Some of the Black Britons who shaped British History
Dame Jocelyn Barrow
Dame Jocelyn dedicated her life to fighting racial equality in the UK. She was a founding member and General Secretary of CARD (Campaign Against Racial Discrimination), the organisation responsible for the Race Relations Act 1965 and its amendment in 1968. This, for the first time, made racial discrimination illegal in Britain.
She was the first black female Governor of the BBC and the Parole Board, as well as Founder and Deputy Chair of the Broadcasting Standards Council. Her equal opportunities and educational expertise is reflected in her many Government appointments to a variety of organisations where she was an important black presence.
She was also Governor of the Commonwealth Institute for eight years, Council Member of Goldsmith's College, University of London, Vice-president of the United Nations Association in the UK and Northern Ireland and Trustee to the Irene Taylor Trust providing Music in Prisons.
As well as this, she was National Vice-President of the Townswomen's Guild and was instrumental in the establishment of the North Atlantic Slavery Gallery and the Maritime Museum in Liverpool. She was a Trustee of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside and a Governor of the British Film Institute.
In 1972 she was awarded the OBE for work in the field of education and community relations. In 1992 she received the DBE for her work in broadcasting and her contribution to the work of the European Union as the UK Member of the Social Economic Committee.
This is only some of Dame Joselyn's work that made huge changes to British history.
100 Great Black Britons
Black Cultural Archives
Born in southern Nigeria, Olaudah Equiano was kidnapped aged 11 and sold to a Royal Navy Officer, Lieutenant Michael Pascal, who renamed him Gustavus Vassa. Equiano travelled the seas with Pascal for eight years, during which time he learned to read and write.
He was sold again to a ship captain. Equiano was able to earn money by trading on the side which allowed him to buy his freedom in 1766 where he then spent much of the next 20 years travelling. In 1786 he become part of the abolitionist group ‘The Sons of Africa’, considered to be Britain’s first black political organisation, which campaigned to end African slavery.
In 1789, Cambridge University Press published Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano’, which depicted the horrors of slavery. The book became a best-seller, aiding the abolitionist cause.
In 1792 Equiano married Susannah Cullen and they made their home in Soham, Cambridgeshire. They went on to have two daughters – Anna Maria (born October 1793) and Joanna (born April 1795). Susannah died in February 1796 and was buried in Soham – her gravestone states ‘Susannah Vassa, wife of Gustavus the African, aged 34 years’. Equiano died a year after in March 1797, his burial place is not known. Anna Maria then died aged four and is buried at St. Andrew’s Church in Chesterton. There is a memorial to her on the church wall which reads:
Near this Places lies Interred
ANNA MARIA VASSA
Daughter of Gustavus Vassa, the African
She died July 21 1797 aged 4 years
Born in Jamaica in 1805 to a Scottish soldier and Jamaican mother, Mary Seacole had to overcome many prejudices in her life. Seacole and her family had few civil rights - they could not vote, hold public office or enter the professions.
In 1854, Seacole travelled to Britain and approached the War Office, who declined her request to enter the Crimea as a war nurse. So she funded her way there and established the 'British Hotel' near Balaclava to help look after the sick and wounded soldiers. She also visited the battlefield, sometimes under fire, to nurse the wounded. Here she became known as 'Mother Seacole'.
As her reputation at the time rivalled that of Florence Nightingale, her work in nursing was mostly forgotten for almost a century after her death.
Her memoirs, published in 1857, would be the first written by a black woman in Britain.
Black British Activists:
Akala is a BAFTA and MOBO award-winning hip hop artist, writer, poet, activist and historian. Recently he has been known for his lecturers, seminars, journalism, TV presenting and script writing - gaining him the reputation as one of the most dynamic and literate talents in the UK.
In 2009, Akala launched 'The Hip-hop Shakespeare Company', a music theatre production company which has sparked worldwide media interest since its inception - with previous clients and collaborators including the BBC, Premier League, Sir Ian McKellen, Ed Sheeran, Lady Leshurr and more.
Akala and his manager went on to co-found Immovable Limited in 2015 - a creative publishing hub producing creative content across music, books and TV. Their 2018 adaptation of Akala's graphic novel/poem 'The Ruins of Empire' was produced for the BBC. This follows the course of mans evolution, via astral travel and multiple reincarnations, in an attempt to discover the cause of the rise and fall of empires.
Akala's 2018 published memoir NATIVES is a Sunday Times bestseller, covering everything from the police, education and identify politics to confronting issues of race and class that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain's racialised empire.
BBC Performance Live - Akala Presents: The Ruins of Empire
Alice Kinloch was a South African activist who came to Britain in the late 1890s and helped to found the African Association, although that is usually credited to a man called Henry Sylvester-Williams. The African Association convened the first Pan-African Conference, held in London in 1900. This was the first major event to use the term pan-African and to gather people from all over the diaspora to speak with one voice
Kinloch has been written out of history, and not much is known about her. There is not even any photographic record of her available. However, she played a leading role at the time when few African woman were active in politics or elsewhere.
The Guardian - Alice Kinloch
The Black Plaque Project
Darcus Howe (1943-2017) was a writer, broadcaster and activist who was outspoken in promoting black self-determination.
After his initial experience of racial tension in Britain at the start of the 1960s, Howe became active in the Black Power movement in the US and the Caribbean. On his return to the UK in August 1970, Howe co-founded the British Black Panthers with Althea Jones-Lecointe, a campaign in defence of the Mangrove restaurant founded and run by Frank Crinchlow. The Mangrove was a small piece of decolonised territory in Notting Hill. When the police attempted to close it, Howe organised a march. Although peaceful, this resulted in the biggest Black Power trial in British history.
For 55 days Howe and Jones-Lecointe led the defence of the Mangrove nine - themselves, Crinchlow and six others. Against the combined forces of the Special Branch, the Metropolitan Police, the judiciary and Home Office, the nine won their acquittal but also forced the first judicial acknowledgement that there was "evidence of hatred on both sides".
This was only the beginning for Darcus Howe. Read more about him in the sources below.
BBC - Darcus Howe
BBC - Mangrove Nine
Information on an online event on Darcus Howe - a talk by Leila Hassan-Howe on 4th November 2021.
Our 2021 Sporting Heroes
2021 has been a big year for sport - what with the Euros, Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, as well as the 39% viewership increase of Formula 1 events. Here are some key people.
Kare Adenegan | Paralympian
A twenty-year-old British paralympian from Coventry who specialises in wheelchair racing.
Kare Adenegan took up the sport in 2012, after feeling inspired by the London Olympic Games, to then only make her debut three years later at the 2015 World Championships in Doha, Qatar. In 2018, she set a world record in the T34 100m in 2018 and then went on to win the 2018 BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award. At the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, she won silver in both the women's 100m T34 and 800m T34.
In 2020, Adenegan spoke about representation in Paralympic sport - talking about how only twenty athletics defined themselves as either Black, Asian or minority ethnic out of 264 at Rio 2016. She noted that she found it difficult to know whether the experiences she has had as a female black disabled athlete are because of racism, sexism or ableism. She has also raised awareness of how high percentages of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds are likely to drop-out of sport and that there can be financial barriers stopping minority communities from funding Para sport. She hopes to inspire more BAME Para athletes to join teams.
Adenegan has previously run an Instagram Live series on Race and Disability.
Marcus Rashford | Footballer and activist
Listen to BBC Radio 4's profile on Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford is both an English footballer and activist, who has achieved a fair amount for just twenty three. Born in Manchester, he is of Kittitian descent as his grandmother was born on the West Indies island of Saint Kitts. Rashford campaigns against racism, homelessness and has made tackling food poverty in Britain one of the key issues of the Covid-19 pandemic, raising huge awareness and money for the issue via the FareShare charity.
In 2020, Rashford was in the headlines for single-handedly calling on ministers to offer a guranteed 'meal a day' to all school pupils in England in financially struggling families. He recalls his own hardships during his school days in South Manchester, having received free school meals himself. His activism resulted in two government U-turns on the issue. Decisions which supported thousands of this county's vulnerable young people. He also used his own Twitter account to promote cafes, individual people, charities and local businesses offering support to FareShare to help the impoverished around the country. This does not even cover everything Marcus Rashford achieved during 2020/21 alone.
In the delayed 2020 Queen's Birthday Honours List, he was made an MBE in recognition of his services for vulnerable children during the pandemic.
Black History Month - Marcus Rashford
Sir Lewis Hamilton | Formula 1 driver
Listen to BBC Radio 4's profile on Lewis Hamilton
The first black Formula 1 driver, ever. There are interviews of Hamilton as a child where we talks about experiencing racial abuse as a child but that he would ignore them then beat them on the track.
Over the years he has put pressure on the motorsport industry to make bigger steps in equality and diversity. He has openly critised them for not doing enough, not just due to underrepresentation in the driver pool but also those who work in the garages and as engineers in the factories. In particular, after reviewing the lack of diversity within the end of season photo in 2019, he formed the Hamilton Commission alongside The Royal Academy of Engineering, in the hopes to improve representation of Black people in UK motorsport but understanding the specific barriers to recruitment and progression.
In July 2021, Hamilton made a personal pledge of £20 million to new charity Mission 44 - a charity committed to creating opportunities for young people from under-represented backgrounds by "supporting organisations and programmes that narrow the gap in employment and education systems, through partnerships, collaborations, grant giving and advocacy". He particularly wanted to provide more opportunities for young people hoping to make a career in motorsport.
Outside of Formula 1, Hamilton offered young black designers a seat at the table for the 2021 Met Gala in New York. He points out that underrepresentation in the fashion industry is much the same as in motorsport. Recognising that a lot of young Black brands and designers do not have the same opportunities.
Black History Month - Lewis Hamilton
The Hamilton Commission
Joe Clough | First Black British bus driver in the UK
When hundreds of people travelled from Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad to work on the London transport network, following a recruitment drive between 1956 and 1970, they were following in the footsteps of London's first Black bus driver, Joe Clough, who drove a London bus from 1910 to 1914.
Born in Jamaica in 1887, Clough was employed as a young boy by a Scottish doctor, Dr R C White, in Kingston, Jamaica who invited him to move to England. In 1906, Clough moved to Britain as his servant and companion who drove Dr White around by coach and horse. However, as new motorcars were becoming increasingly popular, Clough learnt to driver and became the doctor's chauffeur.
In 1910, Clough applied to work at London General Omnibus Company (L.G.O.C) and became a spare driver. After passing his test he became a driver for the route between Liverpool Street and Wormwood Scrubs.
When World War I began, he enlisted in the Army Service Corps based in Kempston Barracks, Bedfordshire, in 1915. He then drove an ambulance for four years in Ypres on the Western Front.
in 1919, once the war had ended, Clough, his wife and two children moved to Bedford. He was one of few Black inhabitants there until after World War II. He continued to work in the bus service until 1949 when he bought his own taxi.
Joe Clough passed away in 1976 at the age of 91. Many Bedford locals remember him with great affection.
Black History Month - Joe Clough
Janet Kay | First Black British female artist to have a reggae number one in the UK
Janet Kay was born in London to Jamaican parents, Clifton and Monica Bogle. As a sixties child, she was exposed to the singing greats - especially Motown.
In 1977, Kay was invited by a school friend to a band rehearsal. It was here that Janet Kay was first discovered by a band member called Tony Gad who introduced her to the reggae legend, Alton Ellis. This resulted in her recording a cover version of Minnie Ripperton's 'Loving You' which became a reggae smash hit spending many weeks at number one in the reggae charts.
She recorded two more reggae chart number ones in the following year, cover versions of 'I do Love You' and 'That's What Friends Are For'.
In 1979, Kay made history by becoming the first British-born Black female to have a reggae song at the top of the British charts. The song 'Silly Games' was a hit in the UK and Europe. Her history making landed her in the Music Guinness Book of World Records.
Black History Month - Janet Kay
100 Great Black Britons
Michael Fuller | First Black Chief Constable in the UK
Michael Fuller joined the Metropolitan Police Service as a cadet in 1975 where he served in uniformed and Criminal Investigation Department (CID) positions throughout London, with posts at New Scotland Yard including Special Branch. In January 2004 he then became the first Black Chief Constable, where he served for Kent Police until March 2010. Upon retirement, Kent Police was designated by the Police Inspectorate as one of five most improved police forces in England and Wales.
Fuller was also instrumental in setting up the Racial and Violent Crime Task Force. He set up and commanded Operation Trident which successfully reduced gun crime in London. He also supervised numerous murder investigations whilst in command of the Met's West Area Serious Crime Group.
Fuller retired from the police in April 2010, after 34 years, to take up the position as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service. He is the holder of the Queen's Police Medal (QPM) for distinguished police service. He also qualified as a barrister whilst serving as a chief constable and was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in July 2007. Now, Fuller holds the position of Non-Executive Director to the Home Office, providing advice to the department.
In an interview with the UK's Black History Month group, Fuller discussed how important it is for businesses to celebrate Black History Month and merit the contributions that Black people have made to the success of this country and ensure that Black employees are valued and seen.
Black History Month - Michael Fuller
Black History Month - Devon and Cornwall Police