top of page

88 items found for ""

  • Google Doodle celebrates Louise 'Miss Lou' Bennett-Coverley's 103rd birthday

    Louise "Miss Lou" was a famed poet, folklorist, and the first Black student to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1945. On the 7th September 2022, Google Doodle celebrated Louise "Miss Lou" Bennett-Coverley's 103rd birthday with an illustration by Jamaican guest artist Robyn Smith. The Jamaican poet, folklorist, activist and entertainer empowered the country to take pride in its language and culture. Known by many Jamaicans as “Miss Lou,” Bennett's social commentary and sense of humour made her a popular personality in the country. Bennett was born on September 7, 1919 in Kingston, Jamaica. She developed a passion for literature and Jamaican folklore in school and began writing poetry. Fascinated by her native language, Bennett wrote in the local dialect. Her first public appearance was her recital of a poem in Jamaican patois at a concert. Soon, Bennett was given a weekly column in The Gleaner, the island’s newspaper at the time, though they originally rejected Bennett’s poems. The majority of Jamaicans speak patois, but critics denounced it as an inferior and improper language. Her column, which captured the experiences of Jamaicans in their own language, gained support across the country. In 1942, Bennett published her first book of poetry, Dialect Verses. It earned her a British Council scholarship to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. As the school's first Black student, Bennett worked for the British Broadcasting Commission (BBC) where she hosted the radio program Caribbean Carnival. After completing her degree, she hosted other programs like West Indian Guest Night and acted in theatre companies. Returning to Jamaica in 1956, Bennett worked as a Drama Officer and later Director of the Jamaica Social Welfare Commission. On behalf of the commission, she moved around the country to train village instructors and regional officers with workshops like playmaking, improvisation and mime. She gave lectures on Jamaican folklore in the United States and England. Bennett also hosted radio programs like Laugh with Louise and Miss Lou's Views, and Ring Ding, a beloved Saturday morning children’s TV show airing on Jamaica Broadcasting Commission (JBC). In 1998, the Jamaican government appointed Bennett as the country’s Cultural Ambassador at Large. She was also inducted into the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II. Bennett was a champion of her country’s language and culture, inspiring Jamaicans to take pride in both. Happy Birthday, Miss Lou!

  • What is the theme for Black History Month UK 2022?

    Angela M explains Black History Month UK and how to celebrate this October. October marks the start of Black History Month UK – a time to celebrate and remember African and Caribbean heritage peoples' achievements and contributions to the British economy, culture, and history. It's a chance to tell the stories of those less well-known Black Britons who we will forget if we don't showcase them. What is Black History Month UK? Black History Month UK began in October 1987 by Akyaaba Sebo, a special projects coordinator of the Ethnic Minorities Unit at the now defunct Great London Council. He wanted to boost the self-esteem of Black British children and young adults by educating them on the long history and achievements of Black people living in the UK. Taking inspiration from Black History Month (also known as African American History Month) in the United States. The first event was held on 1 October 1987 at County Hall and was attended by American historian Dr. Maulana Karenga, who founded the African American holiday of Kwanzaa; and Kenyan women’s activist Wanjiru Kihoro. It has since evolved into a national movement recognised by the British government and observed throughout the UK. It is also recognised in other parts of the world during October in Ireland and the Netherlands. In the US, where Black History Month originated, the awareness month is held in February. It is also celebrated in Canada in February too when it was officially recognised in 1995. Since the 1990s, the significance of Black History Month has gradually increased throughout continental Europe and it is now observed in Germany, Belgium, and Italy in February. What are the origins of Black History Month? In 1926, African-American historian Carter G Woodson started national Negro History Week to advocate for the inclusion of American Black History in the US national public education system. Over time, and with the momentum and support of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the week gradually morphed into the month it is today. In 1976, US Black History Month (or African American Month as it’s now regularly referred to) was officially recognised by President Gerald Ford. Why is it celebrated at different times across the globe? After visiting America in the 1970s, Addai-Sebo created a British version of Black History Month in 1987, but they are not officially linked. In the United States, Black History Month takes place in February to coincide with the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Addai-Sebo choose to celebrate Black History Month UK in October because of the month's importance in the African calendar. More importantly, it was the start of the British academic year. Why should we separate Black History Month celebrations in the US and UK? When Black History Month UK started in the UK, there was a big emphasis on African American history. Over time the focus has moved to celebrating and recognising Black British history and key Black figures in the UK. It’s important also that we focus only on British Black history as the Black British community is a composite of peoples with different cultures and identities. Some individuals with a lineage beginning long before the Windrush generation and others with distinct and very different cultures rooted in the African and Caribbean continents. Why do we celebrate Black History Month UK 2022? Following the anti-black racism protests that swept the globe in 2020, there was a step-change in how racism was addressed by individuals and organisations. Honest dialogues were opened, however, contentious, over Britain’s colonial past, and diversity and inclusion became a key component of corporate policy, however performative the action. Change is happening but there is still a long way to go. As our stories enter the mainstream and UK Black history, is rightly seen as just British history. We must ensure that the stories of our lesser-known Black Britons are not forgotten and that the authenticity of those stories is not lost, and are told in their own words. ‘[UK] Black history is a series of missing chapters from British history’ said David Olusoga, historian, and we must be involved in the telling of these stories. Black History Month exists to tell these stories in our own voices. It’s our chance to shine a light on individuals who aren’t featured in the mainstream and whose contributions would be forgotten without Black History Month UK. It's a time to celebrate Black Britons who are making history now too. It also provides us with a space to tackle racial discrimination head-on within our society by encouraging government, institutions, and corporations to advocate for diversity, equality, and inclusion. Do we really need Black History Month UK? Some campaigners argue against the existence and usefulness of the month as they believe it marginalizes UK Black history and that it should, rightly, be remembered all year round. Organisations such as The Black Curriculum are working hard to address the lack of Black British history in the UK curriculum through campaigning, training teachers, and delivering Black history programmes. But Black History Month UK, like many other national and international events, provides us with an opportunity to remember individuals and events that would never be included in a racially inclusive national curriculum and would remain forgotten to the annals of time. What are the aims of Black History Month in the UK? Celebrate and recognise the achievements of African and Caribbean heritage people's role in helping to shape UK culture, history, and economic development. Educating the UK population on how the relationships between Britain, Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States helped create modern Britain. To encourage government, institutions, and corporations to embrace and adopt equality and diversity policies. What is the theme of Black History Month UK 2022? The theme of Black History Month UK 2022 is ‘Sharing Journeys’. This October we’ll be exploring the lives and stories of the people who came to Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries and helped laid the foundations of today’s diverse Black British Community. Throughout the month we’ll be taking a look at the lives of African-American soldiers who came to the UK during the Second World War, examining the impact of West African students on Black Britain and their part in campaigning for the end of colonial rule in Africa, and the highly influential Caribbean Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. We’ll also be shining a spotlight on notable Black Britons with heritages ranging from West Africa, the Caribbean, South and North America, and East Africa; including Amanda Alridge, Ottobah Cugoano, John La Rose, and Kathleen Wrasama. Not forgetting that Black History Month is also about documenting history in the making. We'll be asking the UK Black Community to commemorate the month by sharing their own family journeys using the hashtag #bhmfamilies How can I celebrate Black History Month UK 2022? Black History Month is an excellent opportunity for people from all backgrounds to educate themselves on Black Britain’s history and familiarise themselves with the lesser-known Black Britons who have made a difference to the country. There are a variety of ways you can observe the month: Attend any of the hundreds of events taking place up and down the country to commemorate Black History Month. Check out our Events page for more information. Take on the #BHMFamilies selfie challenge Enter our BHMUK treasure hunt, and you could win prizes! Attend the #BHMUK22 launch event and Play our Big Fat Black History online quiz Why not watch our '10 ways to celebrate Black History Month UK 2022' video for more ideas? How should educational organisations and business corporations recognise the month? The theme of Black History Month UK 2022 is ‘Sharing Journeys,' and we advise any schools and colleges interested in exploring the topic in greater detail to visit The Black Curriculum website, which has an extensive range of educational resources relating to the theme. We encourage business corporations to provide a safe space for all individuals who wish to commemorate the month in which stories can be shared – personal experiences and/or inspiring stories. But to also remember that not everybody may want to be involved in your Black History Month UK planning simply because of their ethnic background. Such assumptions place the burden of responsibility on them, and if they’re a visible minority in your workplace, they might feel tokenized about their role in your workplace. Remember, for best results, you should be recognizing all your employees, all year round! Companies are also advised to run a DEI (diversity, equality, and inclusion) audit of their business. Surveys make it easier to understand the current state of DEI at your company, pinpoint focus areas, and run intersectional analyses that can guide companies towards meaningful action.

  • Google Doodle celebrates St Lucian Economist Sir W. Arthur Lewis

    Sir W. Arthur Lewis is one of the pioneers of Development Economics and was of the first proponents of reparations to the Caribbean and other former colonies of the West. On the 10th December 2020, Google Doodle, illustrated by Manchester-based guest artist Camilla Ru, celebrated St. Lucian economist, professor, and author Sir W. Arthur Lewis, considered one of the pioneers in the field of modern development economics. A trailblazer not only in his research, he was also the first Black faculty member at the London School of Economics, first Black person to hold a chair in a British university (at Manchester University), and the first Black instructor to receive full professorship at Princeton University. On this day in 1979, Lewis was jointly awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his pioneering work to model the economic forces that impact developing countries. William Arthur Lewis was born on January 23, 1915, in Castries on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, at the time a British colony. Despite facing challenges with racial discrimination, in 1932 he won a government scholarship and set out to study at the London School of Economics, where he eventually earned a doctorate in industrial economics. Lewis quickly ascended the ranks of academia and by 33 was a full professor—one of the highest distinctions of a tenured professor. Lewis shifted his focus to world economic history and economic development and in 1954 published his foundational article “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour.” Among many valuable accomplishments, Lewis contributed influential work to the United Nations and shared his expertise as an adviser to governments in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. He also helped establish and served as the first president of the Caribbean Development Bank. In honor of his lifelong achievements, the British government knighted Lewis in 1963.

  • Sarah Bonetta - African princess and god-daughter of Queen Victoria

    Black History Month UK 2021 'Black to the Past' campaign - Victorians of African and Caribbean descent in Britain Sarah Bonetta was born Omoba Aina in 1843, in the newly independent city-state of Oke-Odan following the collapse of the Oye Empire (present-day southwestern Nigeria). The empire had been engaged in a war with the Dahomey Kingdom since 1823 after Ghezo, the King of Dahomey, refused to pay annual tributes to the Oye Empire. During the war, the Oyo Kingdom was weakened and destablised by the Islamic jihads launched by its fast growing neighbour - the Sokoto Caliphate (modern day Northern Nigeria) - and by the 1830s it had fragmented into several smaller city states including Oke-Odan. In 1848, the Oke-Odan state was invaded and captured by the army of the Dahomey Kingdom (present day Benin). Aina's parents, Oke-Odan royals, died during the attack and other residents were either killed or sold into the Atlantic slave trade. Aina ended up in the court of King Ghezo in the Dahomey Kingdom as a state prisoner. Two years later in June 1850, she was 'gifted' to Captain Forbes as a present to Queen Victoria. Forbes was a British royal navel captain in the West Africa Squadron (WAS) and was on a diplomatic mission to negotiate with King Ghezo to end Dahomey's participation in the Atlantic slave trade. On her way to England, she was baptised "Sarah" and given the names of Captain Forbes and his ship "The Bonetta," stripping her of her original name Omoba Aina, Yoruba heritage and her Egbado identity. Forbes described her as a "perfect genius" and expressed admiration for her quick learning and talent for music. A few months later, she was taken to Windsor Castle and received by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The queen described Sarah in her journal entry of the 9th November 1850 and day of their first meeting: 'She is 7 years old, sharp & intelligent & speaks English.' The queen paid for Sarah to be educated and raised as her goddaughter in the British middle classes. Captain Forbes and his wife became her guardians and she visited the queen regularly. Later, in 1851, after developing a chronic cough, which at the time was attributed to the cold climate, her guardians sent her to the Church Missionary Society school in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The intention was that Sarah would become a missionary but she returned to England after four years. Despite being deeply unhappy at the missionary school she excelled academically. Upon her return, Queen Victoria arranged for her to be live with the middle-class Schoen family and former missionaries, in Gillingham, Kent. Sarah lived with them for six years before moving to Brighton, against the wishes of the queen, where Victoria arranged for a Miss Welsh to oversee her introduction into British society. Sarah remained in contact with the queen and in January 1862, was invited and attended the wedding of Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Alice. At the age of 19, James Pinson Labulo Davies, a Yorubian merchant prominent in missionary circles, expressed an interest in marrying her. Sarah and James were first introduced when Sarah was at the missionary school in Sierra Leone, but hardly knew each other. Sarah described her feelings in a letter to Mrs Schoen: Others would say ‘He is a good man & though you don’t care about him now, will soon learn to love him.’ That, I believe, I never could do. I know that the generality of people would say he is rich & your marrying him would at once make you independent, and I say ‘Am I to barter my peace of mind for money?’ No – never! But the match was considered a suitable one and Sarah was encouraged to accept. Davies was more than a decade older than her and a widower. She initially turned him down, but the Queen approved the match. Sarah would lose her financial independence if she refused, so the marriage went ahead. The couple married on 14th August 1862 in a lavish ceremony at St Nicholls Church in Brighton that was officiated by the Bishop of Sierra Leone. Large crowds gathered to witness the event and it was reported in the newspapers of the day. On her marriage certificate, Sarah gave her first name as ina - perhaps a variant of her African name. Shortly afterwards Sarah and James had a series of photographs taken by Camille Silvy, the celebrity photographer of the day, underlining their status in society. The queen herself may have commissioned them and a few of the images can be found in the National Portriat Gallery. After the wedding, the newlyweds moved to West Africa and Sarah was baptised at a chruch in the town of Badagry, a former slave port. They settled in colonial Lagos where her husband became a member of the Legislative Council from 1872-74 and ran a cocoa business. The couple had three children: Victoria Davies (1863), Arthur Davies (1871) and Stella Davis (1873). Sarah Forbes Bonetta continued to enjoy such a close relationship with Queen Victoria that she and Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther were the only Lagos indigènes the Royal Navy had standing orders to evacuate in the event of an uprising in Lagos Their first daughter Victoria was named after the queen with her blessing. When she was christened the queen sent her a gold cup, salver, knife, fork and spoon. Together with her daughter Victoria, Sarah made a trip back to England in 1867 and the queen fell in love with the five-year-old girl, becoming a godmother to little Victoria as well and paying for her education. Unfortunately, that was the last time Sarah saw the Queen Victoria. She had been sick for several years and in 1880 she died of tuberculosis on the island of Madeira at the age of 37. Sarah’s daughter Victoria, then 17, heard the news of her mother’s death just as she was travelling to Osborne to visit the queen, who reported that ‘my black godchild … was dreadfully upset & distressed.’ The queen paid for Victoria to be educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, and stayed in touch throughout her life. Sarah's remarkable but rarely told story is just one of the many Black Victorians who lived in Britain. In recent years, creatives have sought to breath life into British history by giving a voice to those forgotten Black Britons. Playwright Janice Okoh explores Sarah's story in her play The Gift and actress-singer Cynthia Erivo is set to produce and star in a film about the African princess. Several books have also written about her including the children's book 'Princess Aina: Queen Victoria's Yoruba Godchild' and the historical novel 'Her name was Aina' by Sierra Leonan writer Yemi Lucilda Hunter. In October 2020, artist Hannah Uzor created a portrait of Sarah in her wedding dress. The artwork is on permanent display at Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight and was commissioned by English Heritage as part of their effort to recognise UK Black History. A plaque commemorating Sarah Forbes Bonetta was placed on Palm Cottage in 2016, as part of the television series Black and British: A Forgotten History. Sources https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/painting-our-past/ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-54445289 Elebute, Adeyemo (2013). The Life of James Pinson Labulo Davies: A Colossus of Victorian Lagos. https://web.archive.org/web/20030508111257/http://www.black-history.org.uk/bonetta.asp https://www.booksthatmatter.co.uk/post/pioneering-black-women-in-history-sarah-forbes-bonetta-national-portrait-gallery-collaboration/

  • William Davidson the political radical

    Black History Month UK 2021 'Black to the Past' campaign - African and Caribbean heritage Georgians in Britain William Davidson was born the illegitimate son of the Scottish Attorney General of Jamaica and a local Caribbean woman in 1781. At the age of 14, against his mother’s wishes it is said, he was sent to Glasgow to study law. His time in Scotland coincided with the democratic ferment that followed the French Revolution when, as Lord Cockburn noted: “Everything, not this or that thing, but literally everything, was soaked in this one event.” Agitation for reform was intense in Scotland and would ultimately lead to the infamous trials for sedition and the conviction and transportation of the advocate Thomas Muir of Huntershill. It was no surprise then that it was during his time north of the border that Davidson first he became interested in radical politics. During the repression that followed the trials for sedition, Davidson moved to Liverpool and served three years of an apprenticeship before he was press-ganged into the Royal Navy. After his discharge, he returned to Scotland and his father arranged for him to study mathematics at Aberdeen. But Davidson withdrew from study, moved to Birmingham, and started a cabinet-making business with a legacy from his mother. The failure of this business prompted Davidson to move to London. In London, Davidson married Sarah Lane, a working-class widow with four children and had had two more children with her. He became a Wesleyan Methodist and was incensed by the Peterloo massacre. He returned to radical politics and joined the Marylebone Union Reading Society, a club that offered a reading room of radical newspapers such as the Republican and the Manchester Observer for a subscription of twopence a week. He also read the works of Tom Paine, which had been banned in the 1790s. At the Marlylebone society Davidson met another Jamaican-Scot and Wesleyan radical – Robert Wedderburn – the son of a Scottish plantation owner and an enslaved African woman who had joined the radical Spencean Philanthropists and became famous as a campaigner against slavery. Davidson joined the Spenceans and became embroiled in the Cato Street Conspiracy, an entrapment exercise by government spies, which was opposed by Wedderburn. A police officer was killed by one of the conspirators when the trap was sprung and police raided a hayloft where the men were meeting in Cato Street near Grosvenor Square. Davidson’s presence in the hayloft and possession of a blunderbuss sealed his fate. During proceedings at the Central Criminal Court, William Davidson protested his innocence. It was argued that the evidence of a man named Edwards, an agent provocateur, was unreliable. Edwards seems actually to have instigated the murders, and it was on his evidence that the conspirators were convicted. A number of other witnesses provided statements, including John Davey, who confirmed that Davidson, 'a man of colour', was a cabinet maker. In his defence before the court, Davidson told the jury '...you may suppose that because I am a man of colour I am without any understanding or feeling and would act the brute; I am not one of that sort; when not employed in my business, I have employed myself as a teacher of a Sunday-school...'. The presiding judge responded '...you may rest most perfectly assured that with respect to the colour of your countenance, no prejudice either has or will exist in any part of this Court against you; a man of colour is entitled to British justice as much as the fairest British subject'. Of the eleven conspirators charged, one was freed for testifying for the prosecution, five were transported for life and the remaining five, Davidson among them, were publicly hanged outside Newgate jail on May 1, 1820. They were decapitated and their heads were held aloft with the ancient cry ‘Behold the head of a traitor!’.

  • Our TV picks for Black History Month UK 2021

    Check out a few of our TV recommendations to help you celebrate and learn more about UK Black history, culture and talent. Sorry, I Didn’t Know, S2 ITV and ITV Hub, Sundays at 10:30pm Jimmy Akingbola returns as the host of this comedy panel show, for a special five-part series throughout the month. He's joined by team leaders Judi Love and Chizzy Akudolu, as well as a host of special guests including Kojo Anim, Russell Kane, Sikisa, and Stephen K Amos. Each team goes head-to-head test knowledge and come out victorious. Ashley Banjo: Britain in Black and White ITV and ITV Hub, 19th October 9:00pm A year on from winning a BAFTA award for his dance group Diversity's BLM inspired performance. Ashley Banjo explores Britain's relationship with race, opening up about his experiences of racism in the UK, and meeting with British civil rights activists and those who criticised his dance troop's performance on Britain's Got Talent. will.i.am: The Blackprint ITV and ITV Hub, 14th October 9:00pm African-American music producer and rapper, will.i.am explores what it means to be Black and British whilst comparing the experience to that of the USA. He meets members of the UK Black community from school children to trailblazers in technology. Uprising Streaming on BBC iplayer Acclaimed film director Steve McQueen's three-part documentary series focus on three key events in 1981 which significantly impacted race relations in the UK. The New Cross Fire, which killed 13 young British Caribbean people, the Black People's Day of Action, and the Brixton riots. With testimony from those who lived these traumatic and turbulent events, the series reveals how they intertwined and defined race relations for a generation. Spending Black Streaming on BBC iplayer until October 2022 Aaron Roach Bridgeman explores the concept of 'spending black' and its impact on the black community and on the businesses themselves. He meets businesses that have benefitted financially and culturally from consumers choosing to “spend black” and utilises the latest data to draw conclusions on who and in which areas people are choosing to “spend black”. Ultimately Aaron questions to what extent this surge in “spending black” will last? Could it really be the hope and tangible change that the young black community is looking for? Betty Campbell: Statue for a Heroine Streaming on BBC iplayer until 31st October 2021 Cerys Matthews presents the story of Wales’s first black head teacher, Betty Campbell, and the new statue that will honour her lifetime of remarkable achievements. Reflections on Race: Three Black Scientists You Need to Know Streaming on BBC iplayer until September 2021 "These three black scientists didn't only dream of a better future, but had the determination to make it a reality." Space scientist and broadcaster Maggie Aderin-Pocock selects three unsung heroes - one from the past, one from the present, and one up-and-coming - who she thinks deserve wider recognition. Salt, by Selina Thompson Streaming on BBC iplayer until October 2022 Performance artist Selina Thompson recreates her award-winning dramatic monologue about a journey she made by cargo ship to retrace the triangular route of the transatlantic slave trade. Poetic and deeply personal, Salt is part testimony, part performance and part excavation of collective memory through archive and music. Chi-chi Nwanoku on Samuel Colerdige-Taylor Streaming on Sky TV and Now TV Chineke! orchestra founder Chi-chi Nwanoku pays tribute to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the pioneering English composer of Sierra Leonean descent. Yorkshire Cop: Police, Racism and Me Streaming on All 4 from 18th October until 11th November 2021 Bill Thomas, the first Black male police officer in South Yorkshire, revisits 40 years of public service: the battles, the racism, and the friendships of a remarkable career Focusing on black talent.... Peckham's Finest ITV and ITV hub, launches from 20th October 2021 ITV launches a new reality show set in Peckham during Black History Month UK. Among the cast include social media personality Queen MoJo, Peckham-raised Ghanaian artists the Flag Twins, choreographer and personal trainer Gilly, model Isla Loba, BMXer Tre Whyte and radio host Teeshow. Big Age Streaming on All 4 Originally aired as part of Channel 4's Black to Front day on the 10th September 2021. Bolu Babalola's comedy about four young Black-British friends. Sade's 25th birthday gets off to a rocky start when she quits her job. So her best friend prescribes a day of decadent distraction. Highlife Streaming on All 4 Originally aired as part of Channel 4's Black to Front day on the 10th September 2021. This reality series follows the lives and loves of a group of ambitious, glamorous, young British West Africans who are all chasing their own idea of success. I May Destroy You Streaming on BBC iplayer Your chance to discover (or rewatch) Michaela Cole's groundbreaking drama about a young writer in the public eye who seeks to rebuild her life after being raped. Cole wrote, co-directed and executive produced the series and was the first Black womon to win an Emmy for best writing in a limited series or anthology.

  • John Blanke the royal trumpeter

    Black History Month UK 2021 'Black to the Past' campaign - African Tudors & Stuarts in Britain John Blanke is probably the most well-known African from Tudor England. He has been traced through both written records and pictorial images of him at a Tudor event. He was a royal trumpeter in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VII, making his first recorded appearance there in 1507. Not much is known about his early life, but research suggests he came to England as part of the entourage of Katherine Aragon in 1501. She came to England to marry Prince Arthur, eldest son and heir of Henry VII, and older brother to Henry VIII. Many Africans were living in Portugal during the period of 1400 to 1500. In the city of Seville, they represented 7.5% of the population, so much so that the city was described as 'a giant chessboard containing an equal number of white and black chessman.' So it's not surprising that Katherine's royal court included an African trumpeter. It's likely that Catalina of Motril, a Muslim Moor and one of Katherine's servants of the bedchamber, was also part of her entourage. John Blanke first appears in records when receiving a payment from Henry VII in December 1507. He was one of eight royal trumpeters under the leadership of Peter de Casa Nova between 1507 and 1512. The entry shows that he was paid 20 shillings (or 8d. in old pence) each day for his service in November. Monthly payments for the same amount continued throughout the following year. Sometime after the death of Prince Arthur in April 1502, he joined the household of King Henry VII. Katherine, deprived of her dowry and short of money, was reported to have complained that she couldn't even afford to pay her servants. Perhaps John was forced to find employment elsewhere. John Blanke was part of a long medieval and renaissance tradition of African musicians serving at European royal courts. In the 12th century, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI had African trumpeters in his entourage. While in the 16th century James IV of Scotland employed a drummer who was a Muslim Moor. Historic Royal Palaces website When King Henry VII died in April 1509, Blanke was one of the trumpeters who played at his funeral, dressed in black. He would have had an important part to play in the ceremonies that followed, accompanying the procession from Richmond to burial in Westminister Abbey. A month later, he played at the coronation of Henry VIII on 24th June, dressed in scarlet livery. A colour reserved for higher-ranking royal servants. Written evidence of John Blanke is found again when he petitioned King Henry VIII for a promotion and pay rise after the death of a fellow trumpeter. Blanke was well paid for those times, and his wage of 8d. (old pence) each day was the equivalent of a skilled craftsman. In addition to his wages, he also received room and board. On occasions that these were not required, he could have claimed an additional allowance called 'boardwage.' Later, in 1526, it was decreed that the royal trumpeters' 'boardwage' was to be 4d. each day. However, ambitious John wanted more, and after the death of a more senior trumpeter called Domynck Justinian, he petitioned the King for his former colleague's position. He argued that his wages were not sufficient to serve the King properly 'as other your trumpets do' and noted that he intended to serve the King for the rest of his life. The petition was a success, and his wages were doubled to 16d (old pence) each day. The petition still survives today and is now held in the National Archives. In February 1511, Henry VIII held a two-day grand jousting tournament in Westminster to celebrate the birth of his short-lived first son, Prince Henry, who was born on new year's day. It was a huge event, comparable to the World Cup or Olympics in modern times, and of course, the royal trumpeters were paid highly - more than ten times their daily wage. The event was recorded on the 60 foot long Westminster tournament roll of 1511 which is now held by the College of Arms. John Blanke is depicted twice on the roll, as one of the six trumpeters on horseback in the royal retinue. All six trumpeters wear yellow and grey livery and bear a trumpet decorated with the royal arms; Blanke alone wears a brown and yellow turban, while the others are bare-headed with longish hair. He appears a second time in the roll, wearing a green and gold head covering. The last time he appears in records is in 1512 when he got married because Henry VIII gave him a wedding present. On the 14th January 1512, Henry VIII issued a warrant to the great wardrobe (the part of the royal household that clothed the King) to deliver to 'a gown of violet cloth, and also a bonnet and hat' as a gift 'against his marriage.' This is the last time we hear of John Blanke in records as he doesn't appear in the list of royal trumpeters four years later in 1514. We don't know who he married, but it's most likely that she was an English woman and that the ceremony took place in St Nicholas' Church in what is now Deptford. England was still a Roman Catholic country in 1512, so he must have converted to Christianity if he wasn't a Christian already. "We know that there were black Christians in Renaissance London. For example, burial records from 1618 show that Anne Vause, 'a black-more', was buried at St Botolph's Church, Aldgate. Coincidentally, Anne's husband Anthonie was also a trumpeter." Historic Royal Palaces website There is no trace of John Blanke after 1512 in royal records after then. Some historians have suggested that he may have found work in another royal court that paid more or changed occupation - at the time, it was not uncommon for court servants to marry a widow and take on her husband's former trade in London. Another theory is that he may have died in battle, fighting in Scotland or France. Whatever the reason. Blanke is remarkable in that he demolishes the view that Africans living in England at the time were slaves. "Too often, people assume that all Africans in Europe at this time were enslaved. We are bombarded with images of enslaved Africans, often dating to later periods or other countries, most recently in the film 12 Years a Slave and the TV series Roots. But people at the time made other assumptions. For example, in 1572, Juan Gelofe, a 40-year-old African man enslaved in a Mexican silver mine, told an English sailor named William Collins that England "must be a good country as there were no slaves there." Collins replied, "It was true that they were all freemen in England." Historian and Author, Dr Miranda Kaufmann John Blanke is currently the only identifiable African Tudor portrayed in 16th-century British art. He is now featured in teaching resources, including BBC programmes for seven- to eleven-year-olds and an optional module of GCSE History (Migrants to Britain C.1250 to Present). He's also included in the National Archives' guide to black history. His image was the most requested for reproduction of those held by the College of Arms. From 2003 he featured in the National Trust's annual Black History Month exhibition at Sutton House, Hackney.

  • Our book recommendations for Black History Month UK 2021

    Our list of books to read during BHMUK21 including fiction and non-fiction titles. You can purchases any of the books listed in our IBHM Heritage shop on our IBHM Heritage shop, which helps support IBHM-UK website and independent bookshops. Manifesto: A radically honest and inspirational memoir by Bernadine Evaristo From the bestselling and Booker Prize-winning author of Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo's memoir of her own life and writing, and her manifesto on unstoppability, creativity, and activism. Bernardine Evaristo's 2019 Booker Prize win was a historic and revolutionar occasion, with Evaristo being the first Black woman and first Black British person ever to win the prize in its fifty-year history. Girl, Woman, Other was named a favorite book of the year by President Obama and Roxane Gay, was translated into thirty-five languages, and has now reached more than a million readers. Evaristo's astonishing nonfiction debut, Manifesto, is a vibrant and inspirational account of Evaristo's life and career as she rebelled against the mainstream and fought over several decades to bring her creative work into the world. With her characteristic humor, Evaristo describes her childhood as one of eight siblings, with a Nigerian father and white Catholic mother, tells the story of how she helped set up Britain's first Black women's theatre company, remembers the queer relationships of her twenties, and recounts her determination to write books that were absent in the literary world around her. She provides a hugely powerful perspective to contemporary conversations around race, class, feminism, sexuality, and aging. She reminds us of how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. In Manifesto, Evaristo charts her theory of unstoppability, showing creative people how they too can visualize and find success in their work, ignoring the naysayers. Both unconventional memoir and inspirational text, Manifesto is a unique reminder to us all to persist in doing work we believe in, even when we might feel overlooked or discounted. Evaristo shows us how we too can follow in her footsteps, from first vision, to insistent perseverance, to eventual triumph. The Louder I Will Sing: A story of racism, riots and redemption by Lee Lawrence Winner of the 2020 Costa Biography Award. What would you do if the people you trusted to uphold the law committed a crime against you? Who would you turn to? And how long would you fight them for? On 28th September 1985, Lee Lawrence's mother Cherry Groce was wrongly shot by police during a raid on her Brixton home. The bullet shattered her spine and she never walked again. In the chaos that followed, 11-year-old Lee watched in horror as the News falsely pronounced his mother dead. In Brixton, already a powder keg because of the deep racism that the community was experiencing, it was the spark needed to trigger two days of rioting that saw buildings brought down by petrol bombs, cars torched and shops looted. But for Lee, it was a spark that lit a flame that would burn for the next 30 years as he fought to get the police to recognise their wrongdoing. His life had changed forever: he was now his mother's carer, he had seen first-hand the prejudice that existed in his country, and he was at the mercy of a society that was working against him. And yet that flame - for justice, for peace, for change - kept him going. The Louder I Will Sing is a powerful, compelling and uplifting memoir about growing up in modern Britain as a young Black man. It's a story both of people and politics, of the underlying racism beneath many of our most important institutions, but also the positive power that hope, faith and love can bring in response. Black British Lives Matter by Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder Featuring essays from David Olusoga, Dawn Butler MP, Kit de Waal, Kwame Kwei-Armah, and many more. In response to the international outcry at George Floyd's death, Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder have commissioned this collection of essays to discuss how and why we need to fight for Black lives to matter - not just for Black people but for society as a whole. Recognising Black British experience within the Black Lives Matter movement, nineteen prominent Black figures explain why Black lives should be celebrated when too often they are undervalued. Drawing from personal experience, they stress how Black British people have unique perspectives and experiences that enrich British society and the world; how Black lives are far more interesting and important than the forces that try to limit it. "We achieve everything not because we are superhuman. We achieve the things we achieve because we are human. Our strength does not come from not having any weaknesses, our strength comes from overcoming them" Doreen Lawrence. "I always presumed racism would always be here, that it was a given. But the truth is, it was not always here, it was invented." David Olusoga "Our identity and experience will shape every story, bleed into every poem, inform every essay whether it's about Black 'issues' or not" Kit de Waal Maybe I Don't Belong Here. A Memoir of Race, Identity, Breakdown and Recovery by David Harewood 'As a Black British man I believe it is vital that I tell this story. It may be just one account from the perspective of a person of colour who has experienced this system, but it may be enough to potentially change an opinion or, more importantly, stop someone else from spinning completely out of control.' – David Harewood Is it possible to be Black and British and feel welcome and whole? Maybe I Don't Belong Here is a deeply personal exploration of the duality of growing up both Black and British, recovery from crisis and a rallying cry to examine the systems and biases that continue to shape our society. In this powerful and provocative account of a life lived after psychosis, critically acclaimed actor, David Harewood, uncovers devastating family history and ... Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle Nobody free till everybody free. Moa is fourteen. The only life he has ever known is working on the Frontier sugar cane plantation for endless hot days, fearing the vicious whips of the overseers. Then one night he learns of an uprising, led by the charismatic Tacky. Moa is to be a cane warrior, and fight for the freedom of all the enslaved people in the nearby plantations. But before they can escape, Moa and his friend Keverton must face their first great task: to kill their overseer, Misser Donaldson. Time is ticking, and the day of the uprising approaches... Irresistible, gripping and unforgettable, Cane Warriors follows the true story of Tacky's War in Jamaica, 1760. This is Why I Resist, Don't Define My Black Identity by Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu In This Is Why I Resist activist and political commentator, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu digs down into the deep roots of racism and anti-blackness in the UK and the US. Using real life examples from the modern day, Dr Shola shows us the different forms racism takes in our day-to-day lives and asks us to raise our voice to end the oppression. She delves into subjects not often explored such as racial gatekeepers, white ingratitude, performative allyship (those black squares on Instagram), current identity politics and abuse of the Black trans community. Where other books take White people by the hand to help them negotiate issues of race, This Is Why I Resist offers no sugar-coated comfort, instead it challenges and asks WHEN will White people progress on race inclusion. Black Lives Matter and change is now. The Clapback: Your Guide to Calling out Racist Stereotypes by Elijah Lawal In order to have an honest and open conversation about race, we need to identify areas where things are not right. The Clapback: How to Call Out Harmful Stereotypes examines the evolution of the negative stereotypes towards the black community and arms you with the tools to shut them down once and for all. Taking readers on a journey through history, and providing facts and detailed research, this is an eye-opening and refreshing look at race and language. With a light-hearted, razor sharp wit and a refreshing honesty, The Clapback is the handbook the world needs, dishing out the hard truths and providing a road map for bringing some 'act right' into our everyday lives. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Oladah Equiano The autobigraphy of the leading African abolitionist, Oladah Equiano, was reissued ahead of Black History Month UK with a new foreword by David Olusoga. A new audiobook will also be released read by rapper, actor and author Ben Bailey Smith, also known as Doc Brown. Olusoga will read his own foreword. Additional material is provided by author and professor James Walvin from York University. You can purchases any of the books listed in our IBHM Heritage shop on IBHM Heritage shop, which helps support IBHM-UK website and independent bookshops. Disclosure: If you buy books linked to our site, we may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops.

  • Google Doodle celebrates the life of Una Marson

    Una Marson was one of Jamacia's most influential feminist thinkers. She was a poet, playwright, editor, activist and broadcaster. On the 10th October 2021, Google Doodle, illustrated by UK-based guest artist Sarah Madden, celebrates one of Jamaica’s most influential feminist thinkers—the writer, advocate, and broadcaster Una Marson. Marson was the first Black woman to be employed as a radio producer at the BBC, where she recorded several significant interviews including one with swing band icon Ken “Snakehips” Johnson, which took place on this day in 1940. Una Marson was born on February 6, 1905, in Santa Cruz, Jamaica. Marson became Jamaica’s first woman magazine publisher and editor in 1928 when she established “The Cosmopolitan”—a publication focused on gender issues and social injustice. The inspiration she drew from London’s political and literary climate led her to move to the city in 1933. Shocked by the racism she encountered, she started fighting for equal rights alongside fellow Caribbean immigrant Dr. Harold Moody, the founder of civil rights group The League of Coloured Peoples. Marson returned home in 1936 to cultivate a new generation of Jamaican writers. While writing her own poetry and plays—which she often self-financed—she founded Jamaica’s Save the Children Fund. After relocating again to England in 1938, she took a position at the BBC, where she worked with George Orwell, read her poetry alongside T.S. Eliot, and produced the popular weekly program “Calling the West Indies.” First broadcast in 1943, it featured poems and short stories by Caribbean authors, giving an international platform and voice to writers such as Samuel Selvon. It also publicized both a woman's perspective to the largely male-dominated Black Internationalist Movement and a culturally relevant voice to Britain's growing Caribbean community. Marson’s literary contributions are not widely known, and even less is known of her later life. However, it was her writing and poetry that influenced the broadcasting she is best known for, and has broadened her legacy for future generations to discover. In 2009, her achievements were celebrated with an installation of a Blue Plaque—which honors individuals who have had great impacts on their community and beyond—at her former home in London’s Brunswick Park. Here’s to a cultural groundbreaker—thank you Una Marson!

  • Google Doodle celebrates the 68th birthday of Olive Morris

    Olive Morris is widely recognised as a prominent voice of leadership in the fight against discrimination in Britain during the 1970s. On the 26th June 2020, Google Doodle recognised the Jamaican-born British community leader and campaign activist Olive Morris. Olive Elaine Morris was born in St. Catherine, Jamaica on this day in 1952 and moved to London before she turned 10. A catalysing moment in Morris’ life of activism occurred when she was just 17, when she witnessed the arrest and beating of a Nigerian diplomat whom police had stopped on the basis of the “sus” laws of the time, similar to today’s “stop-and-search” policies. In response to this injustice, Morris intervened to try to protect the diplomat and prevent the arrest. As a result, she was arrested, held, and physically assaulted. This incident ignited Morris’ determination to take action, and she soon joined the Black Panthers’ Youth Collective to oppose systemic racism within Britain. Morris took a leadership role in the push toward justice across many areas of society, including fighting for racial equality, gender equality, and squatters’ rights. After heading protests and demonstrations, she helped to found the Brixton Black Women’s Group in 1973, one of Britain’s first networks for Black women. Despite leaving secondary school with no qualifications, Morris enrolled in 1975 at Manchester University, where she earned a degree in social sciences and fought tirelessly for issues like international students’ rights. She also traveled extensively around the world, from China to Algeria, which greatly informed her approach to activism back home. In 1978, she co-founded the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent, considered instrumental in rallying movements for change. In honor of Morris’ lifetime of activism, she was selected in 2015 to appear on the Brixton Pound, a currency designed to foster local business within the South London neighborhood she served during her lifetime. Today’s Doodle features Morris’ portrait on a wall in South London, surrounded by the local community the Brixton Pound that featured her was intended to support. Her commitment to fighting for equality and justice continues to inspire today.

  • African Romans in Britain

    Roman Britain was actually a multi-cultural society that included newcomers and locals with African ancestry and dual heritage. The Roman Empire was the largest empire of the ancient world. At its peak in the early 2nd century AD, its territories stretched from northern England in the far north to the borders of modern-day Sudan in the far south and from Portugal in the far west to the Persian Gulf in the far east. As a direct result of the vast territories, the Roman Empire was an extremely ethnically diverse and multicultural place. But, likely, you weren't taught this at school. In 1901, a skeleton that would later be called the 'Ivory Bangle Lady' was discovered in a stone sarcophagus buried underneath a main road in York. The skeleton was of a wealthy mixed-race young woman - probably from North Africa - who held a high status in a diverse city. Entirely at odds with traditional views of Roman Britain. The Ivory Bangle Lady came from a group of graves excavated in 1901, located on what would have been the approach to the Roman city of Eboracum, modern-day York. The burials were dated to the second half of the 4th century AD, and many had rich grave goods. But she had one of the richest graves found, which ultimately turns on its head the perception that Africans in Roman Britain were slaves. In 2010, the University of Reading re-examined the skeletons from Roman burial sites in Gloucester, Winchester, and York and discovered a greater population mix in Roman Britain than had previously been imagined. One in 5 of the Roman Britons were 'non-locals' hailing from other parts of the Roman empire. Some of them had African ancestry such as the young woman called the Ivory Bangle Lady. Using ancestry assessment they found that the skeleton of the Ivory Bangle Lady was a young woman aged between 18-23 years with a mixture of 'black' and 'white' ancestral traits, and isotope analysis revealed that she had spent her early years in a warmer climate whilst her skull shape suggested she had some North African ancestry. Taken together with the evidence of an unusual burial rite and grave goods, the evidence all pointed to a high-status incomer to Roman York. It seems likely that the Ivory Bangle Lady was of North African descent, and may have migrated to York from somewhere warmer, possibly the Mediterranean. The Ivory Bangle Lady had one of the richest graves and was buried with bracelets, earrings, pendants, beads, a blue glass jug, likely to contain cosmetics or perfume, and a glass mirror. The most famous object was a rectangular openwork mount of bone, possibly from an unrecorded wooden casket, which read "Hail, sister, may you live in God", indicating Christian beliefs. All indicating that she held a high-ranking position within Roman York. Her bracelets were made of Yorkshire jet which probably came from Whitby and African ivory – and is perhaps the most potent image of the multi-cultural Britain of that time. Hella Eckhardt, a senior lecturer at the department of archaeology at Reading University, said "Multi-cultural Britain is not just a phenomenon of more modern times. Analysis of the ‘Ivory Bangle Lady' and others like her, contradicts common popular assumptions about the make-up of Roman-British populations as well as the view that African immigrants in Roman Britain were of low status, male, and likely to have been slaves. Instead, it is clear that both women and children moved across the Empire, often associated with the military." In fact, cosmopolitan Eboracum was home to Severus and his troops nearly 200 years earlier. Lucius Septimius Severus was a Roman emperor from 193 to 211. He was born in Leptis Magna (present-day Libya) in the Roman province of Africa. In 208, Severus travelled to Britain with an army of over 40,000 troops to take Caledonia (now known as Scotland). His army contained troops from North Africa, some of whom were positioned in north Cumbria – near Hadrian’s Wall. We know this from a 4th-century inscription discovered at Burgh-by-Sands close to the fort along the western end of the wall. This inscription along with another piece of evidence, a list of Roman dignitaries, both refer to a unit of “Aurelian Moors”, soldiers collected from the Roman province of Mauretania in North Africa, modern Morocco, who had previously garrisoned the fort in the 3rd century. The unit was named in honour of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius of Gladiator fame and could well have been up to 500 strong. These soldiers are likely to have settled in the area and had families there. Other archaeological discoveries have also shown an African presence in Roman Britain. In London, a study by the Museum of London of a Roman cemetery from Southwark revealed that some of the skeletal remains were adult individuals with Black African ancestry, all of whom appeared to have travelled from the southern Mediterranean. One skeleton was identified as a 36-45 year old woman who was buried with pottery made in southeast England. While in Leicester, work on a part of a large Roman cemetery revealed burials back to the 2nd century AD. Five of the 83 skeletons found had African cranial features – two of which, including a child, appeared to have been born in the Roman province of Britannia. All of which paints a picture of a Roman Britain that was a lot more diverse than previously believed. Evidence of an African presence in Roman Britain is now well documented and is now being incorporated by museums into displays and educational content. Sources: https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/the-forum/2017/07/28/how-diverse-was-roman-britain/ https://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/feb/26/roman-york-skeleton https://www.reading.ac.uk/news-archive/press-releases/pr270747.html https://www.cumbriacountyhistory.org.uk/first-recorded-african-community-britain-background-burgh-sands https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/surprising-diversity-roman-london-docklands https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-38172433 https://archaeofeed.com/2016/12/roman-cemetery-in-leicester-yields-individuals-of-african-descent/ https://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/collections/collections-highlights/ivory-bangle-lady/

  • A Hidden Alliance

    We explore the underreported anti-slave lecturing circuit in northwest England and its impact on the working classes. In a quiet little square surrounded by nondescript office blocks in central Manchester stands a statue of the US president Abraham Lincoln as a testament to its anti-slavery movement and solidarity with the Union during the American Civil War. ​ Beneath the bronzed statue is inscribed the words: 'the support that the working people of Manchester gave in their fight for the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War…'. Part of a letter sent to the working class of Manchester from Abraham Lincoln commending them on their historic act of solidarity against the slave trade. ​ In the early 19th century, Manchester, powered by the extraordinary growth of its cotton industry, became the world's first industrial city. But the cotton industry that fuelled the mills and factories of Britain's industrial revolution came directly from the American South – produced through the labour of nearly two million enslaved African Americans. Despite the British passing the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, which gave all enslaved people in the British empire their freedom after a period of up to six years. The UK remained economically dependent on it. This paradox of British morality and Britain's economic interest came into stark relief in 1861 with the onset of the American Civil War. ​ The Northern and Southern states went into battle over the economic and political control of slavery. Lincoln sent battleships to blockade the southern ports and stop the flow of cotton to Britain and other European countries. Believing that they would see the conflict as an anti-slavery issue rather than an anti-protection issue and not intervene in favour of the South. The blockade helped tip an already declining textile industry into a more profound depression otherwise referred to as the Cotton famine (1861-65). By the end of 1862, almost half a million working-class Northerners were out of work and receiving some form of poverty relief. In the following year, riots erupted in Stalybridge, one of the worst affected towns, when local officials replaced direct money payments with a voucher system. Soup kitchens were opened to help workers evicted from their homes. As the poverty worsened throughout the region, thousands of unemployed workers left their towns and emigrated overseas to America, Australia, and New Zealand. In fact, by 1864, 1,000 people had left the region. ​ Many mill and shipping companies resented the blockade. They lobbied the British government to intervene in the war and smash the embargo, allowing the precious raw cotton back into Europe. In Liverpool, a city made wealthy by cotton imports, it was said that more Confederate flags were flying along the banks of the Mersey than Virginia. The city was instrumental in running arms to the Confederacy and even built warships for the southern states. British neutrality meant that warships could not legally be made in the country for either side. Even the liberal-leaning Manchester Guardian urged the Rochdale mill workers to drop their support of the embargo. But they resisted, in a meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, on 31 December 1862, despite their increasing hardship, they vowed to support the Union in its fight against slavery. An extract from the letter they wrote in the name of the Working People of Manchester to His Excellency Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, says: ​ ... the vast progress which you have made in the short space of twenty months fills us with hope that every stain on your freedom will shortly be removed, and that the erasure of that foul blot on civilisation and Christianity – chattel slavery – during your presidency, will cause the name of Abraham Lincoln to be honoured and revered by posterity. We are certain that such a glorious consummation will cement Great Britain and the United States in close and enduring regards. — Public Meeting, Free Trade Hall, Manchester, 31 December 1862. ​​​Yet cotton workers, despite their great hardships, pledged solidarity with the enslaved Africans on the plantations. At one public meeting, several workers declared that they would rather starve than support slavery. The contributions of Black abolitionists are often overlooked when analysing the abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade in Britain and its empire. But they played a huge role in opening the eyes of the British public to the terror and brutality of the slave trade in Britain and its empire. The Sons of Africa, now considered Britain's first Black political organisation, were instrumental in helping bring the anti-slave message to the English working classes. While working behind the scenes to aid their White allies in getting cases to courts such as the Zong massacre and lobbying pro-abolitionists MPs to pass anti-slave legislation. ​The Sons of Africa were a group of Black Abolitionists brought together under the leadership of Olaudah Equiano in 1785. Its members were educated Africans in London, including formerly enslaved men like Ottobah Cugoano, Olaudah Equiano, and other leading members of London's Black community. They had strong ties with the Anti-Slavery Society, a British abolitionist group of twelve White Quaker and Anglican men, including prominent anti-slave campaigners Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp. The Sons of Africa referred to Thomas Clarkson as "our constant and generous friend." The Sons of Africa conveyed their anti-slave messages to the public and elites through a variety of ways to help them accomplish their goals. They wrote letters, for example, to the MP Sir William Dolben. They often sent letters opposing slavery and detailing conditions of the Middle Passage to newspapers to help provoke debate. Shortly after his correspondence with them and a visit to see a slave ship being fitted out, Dolben proposed a Parliamentary bill to improve the conditions on slave ships. The Slave Act 1788 was the first law passed to regulate the slave trade, establishing standards of how many slaves could be carried in relation to ship size. Both Equiano and Cugoano wrote books detailing the hardships and suffering they had experienced as slaves. Cugoano was the first African to publicly demand the end of slavery and to challenge the perceived justification for enslaving Africans. He wrote: "if any man should buy another man... and compel him to his service without any agreement of that man... it is the duty of the man who is robbed in that manner to get out of the hands of his enslaver." The group also held public lectures. They worked closely with the Anti-Slavery Society and frequently lectured to their membership base. But unlike them, they didn't just confine their messaging to the English middle classes and actively targeted the working classes of the new industrial cities such as Liverpool, Bristol, and Lancashire by hosting lectures and writing letters to newspapers describing their enslavement and the brutalities of the slave trade. ​ "The Sons of Africa were just as energetic as white abolitionist... the records of their activities are far from complete and much about them remains unknown." By the late 1700s and early 1800s, the anti-slave lecturing circuit had become a mainstay of the abolitionist movement. In the 1800s, many abolitionists who were former enslaved Africans such as William Wells Brown, Henry Box Brown, Sarah Parker Redmond, Frederick Douglass, and James Watkins also visited the northwest of England to campaign against slavery in America. James Watkins escaped from slavery in the USA and became well known throughout the northwest of England through his public lectures on the horrors of slavery. Like fellow escapee, Henry Box Brown, Watkins had come to England because of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which was a law that declared all runaways, even in free states, should be returned to their owners. Formerly enslaved James Watkins came to live in Bolton and his landlord, a printer, agreed to publish his autobiography. This biography is now held at Bolton Museum & Archive Service. Watkins visited local millworkers to petition their support for the anti-slavery movement, emphasising the connection between the cotton industry and slavery. Watkin's anti-slavery campaign amongst local workers did not fall on deaf ears. The workers gave him their support. He made the plight of enslaved people known across many areas of the borough. There were many escaped former enslaved African Americans who toured Lancashire and the rest of Britain to condemn the southern slaving states of America. In the Oldham Archives, the narrative of one escapee, James Johnson, a 'colored Evangelist,' has been discovered. Probably the most famous of these touring former slaves was William Andrew Jackson. He escaped from slavery as the coachman of southern leader Jefferson Davis. He was a great speaker and used his speaking skills to rouse people into supporting the anti-slavery northern states of America. He was widely praised by Lancashire workers. 'I hope you will not allow any temporary suffering to lead you to give your sympathies to the enemies of human freedom on the other side of the Atlantic; I hope we shall prove there is something we love better than cotton, that is liberty of the human race.' George Thompson at a meeting in Stockport, 1861. Henry 'Box' Brown was born enslaved on an American plantation and worked in a tobacco factory. In 1849 Brown's master refused to buy Brown's wife when she and their children were put up for sale, and they were sold to a man in North Carolina. This act prompted Brown's determination to escape from slavery, and a scheme was hatched to post him to Philadelphia in a box. Helped by the free black American, James Caesar Anthony Smith, Brown was posted from Richmond in Virginia to the city of Philadelphia. The 350-mile journey took 27 hours to complete. In Philadelphia, the box was opened, and Brown jumped out and declared, 'Good morning, gentlemen!' as if he had arrived on a train. The story of this journey to freedom caught the public's imagination, and Brown became well known, joining the abolitionist lecture circuit and calling himself Henry Box Brown to commemorate his escape. Brown and James Caesar Smith toured the north of England with an exhibition called 'The Mirror of Slavery.' He spent the next 14 years lecturing and re-enacting the manner of his escape. By 1865 interest was lessening in stories of the American slavery experience due to the abolition of slavery after Lincoln's victory in the American Civil war. ​Historian Robin Blackburn has compared how workers were treated in the two forms of labouring – saying that 'industrial discipline is similar to plantation discipline.' Although some northwest workers supported the southern 'slave' states, the majority supported the 'anti-slavery northern cause, despite it meaning that they might suffer unemployment. The many well-attended meetings in communities throughout Lancashire show the extent of their support for the northern states. It was where many made the connection between the chattel slaves in the Americas and their own position of 'wage slavery' in poor conditions in the mills. Midway through the Cotton Famine, Abraham Lincoln sent over an aid package containing boxes of bacon and bread, bags of rice and corn, and 15,000 barrels of flour to help feed the starving people of Lancashire in recognition of their support of the northern states. Its arrival in Liverpool in February 1863 was greeted by an enthusiastic pro northern public meeting of between 3-4,000 people. The only surviving item, a flour barrel, is in a collection at Touchstones Rochdale. On 14 August 2016, a plaque created by BBC History was unveiled to commemorate the Rochdale mill workers who supported the struggle against slavery during the American Civil War. It is located by a road still called today what is was known as then –"Cotton Famine Road." The road was cut across the landscape by unemployed workers from Lancashire in a public works scheme – a response to the humanitarian crisis that was unfolding in the region. Sources: http://revealinghistories.org.uk/the-american-civil-war-and-the-lancashire-cotton-famine.html https://londonhuawiki.wpi.edu/images/e/e4/E2018.Sons_of_Africa_history_ISP.Weddington.pdf https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Sons-Of-Africa/ https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/from-the-archive-blog/2013/feb/04/lincoln-oscars-manchester-cotton-abraham http://equianosworld.org/associates-abolition.php?id=17

bottom of page