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  • Ottobah Cugoano - the radical Abolitionist & first African to publicly call for the end of slavery

    Black History Month UK 2022 'Sharing Journeys' campaign - exploring the lives of Britons with West African heritage Quobna Ottobah Cugoano (usually known simply as Ottobah Cugoano) was born in the village of Ajumako (also spelled Agimaque) circa. 1757 on the coast of present-day Ghana. He was a Fanti, as he recounts in his anti-slavery book, “[I was born] at Agimaque, on the coast of Fantyn… in the country of Fantee” and his family was close to the local chief. At the age of 13, he was seized with a group of children and sold into slavery. He later recalled: “[in 1770] I was early snatched away from my native country, with about eighteen or twenty more boys and girls, as were playing in a field. We lived but a few day’s journey from the coast where we were kidnapped... Some of us attempted, in vain, to run away, but pistols and cutlasses were soon introduced, threatening, that if we offered to stir, we should all lie dead on the spot." After several weeks in captivity, Cugoano was eventually brought to a trading post. There, he sees "many of my miserable countrymen chained two and two, some handcuffed," and "several white people, which made me afraid that they would eat me, according to our notion, as children, in the inland parts of the country." Cugoano's African captor sells him for "a gun, a piece of cloth, and some lead," telling the new slave that he must "learn the ways of the browfow, that is, the white-faced people." Cugoano and the other children were transported to Grenada in the Caribbean (then referred to as the Westindies) via the notorious ‘Middle Passage.’ He gives a harrowing account: "We were taken in the ship that came for us, to another that was ready to sail from Cape Coast. When we were put into the ship, we saw several black merchants coming on board, but we were all drove into our holes, and not suffered to speak to any of them. In this situation, we continued several days in sight of our native land.” On board the ship there is "nothing to be heard but the rattling of chains, smacking of whips, and the groans and cries of our fellow-men... The slaves agree that death is "more preferable than life; and a plan was concerted amongst us, that we might burn and blow up the ship, and to perish all together in the flames: but we were betrayed by one of our own country women, who slept with some of the headmen of the ship, for it was common for the filthy dirty sailors to take the African women and lie upon their bodies; but the men were chained and pent up in holes. It was the women and boys which were to burn the ship, with the approbation and groans of the rest; though that was prevented, the discovery was likewise a cruel bloody scene." After enduring the gruelling ‘Middle Passage’, Cugaono and his fellow enslaved Africans were sold to work on sugar plantations. In his autobiography, he writes of the brutality that he and his fellow enslaved Africans had to endure. "Being in this dreadful captivity and horrible slavery, without any hope of deliverance, for about eight or nine months, beholding the most dreadful scenes of misery and cruelty, and seeing my miserable companions often cruelly lashed, and, as it were, cut to pieces, for the most trifling faults; this made me often tremble and weep, but I escaped better than many of them. Describing in detail how enslaved Africans discovered eating sugar cane are “cruelly lashed, or struck over the face, to knock their teeth out." Others have "their teeth pulled out, to deter others, and to prevent them from eating any cane" even before they ever work in the fields. Cugoano worked in a ‘slave-gang’ on plantations in Grenada and other islands for nearly two years in the service of their slave-owner, Alexander Campbell. He was brought to England by his ‘owner’ in late 1772. There is some dispute on how he obtained his freedom, but in his book, Cugoano says he was ‘freed’. It’s probably not a coincidence that this was during the year of the Somerset Case that ruled that any runaway enslaved person couldn’t be forcibly sent back to the colonies to be enslaved and sold again. On 20th August 1773, he was baptised as ‘John Stuart – a Black, aged 16 Years’ at St James Church, Piccadilly. He implies in his own account that the conversion to Christianity had been intended to stop him from being sold into slavery again, though it seems he did later develop a Christian faith that was authentic and meaningful to him. It’s believed that in the intervening years before he was documented entering the domestic service of the Royal artist Richard Cosway in 1784 that he learned to read and write. He wrote: “[I set my mind] to learn reading and writing, which soon became my recreation, pleasure, and delight; and when my master perceived that I could write some, he sent me to a proper school for that purpose to learn.” Cugoano developed close ties within the Afro-British community and befriended Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho. He became an active member of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group campaigning for the end of the Atlantic Slave Trade. In 1786, he played a key role in the case of Henry Demane. Demane was a formerly enslaved Afro-Briton who was employed as a servant of Mr Jeffries of Bedford Street in London. Jeffries somehow duped Harry into going on board a slaver’s ship, where he was held against his will. News of his kidnapping was sent to Cugoano and another Black Abolitionist called William Green. Together they contacted the white abolitionist Granville Sharp to help in the freeing of Demane. Sharp secured a notice to remove Demane from the slaver’s ship, and William Green and the clerk who issued the notice removed him from the ship before it sailed. [Account taken from the Memoirs of Granville Sharp (1820) by Prince Hoare (1775-18340]. Through the Cosways, he came to the attention of leading British political and cultural figures of the time, including the poet William Blake and the Prince of Wales. When in 1787, it’s thought with the help of his friend, Olaudah Equiano, Cugoano published an attack on slavery entitled Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species. He sent copies to King George III, the politician Edmund Burke, and other leading British figures. In it, he called for the abolition of slavery and immediate emancipation of all enslaved people. Unlike his predecessors, John Marrant and Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, whose life stories concentrated on the evils of the Atlantic Slave Trade. In his book, he argues that an enslaved person’s duty is to escape from slavery, and that force should be used to prevent further enslavement. Advocating for the punishment of slave owners, including enslavement by their former slaves. A radical act at the time, as no Black person had ever publicly announced that enslavement should be abolished out of fear of retaliation and the lack of faith that their voice would be heard. Cugoano was the first African to publicly demand the end of slavery and to challenge the racist attitudes of Europeans against Africans. Some pretend that the Africans, in general, are a set of poor, ignorant, dispersed, unsociable people…This specious pretense is without any shadow of justice and truth, and, if the argument was even true, it could afford no just and warrantable matter for any society of men to hold slaves… which can be made better by bringing them away to a state of a degree equal to that of a cow or a horse. Cugoano failed to persuade King George III to change his opinions on the Atlantic Slave Trade, and like other members of the royal family, the king remained against its abolition. Nevertheless, the book was a success and well received. In 1787, it was reprinted three times and was translated into French in 1788. Cugoano sold it mainly through subscriptions and the book sales provided him with a supplementary income to fund his radical politics through rioting, resisting arrest, and letter writing. In 1791, he published an abridged version with additional material, addressed to the ‘Sons of Africa’ in which he expressed deep concern for the proposed deportation of Black people from Britain. Throughout the 1770s and 1780s, London’s small Black population increased significantly with the arrival of formerly enslaved African-American soldiers who had fought on the side of the British during the American Civil War. Deprived of the war pensions promised to them when they signed up to fight for the British, they were forced to work as servants to wealthy whites or were reduced to begging on the streets. Cugoano’s friend and colleague, Olaudah Equiano, took up their cause and backed a resettlement scheme to expatriate the Black Poor as they were referred to a newly established colony in Sierra Leone. Cugoano questioned the validity of the Sierra Leone scheme writing: “[can it] be readily conceived that government would establish a free colony for them near the spot, while supports its forts and garrisons, to ensnare, merchandize, and to carry others into captivity and slavery.” He organised protests against the deportation of London’s Black Poor and helped in disrupting and delaying the scheme. One can only assume that the public friendship between Cugoano and Equiano was severely tested. However, Equiano soon joined him in publicly condemning the programme after he was fired from his government role as Commissary Officer in March 1787. In the new version of his book, Cugoano announces his intention to open a school for Afro-Britons. About 1791, he writes a letter to Granville Sharp expressing an interest in being part of the second attempt to establish a colony in Sierra Leone that was now targeting Black Pioneers from Nova Scotia in Canada. After the failure of the first resettlement scheme, the organisers turned to Canada for new colonists at the suggestion of Thomas Peters (a Black Pioneer - formerly enslaved African Americans who fought on the side of the British during the War of Independence). Nova Scotia was home to about 3,000 Black Pioneers. They lived in terrible conditions in segregated societies and felt no loyalty to the land which had not welcomed them. It’s estimated that just under 12,000 Black Pioneers migrated to Sierra Leone in 1792. They help to create the colony at Freetown which grew into the country we have today. Cugoano also talks about the prejudice he experiences while promoting his book in the UK in his letter to Sharp. He wrote: ‘in the last three months b[een] upwards to fifty places but, Complexion is a Predominant Prejudice’. His travels were perhaps a precursor to the anti-slavery lecturing circuit that would flourish in the coming years. After 1791, Cugoano disappears from historical records. No record has been found of either Cugoano starting a school or participating in the resettlement scheme in Sierra Leone. Some historians speculate that he may have died sometime in 1791 or the following year in 1792. In his introduction of the 1999 reprint of Cugoano’s book, historian Vincent Carretta writes: Of the four major writers of African descent – Ignatius Sancho, John Marrant, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, and Olaudah Equiano – whose works were first published in London during the 1780s, Cugoano remains the most radical and least familiar. Cugoano argued for the end of slavery and the economic plundering of Africa. Advocated for the economic independence of Africa and its people, demanded reparations, and questioned the European perceptions of Africans. Questions that are still important today in the 21st century. In November 2020, an English Heritage blue plaque honouring Cugoano was unveiled on Schomberg House in Pall Mall, London where he had lived and worked with the Cosways from 1784 to 1791. Sources: Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species by Ottobah Cugoano with an introduction by Vincent Carretta (published in 1999) Staying Power – The History of Black People in Britain by Peter Fryer Why did Black Londoners not join the Sierra Leone Resettlement Scheme 1783-1815? By Michael Sivapragasam https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/ottobah-cugoano/ https://www.englishlanguageandhistory.com/?id=prince-hoare-granville-sharp-henry-demane-2 https://web.archive.org/web/20071013064927/http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/gustavusvassa https://www.sjp.org.uk/history-and-heritage/

  • 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.

  • 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

  • How the West African Student Union (WASU) campaigned for the end of colonial rule in West Africa

    In August 1925, a Nigerian law student, Lapido Solanke, and a Sierra Leonean doctor, Herbert Bankole-Bright founded the West African Students’ Union (WASU) in London, England. It became a key political, social and cultural organisation for West Africans in Britain and the main African organisation in the UK for over thirty years. As early as 1923, Solanke had proposed that the Union of Students of African Descent (USAD), a Christian social organisation dominated by students from the West Indies (and which had grown out of the earlier West African and West Indian Christian Union, founded in 1917), should incorporate itself into the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA). In 1925, Bankole-Bright of the NCBWA called on USAD, the Nigeria Progress Union, the African Progress Union and the Gold Coast Students' Association (GCSA) to join together to form a single organisation for West African students, inspired by the Indian Students' Union. Many students joined together to form WASU, and Solanke became the new organisation's secretary-general, while J. B. Danquah became its first president. J. E. Casely Hayford was the new grouping's first patron, a post he used to promote African nationalism. WASU’s founders were intentional about the organisation’s Pan-Africanism. Solanke visited and established chapters in several British West African colonies. The organisation soon became a hub for anti-racist and decolonial thinkers across the diaspora. In fact, one of WASU’s early donors was Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican political activist and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), who helped the organization obtain its first meetinghouse. African immigrants made up a very small minority in 1920s and 1930s London but faced considerable racial discrimination. Records from the Colonial Office suggest that there were around 125 African students at universities in Britain in 1929. By 1951, this number had risen dramatically to 2,300. Over its 30-year history, the WASU would move to a new location in Camden and open a second hostel on Chelsea Embankment due to increasing demand. White-owned establishments could legally refuse Black tenants, and so a key aim of WASU was "to provide and maintain a hostel for students of African descent." The Colonial Office were keen to take control of the project, and in 1929, whilst Solanke was away in West Africa raising funds for the hostel, they assembled a secret plan to build their own hostel. This became Aggrey House, which WASU exposed in their pamphlet The Truth About Aggrey House – An Exposure of the Government Plan to Control African Students in Great Britain. WASU opened its first hostel in March 1933 on Camden Road to provide accommodation to students and visitors of African descent. At a time when white-owned establishments could legally refuse Black tenants, the hostel was designed to be a “home away from home” for Africans in the diaspora. Known as “Africa House”, it gave members access to meals, a library, a reading room, a games room and space to welcome visitors. Solanke’s wife, Chief Opeolu Solanke-Ogunbiyi, became the matriarch of the hostel and was known as Mama WASU. Given that Africa House had a restaurant, Mama WASU solicited traditional African ingredients, things like egusi and ewuro, from her mother in Nigeria who sent them to her by passenger ship. Mama WASU hired an Irish cook for the hostel and taught her how to make traditional Nigerian dishes for the tenants. The WASU campaigned against racism in Britain and against colonialism and for independence in West Africa. Its activities included producing a journal, Wasu, and founding four hostels in London to provide lodgings and a ‘home from home’ for West African students and other African visitors at a time when as a result of racism and the ‘colour bar’ it was difficult or impossible for them to secure accommodation. In October 1934, the Colonial Office opened the rival hostel ‘Aggrey House’ in which political discussion could be monitored and discouraged. WASU opposed the scheme and formed an "Africa House Defence Committee", including Paul Robeson, who was awarded the title "Babasale of the Union", also gaining the support of the National Council for Civil Liberties, Negro Welfare Association, and League Against Imperialism. They encouraged students to boycott the hostel which remained unfilled until the Colonial Office offered WASU official recognition and financial support to run Africa House. In financial difficulties, WASU accepted the deal, and also accepted funding from organisations such as the United African Company. WASU also undertook some political campaigns within Britain. In 1929, it successfully stopped plans for an African village exhibition in Newcastle, which it felt would be exploitative. This campaign was taken up in Parliament by the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) Member of Parliament Shapurji Saklatvala. During the 1930s, WASU steadily expanded its work from student affairs and social movements to more formal political action. By 1930 WASU had persuaded a committee of Labour MPs to advocate for West African interests in Parliament. However, over time, the organisation’s position evolved from one of reforming colonial systems to openly opposing them. The group developed increasing links with communist groups, such as the League Against Imperialism (LAI) and the Negro Welfare Association, in particular in its campaigns against the colour bar and against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. WASU was a leading voice against Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. The call for decolonisation intensified with World War II and the conscription of colonial subjects including many Africans, in the fight against Nazi Germany. WASU argued that England could not call on African colonial subjects to fight in its defence while denying them independence at home. In 1937, the Gold Coast Farmers Union wrote to Solanke, asking for his assistance in breaking the cocoa cartel of Cadbury's and the UAC. With Labour Party MPs Reginald Sorensen and Arthur Creech Jones, WASU campaigned in support of the 1938 Gold Coast cocoa hold-up, where small farmers attempted to pressurise the companies by disrupting their supplies. The following year in July 1938, with grants from various West African governments and British companies, WASU opened a new hostel, on Camden Square. This also solved the union's financial problems and enabled it to step up its campaigning activity. WASU became increasingly identified as an anti-colonial group, and it called for dominion status and universal suffrage for the West African colonies. Clement Attlee gave a speech to the union in which he suggested that the Atlantic Charter would apply to all nations, effectively endorsing WASU's aims, but Winston Churchill insisted that self-determination could only apply to European nations. In 1942, WASU made its first formal demand of the British Empire for the independence of its African colonies within five years of the end of the war. Harold Macmillan personally visited Africa House to argue the British government's case. And although their demand didn’t come to fruition, it planted a seed that inevitably contributed to African decolonization. Five years later in 1947, under vice-president Kwame Nkrumah, WASU called for an immediate decision on independence for the West African colonies and criticised the Labour government for its failure to deliver this. By the 1950s WASU’s influence began to decline as the fight for West African nationalism moved to the colonial territories. But It was one of the most important political organisations in Britain from the 1920s until the 1960s. It acted as a training ground for future West African politicians and from the late 1930s established branches and distributed its journal throughout West Africa and internationally. Through its branches and individual links, it was a major influence on the anti-colonial movements in Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia. Its members included Kwame Nkrumah, who became the first head of state of independent Ghana in 1957, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president, and Hastings Banda, Malawi’s first president. WASU played a pivotal role in West Africa’s fight for independence from colonial Britain. That must and can not be forgotten. In 2012, University of Chichester history professor Hakim Adi created The WASU Project to revive the legacy of the movement. The WASU Project aims to document the history of West Africans in Britain, especially those who campaigned for an end to colonial rule and against all forms of racism during the 20th century, by presenting information, photos, and eventually a film about WASU. He told the Quartz Africa publication: “The dominant view of Black British history tends to exclude people from the African continent and focus on people from the Caribbean. There are a lot of things that people don’t know about the history of Africans in Britain, or in Africa for that matter,” he told Quartz Africa. “You don’t see documentaries or dramas on TV about it, and that’s problematic. In that sense, it’s not widely recognised but that’s a reflection of the way that history is presented.” On the 30th October 2020, the Nubian Jak Community Trust launched the Black Plaque project to celebrate notable Black Britons and organisations. A temporary Black Plaque was erected on Camden Road to commemorate Lapido Solanke and WASU. Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_African_Students%27_Union#cite_note-9 https://qz.com/africa/1979035/how-west-african-students-in-london-fought-for-african-independence/ https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/west-african-students-union-wasu/ https://wasuproject.org.uk/ https://www.kofastudy.com/courses/ss2-government-3rd-term/lessons/some-key-nationalist-movements-and-nationalist-leaders-and-their-contributions-week-2/topic/west-african-student-union/

  • Google Doodle celebrates Dr Harold Moody

    Jamaican born Dr Harold Moody campaigned against racism in Edwardian Britain and provided free medical care to the poorer members of his local community before the establishment of NHS. On the 1st September 2020, Google Doodle recognised Jamaican-born British doctor, racial equality campaigner, and founder of the U.K.'s first civil rights movement Dr. Harold Moody. On this day (1st September) in 1904, Dr. Moody arrived in the U.K. from Jamaica to pursue his medical studies at King’s College London. Alongside his medical work, he dedicated his life to campaigning for racial equality and advocating against discrimination. Harold Arundel Moody was born on October 8, 1882, in the Jamaican capital of Kingston. He received early exposure to the medical field while in secondary school through his work for his father’s pharmaceutical business. Determined to become a doctor, he left Jamaica in 1904 to study medicine in London. Dr. Moody soon came face-to-face with rampant racism in Edwardian London. Even though he qualified to practice medicine, finished top of his class, and won numerous academic prizes, he was repeatedly refused work due to the color bar system that denied people opportunities based on race. Instead, he opened his own private medical practice in Peckham, South East London—the neighborhood that inspired the design of the buildings situated below Dr. Moody in today’s Doodle. The children depicted represent the countless impoverished youth Dr. Moody would treat free of charge, in a time before the U.K. had a National Health Service. In doing so, Dr. Moody earned a reputation as a compassionate humanitarian and philanthropist who would always help those in need. Dr. Moody’s determination to improve the lives of those around him wasn’t limited to his medical practice—he simultaneously focused his attention on combating racial injustice as well. He founded the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931 with the mission to fight for racial equality both in the U.K. and around the world. The group pushed for change, at a government level, to combat discrimination in its many forms. Thank you, Dr. Moody, for paving the way towards a more equal future.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Google Doodle celebrates Claudia Jones during Black History Month UK

    Google Doodle celebrates the visionary feminist and Marxist who developed the theory of triple oppression which connects race, class and gender to oppression. Founder of the first Black British newspaper and mother of the Notting Hill Carnival during Black History Month UK. Today’s Doodle commemorates Trinidad-born activist, feminist, journalist, orator, and community organizer Claudia Jones. Among her groundbreaking accomplishments, Jones founded and served as the editor-in-chief for the West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News—Britain’s first, major Black newspaper. Through its global news coverage, the Gazette aimed to unify the Black community in the worldwide battle against discrimination. The publication also provided a platform for Jones to organize Britain’s first Caribbean carnival in 1959, which is widely credited as the precursor to today’s annual celebration of Caribbean culture known as the Notting Hill Carnival. On this day in 2008, Jones was honored with a Great British Stamp in the “Women of Distinction” series to commemorate her lifetime of pioneering activism. Claudia Jones was born Claudia Vera Cumberbatch on February 21, 1915 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. At 8 years old, she moved with her family to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. Passionate about writing, Jones contributed to and led a variety of communist publications as a young adult, and she spent much of her adulthood as an active member of the Communist Party USA. Throughout her life, Jones tirelessly championed issues like civil rights, gender equality, and decolonization through journalism, community organization, and public speaking. She focused much of her work on the liberation of Black women everywhere from the discrimination they faced due to a combination of classism, racism, and sexism. Jones’ political activity led to multiple imprisonments and ultimately her deportation to the U.K. in 1955, but she refused to be deterred. Beginning a new chapter of her life in Britain, she turned particular attention to the issues facing London’s West Indian immigrant community. In an effort to counteract racial tensions, she inaugurated an annual Caribbean carnival, whose spirit lives on today as a symbol of community and inclusion. Thank you, Claudia Jones, for your lifelong commitment to a more equitable world.

  • 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/

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