College of Nursing while Femi was cared for by Dr Pratt's cousin, Mrs Akerele. She completed the course and obtained a distinction in the final examination. By now, Dr Pratt had been appointed as medical officer with the Commonwealth Development Corporation and was later posted to the Cameroons. Leaving their family divided between England and the Cameroons. (2) In 1954, Kofoworola returned to a Nigeria still in the grips of British colonial rule. She applied for a post as ward sister at the University College Hospital in Ibadan but was turned down, despite her numerous qualifications and considerable experience as a ward leader in the UK. Colonial Nigeria was managed by the British under a system known as ‘indirect rule.’ Credited to Frederick Lugard who took the idea from the Songhai and Ashanti Empires. Lugard’s interpretation became a political doctrine which held that Europeans and Africans were culturally different to the extent, Africans had to be ruled through the African’s own institutions. In practice, this meant that the African colonies were ruled directly by the Colonial Office in London and an apartheid-style system in which the vast majority of the native populations were condemned to work in menial jobs. At the time, the position of ward sister was only open to white British nurses. Kofoworola fought the decision and with the support of her colleagues at St Thomas’ Hospital got the position. Not surprisingly, the staff weren’t very welcoming and when she arrived at the hospital, she discovered that her accommodation was in a separate block from her white British colleagues. Even more maddening, the professor of medicine wouldn’t let her work on the hospital ward because she was a native Nigerian. However, the matron of the hospital overturned the decision and Kofoworola was moved to a medical ward at the newly built Adeoyo Hospital in Ibadan. When Kofoworola arrived at Adeoyo Hospital was still under construction and she used the opportunity to impose new standards for hygiene, care and nutrition, and reformed the administration of the ward. She was promoted to administrative sister in 1955 and the following year, she returned to London to study for a diploma in hospital nursing administration from the Royal College of Nursing. This transition from white British nurses, doctors, and other professionals and administrators to Nigerians was called “Nigerianisation”. It was a policy of training and posting Nigerians to positions of responsibility previously occupied by white Britons in the public service of the government of Nigeria. The process started and was largely implemented in the 1950s becoming more important as Nigeria marched towards independence in 1960. It was shaped as a fight against racial discrimination and colonialism by Nigerian nationalists. Not surprisingly, when the first independent Nigerian government took power, they had to agree to giving financial compensation to all the white British workers who had lost their jobs to native Nigerians. After becoming the first Nigerian ward sister, Kofoworola, then, successively, the first Nigerian assistant matron, deputy matron, and in 1964, matron, at the top hospital in Nigeria, University College Hospital, Ibadan. Later in 1959, she travelled to the United States, Puerto Rico and Jamaica on a Carnegie Grant to gain broader nursing experience. In the United States, she was impressed by training based at universities. She would later lead in the introduction of university-based training in Nigeria, achieved in 1965. In 1964, Kofoworola was appointed matron at University College Hospital in Ibadan, the first Nigerian nurse to hold that position, which was previously only open to white British nurses when Nigeria was under colonial rule. The following year, she became chief nursing officer in the Nigerian Ministry of Health and was later made commissioner of health for Lagos. (3) Committed to public service and raising the profile of nursing, she helped establish a professional association for nurses in Nigeria and founded a journal, Nigerian Nurse. She led in the establishment of nursing schools and did some of the training herself. There were many broader accomplishments too, which helped cement Kofoworola’s place as a nursing leader of international significance. She led Nigeria’s first delegation to the congress of the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and was the first African to serve as a vice president of the ICN. As an advocate for the rights of women and children, she also headed the Nigerian delegation attending the United Nations’ first world conference on the status of women, held in Mexico City in 1975. (3) And for a decade she was a member of an expert panel that advised the World Health Organization on nursing. (3) In October 2021, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital launched The Kofoworola Abeni Pratt Fellowship for nurses, midwives, and allied health professional from across the Trust who wanted to undertake personal and professional development. The one-year programme and was based in the Nightingale Academy where Kofoworola started her nursing career. Kofoworola has been dubbed the ‘African Florence Nightingale’ and there are certainly many similarities between the two. Both came from middle class backgrounds and were discouraged by their parents to pursue a nursing career. Both fought and overcame the discrimination of the day to pursue their nursing careers and revolutionised the nursing industries in their home countries. Rightly so, Kofoworola is well known throughout Nigeria because of the legacy she left. She’s a role model to the thousands of women who choose to enter the nursing professional in Nigeria each year. And by highlighting her story throughout Black History Month UK we hope that she can inspire Black nurses here in the UK too. In 1979, surely in a full circle moment, Kofoworola was awarded the Florence Nightingale medal by the International Committee of the Red Cross and made an honorary fellowship of the RCN. (3) Kofoworola died in Lagos in 1992. Sources: An African Florence Nightingale by Justus A. Akinsanya (2) (3) (1)

  • 31 ways to celebrate Black History Month UK

    We're challenging everyone to celebrate Black History Month UK in a different way each day of October! International Black History Month is commemorated across the world in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands. We’ve been celebrating it in the United Kingdom since the 1980s and we’re challenging all our supporters to celebrate Black British History in a different way each day of October. Here are 31 ways you can celebrate #BlackHistoryMonthUK this month: 1. Join us and help amplify the voices of Black people living in the UK 2. Support a Black-owned business on Black Pound Day on 1st October 3. Visit the Black Cultural archives in Brixton, London 4. Donate or Sign up to a Black British organisation or charity 5. Host a Black movie night (or marathon if you have the stamina!) 6. Spend time with a Black elder in your community 7. Read a Black British author 8. Host a Black British History Quiz (why not try one of our quizzes) 9. Support the Black British media and press (check out our Black British movies and TV shows recommendations) 10. Sign up to mentor a vulnerable Black child in your community 11. Subscribe to a Black British social media influencer 12. Explore Black History in your local area and don't forget to snap a picture and tag us @bhmuk_landmarks on Instagram 13. Decorate your home in Black art 14. Spread the word on our campaign theme of 'Before Windrush' by sharing any of our campaign videos or making and sharing a post on your social media platform 15. Read the biography of an influential Black figure 16. Schedule some me-time to recharge your batteries if you’re dealing with casual racism at work or any other environments 17. Visit a Black exhibition in your local museum or library 18. Host a Black History Month UK-themed dinner party 19. Engage in healthy conversations about Black British history on social media 20. Suggest a Black author for your book club (check out our top reads for the month) 21. Attend or host a Black culture event in your community (visit our event page for ideas) 22. Study the history of the African diaspora across the globe 23. Contribute a blog to a Black media outlet 24. Try a new African or Caribbean recipe 25. Book a Black History walking tour 26. Donate blood 27. Listen to a podcast by a Black Content provider 28. Explore some Black British music from the past (you can start with our Spotify playlist!) 29. Learn about an unsung Black British hero 30. Register to vote 31. Take on our #BHMFamilies challenge and don't forget to tag us @ibhmuk on Instagram

  • Who were the African Caribbean prisoners of war held in Porchester Castle during the 18th century?

    Portchester Castle has a remarkable history dating back centuries, from Roman fort to Saxon settlement, it has served as a Norman castle and gathering point for medieval kings before crossing the Channel. The castle was used as a prisoner-of-war from the late 17th century onwards. In 2017, the English Heritage revealed that some of these POWs were African-Caribbeans who had been captured whilst fighting France for their liberty from enslavement. But let’s go back to the beginning of this story on the island of St Lucia in the Caribbean. When war between Britain and Revolutionary France erupted in 1793, the overseas colonies belonging to Britain, France and their European allies, including the Caribbean, were also dragged into the war. The many Caribbean islands were much fought over by European powers vying for supremacy. These islands were mainly inhabited by an enslaved African Caribbean population working on European-owned plantations. (1) A French-born revolutionary, Victor Hugues, captured the island of Guadeloupe from Britain in 1794. He then declared an end to slavery and enlisted many former enslaved and free people of mixed race into the French Revolutionary army. Across the Caribbean, men of both African and European descent served in racially integrated military units that fought against Britain – which was still a slave-owning nation – on islands such as St Lucia, St Vincent and Guadeloupe. (1) On 26 May 1796, the French garrison holding Charlotte on St Lucia surrended to British forces commanded. They laid down their weapons and marched out of the fort and onto British ships. The terms of their surrender ensured that they would all be treated as POWs rather than enslaved people. (1) The garrison was made up of largely local African-Caribbean soldiers, with a smaller number of European French soldiers. There were also women and children among them. They were brought across the Atlantic in a convoy of ships, arriving on the Solent as winter began setting in. It would have been a complete culture shock. If the contrasting weather and diet were not bad enough, they were also bullied by European prisoners already being detained in the castle. The women and children were initially held alongside the men but were sent on to Forton Prison in nearby Gosport. Surviving letters show that Dr James Johnston, a Royal Naval Surgeon and one of the prison commissioners tried his best to treat the prisoners with care and consideration, arranging for a special diet and for beer to be flavoured with warming ginger. Notable prisoners included Commander of the Caribs (Garifuna), the indigenous people of the Caribbean, Jean-Louis Marin Pedre was also held alongside his wife, Charlotte, and Captain Louis Delgrès, who later led the resistance of Napoleon’s attempt to re-enslave Guadeloupe and is now honoured as a national hero at the Panthéon in Paris. Among the more charismatic rebels was Jean-Louis Marin Pèdre who was a free-born property owner. He had been driven into armed opposition to the British by the behaviour of the then governor of St Lucia who had detained hundreds of people arbitrarily, demanding money for their release. After his surrender to the British, Pèdre found himself detained in Portchester Castle – alongside his wife Charlotte. But the most famous POW was Captain Louis Delgrès, who later became leader of the resistance movement in Guadeloupe, fighting the reinstatement of slavery by Napoleon. He and his followers died in horrible circumstances in 1802. Facing defeat, he ignited his gunpowder stores knowing that they all would be killed but it would also kill many French soldiers. By the end of 1797, most of the PoWs appear to have been dispersed, with some going on to form part of a battalion of Black pioneers which saw action in France, Italy and Russia. Some even ended up fighting for the British navy. Sources: (1)

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