This week we're highlighting examples of British Black history to raise awareness of the contributions Black people have made to our society.
Due to a lack of representation of Black history in the national curriculum, your knowledge many only extend to slavery and more recently Windrush. We hope that this week’s resources encourage you to continue in your own research to learn more about both the inspiring and the saddening periods of British Black history.
The history of the UK is not separate from the history of Black people. Historians and archaeologists show evidence of Black people living in Roman Britain and continuing to contribute to society for centuries before the beginning of the infamous slave trade of Africans that's eclipsed many people’s understanding of Black History.
Artists, traders, poets, soldiers, business people, athletes, musicians, political activists and writers are just some of the professions that Black Britons have undertaken and flourished in over the centuries.
How Black history is taught at York
Hear from the Department of History’s Dr Sam Wetherell, who teaches the course ‘Between the Empire and Me: Race and Decolonisation in Britain since 1930’ to 1st Year History students, on his thoughts about Black history in the UK and how it's taught at York:
Black History highlight - Andrea Levy
Andrea Levy is best known for writing Small Island and The Long Song, where she explores racial segregation and the British Jamaican experience in the 20th century. She has also written numerous other novels centred around the ideas of race in the UK.
Levy was of Afro-Jamaican descent. Her father came to Britain on the HMT Empire Windrush in 1948 with her mother following later that year on a banana boat. Levy was born in Highbury, London where she initially went on to become a costume designer for the BBC. On her father's death she turned to writing, finding there were few books looking at the Black British experience.
Her fourth book Small Island was her biggest success, looking at the immediate aftermath of the war and the subsequent experience of the Windrush generation settling in Britain and the discrimination they faced. Small Island the Whitbread Book of the Year, the Orange Prize and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and has since been turned into a television series of the same title and a National Theatre performance to much critical acclaim. Her fifth novel The Long Song was also adapted by the BBC for a three-part series in 2018.
Levy's writing has recently become a studied text for some A level students - showing a much needed decolonisation of the English curriculum. Her writing is excellent, full of heart, humour and insightful comments on our society and its unjust treatment of the Black community.
Provided by the University of York History Society
Read, watch and listen
Explore these resources to further educate yourself about Bristish Black history:
- Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands by Stuart Hall. Political activist and sociologist Stuart Hall describes growing up in Jamaica and then moving to the UK, where he established a life in a nation rife with racism.
- Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann. Many only think that Black history begins in the modern period, but this book shows Black people were present in the UK throughout the ages and lived exciting and interesting lives. By focusing on ten people Kaufmann suggests the situations of many more who could have lived undocumented in history.
- Black and British: A short, essential history by David Olusoga. An overview of the Black experience in the British Isles from Africans in the Roman legions to portraits of Black children in Georgian paintings to the Windrush generation arriving in the UK in 1948. This book offers an introduction to nearly 2000 years of Black British history.
- Black and British: A forgotten history. Historian David Olusoga explores Black British history in this four-part BBC series: from origins in Africa, to sailors who fought for the Royal Navy and people who stood against the British colonisation, this series seeks to uncover it all.
- Belle. Based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed-race daughter of a British naval officer in the 18th century who is brought to the UK, as she comes to terms with her identity as well as her place in society and her impact on the eventual abolition of slavery in the British Empire.
- Timewasters. Following a four-member Jazz band who accidentally travel back in time to 1920s London, this ITV comedy series focuses on how they find being young and Black in period less glarmorous than Downton Abbey made them believe as they struggle to find a way home.
- You’re Dead to Me. Hosted by York alumni and Historian Greg Jenner, this podcast series combines comedy and the past. Numerous episodes focus on Black history: from the origins of Notting Hill Carnival, the underground railroad’s Harriet Tubman, the richest man ever Mansa Musa, the Haitan Revolution and more.
- Jimi Hendrix was an American musician, singer and songwriter regarded as one of history's most influential rock stars. He changed the way musicians looked at electric guitars, pioneering new techniques of creating sound. In 2005 he was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame and a Blue Plaque was placed at his London home. Have a listen to his song All Along the Watchtower.
Discover some of the events that're being hosted by the University to mark Black History Month:
Who Killed Colin Roach? (1983) and Derek (2009) film screening
Tuesday 20th October 7pm to 9.15pm
The Norman Rea Gallery and the Department of History of Art have come together to organise a screening of two films by British filmmaker Isaac Julien.
The power of fiction: a literary salon on decolonisation
Thursday 22nd October 5.30pm
Join the Department of English and Related Literature's Decolonising Network in this inaugural event to consider and celebrate the power of fiction to decolonise. What role does fiction (in all languages from all literary periods) play in the move to decolonise the discipline of English literature and also the institution of the University more generally?
England's hidden history
Friday 23rd October 7pm to 8pm
Led by Dr Onyeka Nubia, this event seeks to reinvent the way in which we look at British history by looking at the African influence and contribution to the Tudor period of England.
These events are organised by members of the University community and not by the Access and Outreach team. They're provided primarily for University students, so please consider whether the content is appropriate for you or your students as some of the content may be distressing.