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34th Black History Month

Authored by Nishah Malik
Published on 12th October, 2021 3 min read

34th Black History Month (UK)

Black History Month logo.

October 2021 marks the 34th Black History Month in the United Kingdom. Black History Month is an annual observance that originated in the United States in 1970. However, as a result of local community activism it was also brought to the UK for the first time in October 1987, which happened to also be the 150th anniversary of Caribbean emancipation. 

The first Black History Month was inaugurated by Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who was a member of the Ethnic Minorities Unit at the Greater London Council. Addai-Sebo, speaking on the motivations behind the month, said he "conceived an annual celebration of the contributions of Africa, Africans and people of African descent to world civilization from antiquity to the present”. 

Black History Month, which takes place between 1st and 31st October every year, provides a chance to celebrate the heritage and culture of Black people. It is all about recognising, celebrating and learning about the contributions of Black people to British society. When we talk about African and Caribbean migration to Britain often post-War migration and the Windrush generation get mentioned, however Britain has been an ethnically diverse country for centuries. African and Caribbean communities have and continue to make indispensable contributions to the political, social, economic and cultural landscape in Britain. 

However, unfortunately their achievements and integral place in British history is hardly recognised or given the same attention as white British historic figures within society and the national curriculum. Black history is very much a part of wider British history and deserves the same recognition. This month is about celebrating those overlooked events, people and their subsequent contributions to not only British society, but also their contributions worldwide. In this month it is important to celebrate those less-well known Black Britons and understand their role in shaping modern Britain.

Individuals like Olaudah Equiano, an enslaved man who brought his own freedom and campaigned with the “Sons of Africa” to abolish the slave trade in the 18th century; or John Edmonstone, a slave who influenced Charles Darwin; or Lionel Turpin who fought for Britain in the trenches in the First World War. As well as Black British women like Mary Seacole, a nurse who funded herself to help British soldiers during the Crimean War; or activist Claudia Jones who played a major role in founding the Notting Hill Carnival. 

In particular, this year’s Black History Month was kicked off by unveiling a tribute statue of Welsh headteacher, Betty Campbell MBE. Campbell, a Welsh community activist, was Wales' first Black head teacher. She also became pivotal in introducing Black History Month to the school curriculum. It is vital that people like Campbell, Equiano, Seacole and many more are remembered for their impact and given the same recognition as other individuals.  

Although this month is about celebrating notable individuals that have shaped British society, it is  also a month of solidarity, fostering an understanding and speaking out about the inequalities and racism Black people still face in society. Last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, following the murder of George Floyd, highlighted the systemic racism in the UK as well as abroad.

Aside from the US, the UK witnessed the largest Black Lives Matter protest where a statue of Edward Colston, a prominent slave trader was torn down. This brought forward a vital national conversation about Britain’s colonial past and how British history is presented in Britain. Black History Month also serves as a good opportunity to discuss and understand what needs to be done to make history about the majority rather than the minority. 

Authored by Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik is Collections Editor at British Online Archives. Nishah gained a Masters in History from the University of Derby in 2020. Her research interests centre around South Asian culture and heritage, as well as the history and experiences of the South Asian diaspora. She also has a keen interest in women's history.

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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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