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  • 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.

  • Kemi Badenoch - the right-wing MP who could become the first Black leader of the Conservative party

    Black History Month UK 2022 'Sharing Journeys' campaign - In the first of our history in the making articles, we'll be exploring the life and career of the cabinet minister, Kemi Badenoch. Kemi Badenoch was born Olukemi Olufunto Adegoke on 2 January 1980 in Wimbledon, London, to Femi and Deyi Adegoke. Her father was a GP and her mother a professor of physiology. She spent her childhood growing up on both sides of the Atlantic where her psychology professor mother had lecturing jobs. Life became increasingly hard for her family when Nigeria was thrown into political chaos after a military coup in the early eighties. The country was racked with financial ruin and severe human rights abuses. The Nigerian naira was devalued and the country was temporarily suspended from the Commonwealth for executing nine environmentalists including Nobel prize nominee Ken Saro-Wiwa. Living in such dire conditions, Badenoch’s father took the difficult decision to send her to the UK. She recalls: that Nigeria’s currency had suddenly become worth 10% of what it had been and “my Dad [had to] spend several months’ pay on my ticket. We went to the travel agent with all his savings stuffed in a plastic carrier bag. He had £100 left when he’d paid for my ticket, and he gave it to me to take to England. So that’s all I had when I arrived.” “But I was so excited. When I saw my British passport it was like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. It was amazing, a very special privilege to be a citizen of this country. Many people use citizenship as an international travel document, but to me it was much more than that. I think of this country with affection, feeling, loyalty. Its values make it special.” At the age of 16, Badenoch returned to the UK to stay with her mum’s best friend in Wimbledon. Whilst studying for her A Levels at Phoenix College in south London she worked at Mcdonald’s and other jobs. She told the Times of her time at McDonald’s: “You would have people from college who would turn up and laugh at me because I was there with my hat and badge and I didn’t have any stars. But it was what I had to do. I didn’t have money. My parents weren’t here and I was living with family friends. So I had a roof over my head, but I needed to earn to live. There’s dignity that you just get from working and earning your own money.” After graduating from Sussex University with a degree in computer systems engineering, she worked for Logica, claiming she was “once the only woman on a building site with 300 men!” She then moved on to work for the Royal Bank of Scotland as a system analyst before pursuing a career in banking. She became an associate director at the private bank Coutts from 2006 to 2013. Developing an interest in law and politics, she began studying law at Birbeck, University of London and completed her LLB in 2009. She then took the tentative steps to move into politics while working as a director of the digital department at the influential right-wing magazine The Spectator. In 2015, she became a member of the National Assembly, going on to retain her seat in the Assembly in the 2016 election. Badenoch joined the Conservative party in 2005 and spent several years trying to get elected to Parliament. A year after being elected to the National Assembly, she was shortlisted by the Conservative Party for a marginal seat in the Hampstead and Kilburn consistency in the 2017 general election. She was unsuccessful but was ultimately selected as a Conservative candidate for Saffron Waldon, a safe seat for the Tories, which she held with 37,629 votes and a majority of 24,966. In her maiden speech as an MP on 19 July, she described the vote for Brexit as “the greatest vote of confidence in the project of the United Kingdom” and cited her personal heroes as Conservative politicians Winston Churchill, Airey Neave, and Margaret Thatcher. In July 2019, Badenoch joined Boris Johnson’s government as a junior minister in the role of Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Children and Families). She bounced around several junior ministerial roles before being promoted to Minister of State for Equalities; and appointed Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Within days of her appointments, the latter title was renamed “Minister of State for Levelling Up Communities.” Her tenure as Minister of State for Equalities was sometimes mired in controversy. During a debate in the House of Commons in April 2021, Badenoch criticised the Labour Party’s response to a report compiled by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities which declared Britain was not institutionally racist. Labour had described the report as “cherry-picking of data”, while the party’s former frontbench MP Dawn Butler claimed the report was “gaslighting on a national scale”, describing those who put it together as “racial gatekeepers”. Badenoch accused Labour of "wilful misrepresentations" over the report and responded to Butler's comments by stating "It is wrong to accuse those who argue for a different approach as being racism deniers or race traitors. It's even more irresponsible, dangerously so, to call ethnic minority people racial slurs like Uncle Toms, coconuts, house slaves or house negroes for daring to think differently." In a Black History Month debate in the House of Commons in October 2020, she reiterated the government's opposition to primary and secondary schools teaching white privilege and similar "elements of critical race theory" as uncontested facts. ConservativeHome readers voted Badenoch's speech on critical race theory 2020 'speech of the year', in which she said that any school that teaches "elements of political race theory as fact, or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law". Badenoch has been dubbed the UK’s Candace Owens by her critics on the left because of her controversial opinions on race and equality. Shortly after her appointment as Minister of State for Equalities 2021, Vice News said they had received leaked audio from 2018 in which Badenoch mocked gay marriage, referred to trans women as "men" and used the term transsexual which is considered offensive by some trans people. During the comments reportedly made in her Commons office in 2018, Ms Badenoch is alleged to have said: “Now it’s not just about being free to marry who you want, you now want to have men using women’s bathrooms.” Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner labelled the remarks “disgusting” and LGBT charity Stonewall said the comments were “hurtful and harmful”. In response, a government spokesperson said: “The 2018 comment has been taken out of context, with the Minister making a clear point about striking the balance for equality and fairness when there are multiple and often competing demands between different groups. It should not be used to misrepresent her views.” Tipped as a possible contender in the run-up for the Conservative Party leadership election in 2019. She instead supported the campaign of Michael Gove. Twenty-five months later, after the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, she threw her hat into the ring. Ranked as an outsider, she campaigned on the “anti-woke” platform and small government pitch becoming the new darling of the right of the Tory party. "I came to this country aged 16 and now I am standing for prime minister - isn't that amazing? I was born in this country but I didn't grow up here… And I don't understand why people want to ignore all of the good things and only focus on the bad things and use the bad things to tell the story." According to The Sunday Times, Badenoch entered the race as “a relatively unknown minister for local government” but “within a week emerged as the insurgent candidate to become Britain’s next prime minister". On 16 July, a ConservativeHome survey found Badenoch to be the favoured candidate of members by a double-digit margin. She was eliminated in the fourth round of voting, winning 59 votes in that round, the fewest of the four remaining candidates. On the 6th September, Kemi Badenoch was appointed Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade. It is her first cabinet post and she’s tipped to take another shot at the top job when the time comes. “Running doesn’t have to mean winning,” said one admiring MP, who backed Liz Truss for the leader. “Running means getting ready to win later.” Sources:

  • Lapido Solanke - was a political activist and founder of the influential WASU

    Black History Month UK 2022 'Sharing Journeys' campaign - exploring the lives of Britons with West African heritage Chief Lapido Solanke was born Oladipo Felix Solanke in the Yoruba town of Abeokuta, in southwest Nigeria around 1886. He was the second child and only son of Adeyola Ejiwunmi and her husband, who had adopted the name of Paley from the Scottish missionary who had raised him. He was educated at St Andrew’s Training Institution in Oyo, Nigeria, and then later went to Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone to obtain a bachelor’s degree in 1922. Later that year he travelled to England, to complete his legal studies at University College London (1923-8) and subsequently qualified as a barrister. Colonial Britain was not a very welcoming place for students from African and Caribbean nations. Students often faced racism, harassment, and various other forms of discrimination daily. Consequentially, some students sort to culturally adapt to their new and hostile environment. A proud Yoruba from Western Nigeria, Solanke was shocked by the lack of interest his fellow Nigerian students displayed towards their heritage whilst in London. He took up teaching the Yoruba language to raise additional funds and for a time he worked as a teacher of Yoruba at London University. He also performed Yoruba poetry and in June 1924, he became the first person to broadcast on the radio in Yoruba. Under the moniker, Omo Lisabi, he made some of the first Yoruba records for Zonophone in 1926. His voice was popular on the radio, where he utilised the Yoruba language to dish out propaganda against colonial rule. He produced and distributed leaflets, written in English and Yoruba, which caused panic within the ranks of the British colonial establishment. But he felt that a greater effort was needed to tackle the racism and discrimination his fellow West African students experienced. Spurred on by his experiences of poverty and racism, he and twelve other students founded the Nigerian Progress Union the next month in July 1924. With the encouragement and help of Amy Ashwood Garvey (the first wife of Marcus Garvey and leading Pan-Africanist) to promote the welfare of Nigerian students. Solanke’s career as an activist and political organiser began after he successfully launched a public complaint against the 1924 Empire Exhibition in Wembley. The £20 million exhibition was created to strengthen ties within its “Empire”, stimulate trade and demonstrate “Britain’s greatness at home and abroad after WW1” by displaying the “exotic cultures of the British Empire.” It was a very popular event, attracting 27 million visitors over six months. One display, incredibly, presented a model African village with West Africans on display as curios. Offensive press coverage of the village implied the participants were “cannibals”, with an article in the Evening News (today’s Evening Standard) even claiming that “cannibalism and black magic” had been common in Nigeria until recent years. He wrote to the weekly news magazine 'West Africa' to complain and his close friend Amy Ashwood Garvey backed his protest too. As a representative of the Union of Students of African Descent, a precursor to the WASU, Solanke protested against this willful misrepresentation of African people and their customs. In a series of letters, he reminded the colonial authorities that countries like Nigeria had contributed thousands of pounds to an event where African cultures were, in his words, routinely held up to “public ridicule.” His complaint gained enough support to secure the closure of “the African Village” for the remainder of the season. The racism espoused at the exhibition mirrored the daily reality of African students in Britain at the time. These were students from elite families, who had received a European education in their home countries to train them for positions in the colonial administration. Their familiarity with British culture jarred with the hostile reception they received on arrival, where they were frequently barred from accommodation or abused in the streets – experiences that became known as “the colour bar”. This wave of students had come of age in an intellectual climate shaped by an emerging pan-African consciousness. Fundamentally, they did not see themselves as inferior to the colonial powers and expected to take the reins of government when they returned home. So not surprisingly, in this atmosphere, Solanke joined forces with Dr. Bankole-Bright in 1925 and founded the West African Student’s Union (WASU). The next year the organisation began publishing its journal, WASU, with many of the articles written by Solanke himself. While a donation from Jamaican political activist Marcus Garvey, who supported the students’ pan-Africanist ideals, provided the fledgling organisation with its first temporary premises in 1928. Solanke spent the next four years traveling in west Africa to raise funds for the union and establish WASU branches across Britain’s west African colonies—Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia. Whilst on the fundraising tour of West Africa, he met and married his wife Opeolu in 1932. Together they returned to Britain, and he became the warden of the WASU hostel that opened in Camden Town in 1933. Because of this tour, WASU branches were formed throughout the region, and Solanke and WASU were able to establish significant political contacts with anti-colonial forces in West Africa, and provide the link between them and the anti-colonial movement in Britain. Solanke also completed a further fundraising tour of West Africa during 1944–8, before the opening of WASU’s third London hostel at Chelsea Embankment in 1949. Solanke’s activities on behalf of WASU periodically brought him into conflict with the Colonial Office and sometimes with other black leaders in Britain. However, as WASU secretary-general, he was also able to establish the union as a significant anti-colonial and anti-racist organisation in Britain. During the Second World War Solanke established closer relations between WASU and several leading members of the Labour Party’s Fabian Colonial Bureau, including Reginald Sorensen, who subsequently became godfather to one of his children. Because of these links, they established a West African parliamentary committee, with Labour MPs as members, which enabled WASU to act as a more effective parliamentary pressure group. During the 1950s, due to political differences within WASU, Solanke was gradually marginalised from the central role he had once enjoyed. He continued to run a student hostel in London and formed his breakaway organisation, WASU Un-incorporated, which he led until he died in 1958. Under Solanke’s leadership, WASU became the main social, cultural, and political focus for West Africans in Britain for just over twenty-five years. It served as a training ground for many future political leaders, including Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, and Nigeria’s H.O Davies, and played an important role in agitating for an end to colonial rule in Britain’s West African colonies. Sadly, Solanke died two years before Nigeria gained its independence on the 1st October 1960. He died of lung cancer at the National Temperance Hospital, St Pancras, London, on 2 September 1958. His funeral and burial took place on 6 September at Great Northern London cemetery, Southgate. Sources:

  • John La Rose - was a writer, publisher & political organiser who changed the lives of Black Britons

    Black History Month UK 2022 'Sharing Journeys' campaign - exploring the lives of Britons with Caribbean heritage John La Rose was a poet, essayist, publisher, and political activist. Described by British poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson, as a ‘beacon in the political and cultural life of Britain for 45 years.’ He was a stalwart of Black struggle in Britain who fought for social and racial justice, and the empowering of minority communities to put an end to racial oppression. La Rose was born in Arima, Trinidad, on 27 December 1927. At nine, he won a scholarship to the prestigious St Mary’s College in Port of Spain, where he later taught before becoming an insurance executive. He later also taught in Venezuela. Culture, politics and trade unionism were central to his vision of change. He was acutely aware of the link between cultural expression and politics of the working classes through their folk language, stories and other art forms. He was an executive member of the Youth Council in Trinidad and produced their fortnightly radio programme, Noise of Youth, for Radio Trinidad. In the mid-1950s, he co-authored, with the calypsonian Raymond Quevedo (Atilla the Hun), a pioneering study of calypso entitled Kaiso: A Review (republished in 1983 as Atilla's Kaiso). He joined a Marxist study group; and became an active member of the Federated Workers Trade Union (FWTU) holding meetings throughout the oil belt of southern Trinidad. In 1952 the FWTU, joined by other radicals, formed the West Indian Independence Party and John was appointed its General Secretary- contesting a seat in Arima, his home town, in the 1956 elections. In 1958, he left Trinidad for Venezuela, where he worked as a teacher and in 1961 left for Britain. One of John's favourite sayings was "We didn't come alive in Britain," an allusion to the struggles that had been waged by Caribbean peoples in the Caribbean against colonialism and for workers' and people's power. His political and anti-colonial activities in Trinidad and Venezuela - part of what he later described as his "Life Experience with Britain" outside Britain - prepared him well for the political struggles he embraced in the UK concerning education, workers' rights, publishing, policing and immigration. In 1966, he co-founded New Beacon Books, with his partner Sarah White, a specialist Caribbean publisher, bookseller and international book service. That it has stood the test of time, despite the demise of so many alternative bookshops in the UK, and remains to this day. In the same year, he also helped to found the Caribbean Artists Movement, which launched the careers of many of the greatest Caribbean artists, writers and filmmakers. During the 1960s, John became concerned about the poor education Black children were receiving in school and ran from his home the George Padmore supplementary school which went on, in 1975, to expand into a Black Parents’ Movement. There was hardly an important Black issue that John was not involved in, agitating over or bringing to public notice. His achievements read like a potted history of Black struggle itself. For example, from 1972-73 he was chair of the Institute of Race Relations and Towards Racial Justice which published the radical campaigning journal Race Today, edited by Darcus Howe; during that time in 1973 he also made a short film on the Mangrove 9 trial; in 1981 he joined the New Cross Massacre Action Committee; and in 1990 he co-founded the European Action for Racial Equality and Justice. John was also involved in the Black Education Movement in the 1960s, particularly in the struggle against banding, and the placing of largely Caribbean children in schools for the educationally sub-normal (ESN). He started the George Padmore Supplementary School in 1969, the first such school in London, to provide Caribbean children with a decent education. Starting with his own sons around the kitchen table, later to be joined by their friends, La Rose discovered the limitations of the content of the schooling Black children were receiving and especially the low expectations teachers had of Black children. He decided that, if Black parents did not take steps to repair the damage schools were doing to children, underachievement and a lack of belief in their own ability would come to characterise the schooling experience of Caribbean children. He was also one of the founders of the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association which drew national attention to the ESN crisis in 1971 by publishing Bernard Coard’s groundbreaking How the West Indian Child Is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System (1971). He was also instrumental in the founding of the National Association of Supplementary Schools in the 1980s and was its chair for a couple of years. In his 2006 obituary, the Independent newspaper said ‘‘This groundbreaking little book propelled the development of the supplementary school movement. But successive governments continued to ignore the achievement of these schools. It was only in this Labour government's first term that the education establishment acknowledged that "Saturday" schools had been providing for years the kind of service that Tony Blair was promoting as part of his raising-achievement agenda, through homework centres, Easter colleges and the rest.’’ In 1975, he founded the Black Parents Movement after a Black schoolboy was beaten up by police outside his school in Haringey. Together with concerned parents, they campaigned against police injustice and advocated for a decent education for Black children. The Black Parents Movement later allied with the Black Youth Movement, the Black Students Movement and the journal of the Race Today Collective a breakaway from the Institute of Race Relations, which La Rose had chaired a few years earlier. This alliance became the most powerful cultural and political movement organised by Caribbean people in Britain. It led the national response to the massacre of 13 young Black people in a fire in Deptford in January 1981. The New Cross Massacre Action Committee, chaired by La Rose, organised a Black People's Day of Action on 2 March 1981, an event that brought some 25,000 people to command the streets of London in protest. John was the chair of the action committee and gave tremendous support to the bereaved families. John was also part of many organisations focusing on international concerns. As early as 1966, he was a founding member of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and a national council member of this important anti-war movement. Sixteen years later, in 1982, he helped to found Africa Solidarity, supporting the struggle against dictatorship and tyranny in Africa, and he also became Chairman of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya. Alarmed by the rise of fascism and xenophobia in 80s Europe, he helped to found European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice in 1989, bringing together anti-racists and anti-fascists from Belgium, Italy, France and Germany. Perhaps, one of his greatest achievements was the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books (1982-95), organised jointly with Bogle L'Ouverture Books and Race Today Publications. The first book fair was held at Islington Town Hall in London in March 1982, with Trinidadian historian C.L.R James giving the opening address. Bringing together publishers, writers and artists from across five continents, the fair exposed a wide range of radical black books to a huge European audience and provided a forum for sharing information about political struggles all over the world. La Rose was a joint director with Jessica Huntley of the book fair and, after the withdrawal of Bogle L'Ouverture, its sole director. In the call to the first book fair, John wrote: "This first international book fair of radical Black and Third World books is intended to mark the new and expanding phase in the growth of the radical ideas and concepts and their expression in literature, politics, music, art and social life." The book fair was, indeed, "a meeting of the continents for writers, publishers, distributors, booksellers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and people who inspire and consume their creative productions". Incredibly, he also found time to edit the half-yearly journal New Beacon Review and to write essays and poems. He published two volumes of poetry, Foundations (1966) and Eyelets of Truth Within Me (1991). In 1991, realising how important it was to record and chart the Black history that he and others had made in Britain, John, with his partner Sarah White, founded the George Padmore Institute to act as an archive, library and education research centre. In it, you’ll find materials relating to the Caribbean, African and Asian communities in Britain and continental Europe. The institute stands as a monument to another giant in the anti-colonial movement. Padmore, also from Trinidad, played a pivotal role in the influential fifth Pan-African Congress held in Manchester in 1945. It was this conference that spurred the Caribbean independence movement that so preoccupied the young John La Rose. John La Rose died of a heart attack on the 28th February 2006. This truly remarkable man transformed the lives of Black Britons, smashing down the doors and paving the way for generations of Black Britons to walk any path they desire in life. La Rose was a renaissance man who could have been anything he wanted but as writer and poet Linton Kwesi Johnson wrote: ‘He was a man who dreamed of changing the world.’ Sources: John La Rose. (2022, July 30). In Wikipedia.

  • Caribbean Artist Movement: pushed the boundaries of what was considered to be art

    George Lamming famously observed that it was in the UK that he and other intellectuals of the Windrush generation first “became Caribbean.” It was the place where island peoples found one another and reflected on their shared experiences in the face of an often-harsh reception in their ‘mother country.’ In the 1950s and 1960s, England was the place where artists came together from the newly formed “Commonwealth”. One crucial gathering was the formation of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) in London in 1966. An important moment that influenced events in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Like the Harlem Renaissance that emerged in New York during the 1920s and 1930s, CAM was a diverse collection of writers, critics and artists who were interested in developing a modern Caribbean aesthetic -an aesthetic that explored colonial histories as well as defining a newly formed Black British identity. The movement was co-founded by Edward Kamau Brathwaite, the Barbadian-born historian and poet who came to Britain to complete a doctorate; Andrew Salkey, the Jamaican-born academic and broadcaster; and the political and cultural activist Trinidadian-born John La Rose. In 1968, Brathwaite wrote about CAM’s origins, dating them back to a small informal meeting held on 19 December 1966 in his London flat in Mecklenburgh Square: “What was to become the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) started in December 1966 in my Bloomsbury basement flat. I had recently arrived from the Caribbean on study leave to Britain, and as a writer myself, wanted, quite naturally, to get in touch with as many Caribbean artists as possible. But where were they? The novelists’ books were being regularly published; at the Commonwealth Arts Festival I had seen work by a few painters, designers and sculptors from the Caribbean; but no one seemed to know how to get in touch with them.” They were concerned that many Caribbean writers and artists were being marginalised and did not have the opportunity to meet up and discuss their work and interests. And so set out to create a forum to allow creative folks of any ilk to meet informally. As stated by the George Padmore Institute: CAM was inclusive rather than exclusive and essentially open to anyone who wanted to share and understand the needs and aspirations of Caribbean artists. The membership of CAM ranged from the illustrious titans of Caribbean creativity to new and upcoming artists. These included such eminent figures of the Caribbean arts as novelist, critic and historian C L R James, author of one of the very early West Indian novels, Minty Alley, novelist and poet Wilson Harris, and Pearl Connor, theatrical agent and activist. Among the CAM members representing the visual arts was distinguished sculptor Ronald Moody (younger brother of Dr Harold Moody), painter Aubrey Williams and textile designer, Althea McNish. Less established names at the time comprised the likes of Karl ‘Jerry’ Craig, Art Derry and Clifton Campbell, and younger emerging artists included Paul Dash, Winston Branch, Errol Lloyd, Winston Benn, and performance poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. In its intense six-year existence, it set the dominant trends in Caribbean arts, at the same time forging a bridge between Caribbean migrants and those who came to be known as Black Britons. The first CAM conference was held in 1967 in London, and a subsequent conference at the University of Kent in 1969. The work of CAM members was first brought to the British public eye by the BBC in the Caribbean edition of the magazine programme Full House, produced by John La Rose and transmitted on 3 February 1973, in which the work of writers, musicians and film-makers was presented in a studio setting of visual artists' work brought together by CAM member Althea McNish. CAM public sessions included such varied topics as ‘Africa’s Unique Dance Culture’ presented by John Akar, founder of the Sierra Leone Dance Company, and ‘Film as an Artistic Medium’, featuring Evan Jones and Horace Ové. Léon Damas of French Guiana was the subject of the first of three public sessions concerned with major poets from the French-speaking West Indies, followed by a focus on the more celebrated poets Aimé Césaire and Léopold Senghor of the Négritude movement in Paris of the 1930s. In ‘The Role and Nature of African Drumming’, Femi Fatoba, Nigerian musician, poet and actor and Tony Evora, Cuban musician and graphic designer, spoke about and played the tonal drums of the Yoruba as played in Fatoba’s homeland and as transferred to the Caribbean. Caribbean art and the social role of its proponents would go on to be explored through CAM seminars, workshops, readings, exhibitions and a newsletter. Among the popular venues was the Keskidee Centre, off the Caledonian Road, in Islington. Brathwaite’s momentous reading of his epic poem Rights of Passage at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre in Holborn, articulating the experiences of West Indian migrants in Britain using the rhythms of everyday speech, set the tone of what was to come. “It was a tremendously exciting reading,” recalled Sarah White (partner of John La Rose). “People had never heard of anybody like Eddie as British poets didn’t have that performance tradition in those days.” The high points of the CAM programme were undoubtedly its conferences. These involved distinguished speakers such as the writers CLR James and Michael Anthony, university lecturers and critics Kenneth Ramchand and Louis James, and painters Aubrey Williams and Clifton Campbell. At the first conference, a keynote was presented by Elsa Goveia, professor of West Indian history at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, on ‘The Socio-Cultural framework of the Caribbean’. Also present were representatives from British mainstream publishing houses such as Heinemann, Faber, Macmillan and Longman. Members of the audience – apart from writers, artists, actors, critics and university teachers, many affiliated to CAM – were students of drama and medicine, literature and history, alongside teachers, librarians and academics from several Commonwealth countries as far afield as Ghana, Nigeria, Canada and Australia. Like all CAM events, these conferences were tape-recorded for posterity. Together with the CAM newsletter, these tape recordings proved an invaluable source of information for Anne Walmsley, then Longman’s Caribbean publisher. She was introduced to CAM by Kamau Brathwaite, one of whose poems she had included in her West Indian schools’ anthology, The Sun’s Eye. Although she attended several public meetings, the first conference at the University of Kent at Canterbury provided her first full CAM experience. She was so impressed by what she saw and heard that she wrote accounts of this and the second conference for BIM, the Barbados magazine, and much later wrote a comprehensive documentary history of CAM. The Caribbean Artists Movement, 1966–1972: A Literary and Cultural History, published in 1992 and is still available from New Beacon Books, includes biographical information about the participants as well as colour plates of the sculpture and paintings of the CAM artists, together with numerous black and white photographs of individuals and events; this seminal publication affords an invaluabe insight into the Movement and the life and times of the period. In 1972 CAM ceased as a formal organisation as some of its leading lights left Britain for good. The 1971 Immigration Act also put a stop to the wave of Caribbean migrants and signalled the arrival in the public consciousness of the “born here, here to stay” generation of Black Britons. In October 2007, a retrospective of the movement’s work was held at gallery:space in Finsbury Park. The exhibition titled ‘Visions of Consciousness’, co-curated by Shiri Shalmy, aimed to show CAM’s “secret history” by displaying the work of visual artists from the movement, photographic records, film and original books. The event was attended by former members of CAM, including renowned children’s author and illustrator, Errol Lloyd. “I was self-taught and worked in isolation until I was introduced to Caribbean Artists Movement,” he says. “I met older artists like the sculptor Ron Moody and they acted like role models for me. From there my work developed.” CAM is acknowledged as being particularly significant in helping to “spark interest in the work of Britain’s artists of colour”. A number of later events and organisations, such as the International Book Fairs of Black, Radical and Third World Books, and the formation of Bogle L’Ouverture Publications and Creation for Liberation, all recognise the great impact of the movement on their work. More recently, artworks by Ronald Moody, Aubrey Williams and Winston Branch have been acquired by the Tate, with the intention of shining a brighter light on Caribbean-born British Black modernist artists, and the instrumental work of CAM. “The Caribbean Artists Movement pushed the boundaries of what was considered to be art. [But] above all, it established what Caribbean art was.” Sources: Photo Credit: This photograph, entitled The Lime, captures Samuel Selvon, John La Rose and Andrew Salkey. Horace Ové / National Portrait Gallery, London. Image made available under Public Domain Mark from British Library.

  • Google Doodle pays tributes to Amanda Aldridge, British opera singer and composer

    Amanda Aldridge was a British opera singer and prolific composer of romantic 'parlour music.' On the 17th June, Google Doodle celebrated British composer, teacher and opera singer Amanda Aldridge. She released over thirty songs and dozens of instrumental tracks under the pseudonym Montague Ring. On this day in 1911, Amanda Aldridge gave a piano recital at London's pre-war principal concert venue, Queens Small Hall, the original home of the BBC Symphony and London Philharmonic Orchestras. Amanda was born the daughter of Ira Aldridge, a Black American Shakespearean actor and Swedish opera singer in 1866, London. Showing her own musical prowess at a young age, Aldridge pursued a career as a vocalist at London’s Royal Conservatory of Music, where she studied under eminent Swedish soprano Jenny Lind. Aldridge’s singing career was soon cut short by a throat injury, but her talents only continued to grow as a vocal teacher, piano player and composer. Exploring her mixed ethnic heritage through the lens of music, Aldridge combined various rhythmic influences and genres together with poetry from Black American authors to create romantic Parlour music, a popular genre performed in the livingrooms of middle-class homes. Aldridge’s 1913 piano composition “Three African Dances,” inspired by West African drumming, became her most famous piece. In addition to her compositions, she taught civil rights activist Paul Robeson and one of America’s first great opera singers, Marian Anderson. Aldridge composed love songs, sambas, and orchestral pieces into her old age, garnering international attention for her fusion of musical styles. At 88, Aldridge appeared for the first time on television on the British show “Music for You,” introducing a new generation to her classic compositions.

  • Jessica Huntley - political reformer, women's rights activist and pioneering British publisher

    Black History Month UK 2022 'Sharing Journeys' campaign - exploring the lives of Britons with North and South American heritage Jessica Huntley was born in the Latin American country of Guyana (formerly known as British Guiana) in the small village of Bagotstown in 1927. She was the only daughter and youngest of five children of James Carroll and his wife, Hectorine. When her father died, she was just three years old, and her family had to move to the low-income area of Charlestown in the county’s capital Georgetown. Despite the hardships of living in a tenement yard, her mother strove to instil the values of independence, discipline, justice, and loyalty in Jessica and her siblings. Jessica showed early academic promise, and a talent for public speaking, but financial constraints meant that she left secondary school before sitting exams. She took evening classes in shorthand and typing, skills that enabled her to find a job in a garment factory with the promise of a clerical position. Instead, she chose to side with the exploited women on the shop floor, articulating their grievances to the management. That instinct to confront situations of injustice and discrimination remained with her throughout her life. In 1948, she met Eric Huntley, a postal worker active in the trade unions. They married in 1950 and their sons, Karl (named after Marx) and Chauncey, were born in the subsequent two years. The marriage was underpinned by political involvement, whether in the village of Buxton, where they initially lived, or at a national level. In January 1950, Jessica Huntley co-founded the first national government of Guyana, elected through mass suffrage, alongside Leaders Cheddi Jagan, Janet Jagan, Eric Huntley, Eusi Kwayana, and Ford Burnham, and other members of the People’s Progressive Party. She was appointed as the organizing secretary of the PPP and stood as a candidate in the April 1953 general election, but was not elected. In May of the same year, Jessica co-founded the Women's Progressive Organisation to represent women's issues in the PPP's fight for national liberation. The party’s radical social reforms to transform the Guyanese economy and improve living standards of its working classes unnerved its neighbours in North America and drew ire from the colonial British government. Six months into their administration, the colonial British government sent in troops to remove the democratically elected government, claiming there was a threat of a Marxist revolution. In October 1953, the British suspended the constitution and instituted a state of emergency. Her husband Eric, and other PPP members, were arrested for minor misdemeanours and imprisoned for a year. General elections were held in 1957, by which time the PPP had split into two factions, which competed against each other at the elections; the PPP faction led by Jagan won nine seats, whilst the Burnham-led PNC faction won three. Disillusioned and unable to find permanent employment after his release, Huntley’s husband Eric left Guyana and travelled to Britain in 1957 to study. While Jessica became the organising secretary of the PPP and was persuaded to stand as a candidate for election. Her defeat, despite popular backing, freed her to join her husband in England in April 1958. Once in the UK, Jessica continued her activism, mainly through the power of publishing. When, in October 1968, the Guyanese radical historian Walter Rodney was banned from re-entering Jamaica to resume his post at the University of the West Indies, after attending a conference in Canada, the Huntleys were among those who mobilised support in the UK. Spurred on by this, they founded the ground-breaking publishing house Bogle-L'Ouverture Limited which was named after black revolutionaries Paul Bogle and Toussaint L’Ouverture. Later opening a bookshop under the same name. Rodney's The Groundings With My Brothers (1969) was the first title to be published by BLP, which also published his influential work How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972). They went on to publish and popularise Maya Angelou, George Jackson, Valerie Bloom, Frantz Fanon and first published the poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson and Lemn Sissay. Their small radical publishing house was initially located in the living room of their home at Coldershaw Road in West Ealing until the council objected. A vacant site in a local cul-de-sac was instead set up as a bookshop, and – despite racist attacks on the building by the National Front – remained open for 18 years, renamed the Walter Rodney Bookshop in 1980 after his assassination. The place soon became a visitors’ hotspot, central focus for Black and migrant communities, becoming an informal drop-in advice centre and hosting poetry readings, book launches and school workshops. On 13th June 1980, Guyanese historian, political activist and academic, Walter Rodney was killed by a bomb in his car which had been planted by Gregory Smith, a member of the Guyana Defence Force. The radical Black movement in the UK, including Bogle L’Ouverture Publications, the Alliance of the Black Youth Movement, the Black Parents Movement, Race Today Collective and ‘Bradford Black’ Collective, joined forces with others across the world, from Ghana to Grenada, from Tanzania to Trinidad, from Nigeria to New York, to protest what was evidently an assassination by the Forbes Burnham government and call for Gregory Smith to be charged with murder. Smith was flown out by the Burnham regime to French Guiana where he remained until his death in 2002. In his obituary of Jessica Huntley, Gus John described Bogle L’Ouverture Publications as ‘an act of cultural affirmation and an expression of political belief at the interface of culture and politics in a Britain struggling perennially to come to terms with the legacy of Empire.” The political act of publishing… gave direction to our movement. If ‘knowledge is power’, the absence of knowledge and information renders a movement powerless, especially a lack of knowledge of how those who have designs for you see you historically and want to organise and control you mentally and structurally. In a post-imperialist culture, the power that comes from knowledge is also the power that derives from unlearning certain myths about yourself and debunking the ways you have been taught to see and think about yourself. So, when in our work with young children we discovered that black children were typically drawing themselves as white, or expressing a preference for white dolls and seeing white friends as, nicer and more desirable, Jessica and Eric published the eye-catching and upbeat little colouring and story book ‘Getting to Know Ourselves’. For more than a half-century Jessica and Eric Huntley, were at the heart of grassroots struggles for racial and social justice. They were closely involved with the Black Parents Movement, which campaigned against the controversial SUS laws that particularly targeted young Black people, and organised legal defence for Black and Asian people arrested during the Southall riots of 1979, the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, organiser of the 1981 Black People's Day of Action march that attracted 20,000 Black Britons from all over the country and was the largest protest march of Black Britons to take place in Britain, and patronage of the Keskidee Centre, Britain's first African-Caribbean cultural centre from the 1970s to the 1990s. In 1982, she helped set up the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books with the Huntley’s close friend and political comrade, John La Rose, to bring together Black publishers, intellectuals and educationists. The ethos of the Book Fair was "to mark the new and expanding phase in the growth of radical ideas and concepts, and their expression in literature, politics, music, art and social life." Soon after she teamed up with Margaret Busby, co-founder of Allison & Busby publishing house, and Britain’s youngest and first Black female book publisher. Along with others, they founded the Greater Access to Publishing (GAP), a voluntary group campaigning for greater diversity within the mainstream publishing industry. Jessica and her husband were also active in international campaigns to end the South African apartheid regime, political repression in their home country Guyana and free American, former Black Panther and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal who was on death row in Pennsylvania. On the 13th October 2013, Jessica Huntley passed away at Ealing Hospital, following a short illness at the age of 86 years. She and her husband were highly respected within the British Black community as elders for their longstanding commitment, contribution and participation in radical movements and organisations that articulated the interests of the UK Black community. In 2005, papers relating to the business of Bogle-L'Ouverture, together with documents concerning the personal, campaigning and educational initiatives of Jessica and Eric Huntley from 1952 to 2011, were deposited at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). In that same year LMA hosted the first Huntley Conference, and since 2006, the Huntley Archives at LMA have inspired an annual conference on themes reflecting different elements of the content of the collection. A blue plaque, organised by the Nubian Jak Community Trust and others, was unveiled in October 2018 outside the Ealing home of Jessica Huntley and Eric Huntley to commemorate their work in founding Bogle-L'Ouverture and eventually giving Huntley the recognition she deserved. Sources:

  • African American GIs in the UK during 2WW - crossing the colour bar

    Close to three million American servicemen and women passed through Britain during the Second World War. Their arrival was heralded as a ‘friendly invasion’ when the first American GIs landed on Britain’s shores in 1942 bringing with them candy, Coca-Cola, cigarettes, nylons, and racial segregation. In his essays George Orwell alluded to the oft-quoted assertion that American GIs were “oversexed, overpaid and over here”. But he qualified this with the observation that: “the general consensus of opinion is that the only American soldiers with decent manners are Negroes.” Around 240,000 of the US troops who came to Britain were African Americans. Unlike their fellow American comrades, who took on the full suite of responsibilities offered by the military from commanders to combat troops to cooks, Black GIs were largely consigned to service and supply roles. Black construction engineers, for example, were among some of the first US Army Air Force units to arrive in Britain in 1942. They were tasked with building the airfields from which vast fleets of American bombers and fighters would be launched as part of the Allied aerial campaign. The work was characterised by long hours of physical labour, and uncomfortable accommodation, made all the worse by the British weather, but it’s importance in facilitating the American war effort cannot be overstated. They built airbases, including Lakenheath and Mildenhall. Most were in labour companies, engineers, stevedores and transport units. Many were based in the Bristol area because of the docks there. They had their barracks in Bedminster, Brislington, Henleaze, Shirehampton and the Muller Orphanage at Ashley Down. Before the first American troops arrived in 1942, the Black population of Britain – around 8,000 to 10,000 people – was largely congregated in urban port areas. American troops, on the other hand, would be stationed all over the UK. They were posted in rural towns and villages from the Yorkshire Moors to the Forest of Dean to the Somerset Levels; in the southwest they were preparing for the D-day landings. Churchill’s Tory government were apprehensive about how British society might react to a segregated foreign force arriving on their shores and asked the US government to not send Black GIs but they declined. Realising that the arrival of strictly segregated American battalions would introduce formal apartheid to British soil, the government found itself in a bind. Not wanting to alienate its desperately needed new ally, but also not wanting to undermine its propaganda efforts in the empire, the war cabinet fudged the issue. The British authorities would not organise segregated facilities nor enforce segregation in non-US Army facilities. In response the US Army administration encouraged separate days during the week for black and white troops to have leave passes. The US military actively developed a policy that involved the segregation of many facilities in Britain. For example, two separate Red Cross centres existed in Bristol: St George Street for black GIs; and Berkeley Square for whites. This uneasy pragmatic accommodation of segregation was reflected in other areas of society. On a local level, business-owners were often concerned that if they didn’t respect the segregationist rules of the US armed forces, they would lose American custom altogether. Since the arrival of the American troops had resulted in an uplift in the UK war torn economy. As the first African American journalist to cover the war overseas, Roi Ottley wrote in 1942: ‘When the manager of a restaurant was questioned recently about refusing service to a Negro soldier, he had a ready answer. “White Americans say they will not patronize my place if Negroes were served.” In 1943, African American servicemen were banned from a bar in Bath in an attempt to appease white American soldiers. While in August of the same year, the Trinidadian professional cricketer, Learie Constantine and his family’s hotel reservation was cut short because of complaints from white American miliary serviceman. Learie, famously sued the hotel and was awarded damages. In contrast, attitudes of the British public toward African American troops were initially favourable despite the existence of an unofficial colour bar operating in Britain. Reports from the Home Intelligence Unit (set up in November 1939 to monitor British morale) frequently mentioned people’s appreciation of "the extremely pleasing manners of the coloured troops". They were seen as less boastful and bumptious than their white counterparts. Although they certainly encountered prejudice, Britain did not have mandated racial Jim Crow laws of the United States, and the African American soldiers were generally welcomed as allies in the fight against fascism. Roi Ottley, writing in the Chicago magazine Negro Digest in 1942, said that “amicable and smooth relations” had soon developed between “the Negro troops and their British hosts”. The British, he said, were “inclined to accept a man for his personal worth”. He quotes a soldier saying: “I’m treated so a man don’t know he’s coloured until he looks in the mirror.” Qualifying it with “The fact is, the British do draw racial distinctions, but not within the doors of the British Isles – at least not until the arrival of the white American soldiers. This is not to say the British are without racial prejudice. They do have it in a subtle form. But, in the main, it is confined to colonial and military officials who have spent their lives administering affairs in the coloured colonies and derive their incomes from them.” The African American servicemen were welcomed into the leisure time of their British hosts in ways that spread solidarity. A former GI, Cleother Hathcock, remembers: “At that time the Jitterbug was in and the blacks would get a buggin’ and the English just loved that. We would go into a dance hall and just take over the place because everybody wanted to learn how to do that American dance, the Jitterbug. They went wild over that." Because the freedoms enjoyed by African Americans conflicted with the de facto segregation of US forces, and the attitudes of the white majority, particularly Southerners. The fact that white women mixed with and dated black men – taboo in the US – infuriated some servicemen. Captain Vernon Gayle Alexander, a pilot from Kentucky, complained: “The blacks were dating the white girls and consequently if you went on a date [with] a white girl you don’t know if she’d been out with a coloured boy the night before or whether she hadn’t.” In some cases, US military police (MPs) tried to enforce segregation, by restricting entry to local pubs, or designating social nights as white or “coloured”. Irking some British locals. In Cambridge, when US troops tried to impose a colour bar, the landlords responded with signs that read: “Black Troops Only”. There were frequent clashes between black and white GIs. Usually between MPs trying to enforce discriminatory rules and African American soldiers – with the latter supported by British bystanders. According to Professor Alan Rice of the University of Central Lancashire, there were 44 such clashes between November 1943 and February 1944 alone. The most well-known being the Park Street Riot in Bristol, a racial incident in September 1943 in Launceston in Cornwall and the Battle of Bamber Bridge in Lancashire. The latter was incorporated into the plot of the recent The Railway Children Returns sequel. Fist fights almost always broke out when black and white GIs were drinking in the same pub. There were some shootings, most by whites against blacks. (Major General Ira Eaker, commander of the Eighth Air Force, declared that white troops were responsible for 90 per cent of the trouble), and a few killings — all covered up by the army. A US survey of soldiers' mail during the war revealed that white troops were particularly indignant about the public association of white women with black soldiers, which was unremarkable in Britain. However, when British women started having relationships with African American GIs, the Home Intelligence Report in August 1942 noted: "adverse comment is reported over girls who 'walk out' with coloured troops". If women in relationships with African American Black GIs went on to have children, they frequently faced a barrage of criticism. By October 1943 the Home Intelligence Unit was mentioning people’s rising concern about "the growing number of illegitimate babies, many of coloured men." It is estimated that approximately 2,000 ‘brown babies’ were born in Britain during the war and nearly all of them were illegitimate. Every American serviceman had to receive permission to marry from his commanding officer (who in the UK were nearly all white) with avoidance a court-martialled offence. But for an African American GI wanting to marry a white British woman, permission was invariably refused. According to former GI Ormus Davenport, writing after the war, the US Army "unofficially had a 'gentleman's agreement' which became in practice official policy. The agreement said 'No negro soldier or sailor will be given permission to marry any British white girl!'... Not one GI bride going back to the US under the US government scheme is the wife of a Negro". If pushed, the commanding officers would mention that in the US, 30 of the (then) 48 States had anti-miscegenation laws, forbidding marriage between white and Black people. The experience of African American soldiers in Britain during the Second World War, perfectly encapsulates the UK’s complex relationship to race. As writer Afua Hirsch wrote in the Guardian newspaper: “That this racism was allowed to play itself out on British soil is a stain on the record of Britain’s government, with its cowardly failure to protect not just British law, but also the many Black British and colonial subjects who found themselves caught up in the hostile attitudes of white Americans.” Whilst the vast majority of the UK public warmly welcomed the African American soldiers as fellow fighters against fascism. In fact, in 2010 researchers found that the presence of African American soldiers in the UK and subsequent encounters with the local population had been shown to have reduced racial prejudice against Black people, even decades later in those rural areas. Sources:,because%20of%20the%20docks%20there David Schindler, Mark Westcott, Shocking Racial Attitudes: Black G.I.s in Europe, The Review of Economic Studies, Volume 88, Issue 1, January 2021, Pages 489–520,

  • Kathleen Wrasama - dedicated her life to helping the Black community in Britain

    Black History Month UK 2022 'Sharing Journeys' campaign - exploring the lives of Britons with East African heritage Kathleen Wrasama (also known as Kathleen Wrsama) was born in Ethiopia and brought to England by missionaries in the early 1900s. Little is known about her early life, but her birth was registered in England as the 15th May 1904. In an interview with Kathleen about her life, she described her time with the missionaries as “They weren’t very physically cruel to me, they were mentally cruel to me. I was [on] exhibition [as] one of the heathen children from Africa. Anything like Sunday School, I used to be put on the table as a representative of one of the heathens, this is a representative of what we’re trying to do in this dark continent.” [1] The Kingdom of Aksum in present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea was one of the first Christian countries in the world, having officially adopted Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (called Tewahdo in Ethiopia) is one of the oldest organized Christian bodies in the world. Despite this, it wasn’t immune to the missionaries who flooded the African continent from the middle of the 18th century to spread western Christianity and education – paving the way for the colonisation of Africa. Although Ethiopia was the only African country to not be colonised by the Europeans. During the early 1900s, it wasn’t unusual for missionaries to adopt children from overseas and bring them back to the UK. Kathleen was one of those children. Not much is known about their lives and little written evidence exist to tell us how they felt about living in a foreign land away from their homelands. Kathleen’s story is one of the few accounts of these children. Kathleen describes her early life in England as: “I stayed with [the missionaries] until I was about 8 [years, and] when they died, I was sent to a [children’s] home [where] I was ostracised. I wasn’t allowed to mix with any of the [other] girls, I was like somebody from Mars… I was stoned in the village.” [1] The only information available about her children’s home is its location in Yorkshire. She described her time there: “… there was no black people at all [not one where I was raised]… when I used to walk around [sometimes round] the streets, they’d come running out, they would say, ‘Mum, mum, there’s that funny girl’, and they couldn’t make me out. They didn’t know who I belonged to and when I was in the home, I wasn’t allowed to mix with any of the girls, I use[d] to wonder why, I use[d] to wonder why can’t I eat with them, why can’t I sleep with them. I use[d] to have to go upstairs and sleep in the attic right at the top of the stairs, or I was down in the cellar, down in hell, picking the coal up for the fires.” [1] Kathleen ran away several times from the children’s home to escape the abuse. When she was 13 years old, she found a labouring job on a farm. She recalled: “I got a job… on Mr Bagshots’ farm. I never had any money, [I’d] never been in a shop, I didn’t know what it was to talk to people, I didn’t dream to ask for wages… I worked there for some time in Mr Bagshot farm. When his wife took asthma, the doctors said she had to go somewhere warm, so I had to uproot, and I went to work [on] another farm.” [1] Whilst working on this new farm, she became friendly with the Norwegian owners, who taught her to read. Kathleen moved to Wales to find work after the owners left the UK and moved back to Norway. She said: “I thought that I was a heathen, I thought being a heathen was a different race, [a] race of people... I was looking and seeking who I am, surely, I must belong to somebody. Even in Wales I didn’t see a black person, even then I was on a farm, I was right away out of it. So, I decided I’d come to London, and see what [it] was like.” [1] Kathleen’s life turned around when she went to London. She found a community and slowly discovered and reconnected with her East African roots and one hopes, banishing memories of her traumatic childhood. She initially found a job working in an Italian coffee house in central London and whilst working there she met some people who helped her find work as a film extra. She explained: “I didn’t know what films were. [A customer in the coffee store] said I could get work as a film extra. And she got me on the films. It was through the films I met some Ethiopians there and going to the Ethiopian embassy, I met my husband.” After the actor, singer and political activist Paul Robeson and his wife Eslanda moved to London in 1930. His artistic residence caused a boom in demand for black extras to appear in his films. Many working-class black men and women like Kathleen found well-paid work with some earning up to 21 shillings (or £1.05 in modern currency) a day. In 1945, she married former Somali seaman, Sulaban Wrsama in Stepney, East London. Embraced by the Somali community she finally found a home and no longer saw herself as a ‘heathen’. She said about her husband: “He was Somali, he was a wonderful man. He’s African, he was the first person that really to say ‘I love you and really mean it’ to me”. She and her husband opened a boarding house for black seaman in Stepney, East London which had become a settling spot for several ex-seaman from the commonwealth who fought for Britain in the 2WW. Kathleen described the area: “I could take you around the world [here].” The black seaman faced discrimination in accessing housing, were refused entry in bomb shelters during air raids and endured racial attacks. Kathleen tried to help them and complained often to the colonial office about their treatment. She even reached out to Lapido Solanke’s WASU for help “I use to go and ask them [to] come and talk to your men, you know your language, speak to them and tell them where they can go and get help with the housing cos we’re not strong enough… we haven’t got the power… your educated, give us some support at least… No, they didn’t come, they want to come past the east end…” So, in 1951 she founded the Stepney Coloured People’s Association (SCPA), which was committed to improving community relations, as well as education and housing for black people. The committee would meet at 84 Cable Street, now known as Burlington Court, which is where Wrasama would contribute to changing British history forever. The Stepney Coloured People’s Association (SCPA) ran for eight years. Although its formation was significant, it wasn’t the first local group to support black rights in the East End; the United African Brotherhood Society was formed in Stepney in 1919 and the 1930s saw the formation of The Coloured Seamen’s Association which sought to protest against the employment crisis afflicting black seamen at the time. All were short-lived organisations that effectively served their purpose and then dissolved. The SCPA sought to campaign for better rights for all ‘coloured’ people in Stepney and this broad coalition built on the premise that despite distinct ethnic, tribal and national identities, that they were united in their fight against racism and discrimination. Kathleen said: “[On the committee] we had Hindus, Ghanaians, Yoruba, Somali.” The formation of Association linked the black community in East London with other grass-roots organisations working to represent people from the colonies in all sorts of capacities. Academic Laura Tabili observed, these groups were central to the emergence of a ‘multicultural Black political identity’ which ‘coexisted with but transcended religious, cultural and linguistic diversity’ up until the beginning of the 21st century. The Association sought to establish its own housing bureau, capable of recommending responsible ‘coloured’ people as prospective tenants to those landlords that did not hold a colour prejudice. It petitioned Stepney Borough Council and the London County Council (LCC) to extend their hostel and social provision, and looked to the Clifton Institute for Coloured Peoples in Birmingham as a model for the LCC to follow in Stepney, suggesting a new building was not entirely necessary but greater support was. The Clifton was one of a number of newly established social and educational centres funded by municipal authorities. The model was clear, but no action was taken and the SCPA was itself wound up in 1959 on account of a substantial decline in the size of the area’s black community. Kathleen Wrasama died in February 1996 in Tower Hamlets. She lived a remarkable life that spanned a century of change in Britain. She overcame the racial abuse of her childhood to find love and a place within the black community of East London. When I see my people together, I’m on heaven… It’s like drinking wine to refresh your soul, when you meet all your people together. It’s like a drink that comes inside you and it uplifts you. You can go out and you can face the world again. You got your strengthen from your own people… I know I belong at last. Kathleen took the trauma of her youth and used it to power her commitment to improving the lives of her fellow black people. In 1982, she spoke of her life in London’s East End in an interview for the BBC documentary Surviving: Experience of Migration and Exile, and was later invited to visit a school, where she talked about her early years and her experiences of racism. She was an influential figure as a British community organiser. In her quest to help house members of the Black community, she formed an organisation that led to the creation of the social services we know today. Sources: [1] Kathleen Wrasama words are taken from a transcript of an interview now held by the Black Cultural Archives (BCA). The transcript is part of a folder that includes letters from children to Wrsama as part of a school project. LWT guidelines on interviewing and regarding a competition titled "The Making of Modern London 1914-1939", entered by the BCA. Also includes, report on investigation into conditions of the coloured population in the Stepney area.

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

    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! This February, we want you to join us in exploring the history behind the country that started Black History Month and learn about the Black Britons who have led the way in LGBT+ history in the UK. ​ 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: Pearl Alcock, Justin Fashanu, and Olive Morris. Or check out our features on Black History Month USA that include a profile on the African American actor, Ira Alridge, who was Britain’s first Black Shakespearean actor and the origins of Black History Month. We've also compiled a list of media recommendations for you to explore during the month and a Global Black History quiz to play with family and friends. Check out our social media accounts or subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter for regular updates!

  • 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)

  • Google Doodle celebrates Mary Seacole

    Mary Seacole is now known for her medical work in the Crimean war, and as a brilliant woman who combated the racial prejudice she experienced in her lifetime. On the 14th October 2016, Google Doodle celebrated Mary Seacole, the Jamaican/Scottish nurse widely known to the British Army as “Mother Seacole.” She learned the ways of herbal medicine from her mother, a “doctress” well-versed in traditional Caribbean and African herbal remedies. Despite the challenges she faced as a woman of mixed race in the 1850s, she began experimenting with medicine under her mother’s guidance at one of the best facilities in Kingston, Jamaica. She moved to Gorgona, where she briefly ran a women’s-only hotel before she set off on a journey that would cement her place in history. When the Crimean War broke out, Mary’s application to assist was refused despite her nursing experience. Determined to help, she used her own limited resources to travel and set up a hotel behind the lines in Crimea. Here, she tirelessly tended to the curing and comforting of wounded soldiers coming off the battlefield and people from all walks in need: “The grateful words and smiles which rewarded me for binding up a wound or giving a cooling drink was a pleasure worth risking life for at any time.” Here’s to Mary’s legacy as an empowered healer and humanitarian, which will continue to live on and inspire.

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