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October represents Black History Month in the UK. All of us at Noir wanted to use this month to highlight the rich heritage, culture, and the contributions of black people to society. It is an opportunity to delve into the origins of this important observance and explore its continuing relevance for the future.
The visionary behind Black History Month
Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves in Virginia, was the creator of Black History Month which began in the US in the 1920s and was first celebrated in the UK in 1987. Woodson faced limited access to education and job opportunities but his determination led him to attend a high school for black students, funded through earnings from his work as a coal miner. His unwavering commitment to education ultimately saw him earn a PhD in history from Harvard University, becoming a professor at Howard University.
Throughout his life, Woodson tirelessly championed the integration of black history into school curricula. In 1926, he initiated the first Black History Week. Strategically the event was scheduled in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (16th President of the United States) and Frederick Douglass (an American abolitionist and orator), two pivotal figures in the abolition of slavery.
The arrival of Black History Month in the UK
The inaugural Black History Month in the UK took place in 1987, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean. This remarkable event was orchestrated by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who arrived in the UK as a refugee from Ghana in 1984. Addai-Sebo, inspired by Woodson’s legacy, sought to combat racism and celebrate the history of black individuals in the UK.
October was chosen, partially due to its historical significance as a period when African leaders convened to discuss pressing matters but additionally, as it was the start of the school year, making it an opportune time to engage students. Over time, the celebration has evolved to prioritise black British history and prominent figures from the UK. Notable names include Walter Tull, the first black officer to command white troops in the British Army and a pioneer in English football; Malorie Blackman, a bestselling author and the first black Children’s Laureate and Shirley J. Thompson, a leading composer and conductor.
Celebrations, events and education in Black History Month
Black History Month is not confined to official declarations alone. Local communities, take the opportunity to actively participate by exploring a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from Britain’s colonial past to migration and music.
In 2023, the focus of Black History Month is on acknowledging the exceptional achievements of black women, especially those who may have been overlooked throughout history. Additionally, the Windrush generation, who arrived in the UK 75 years ago on the HMT Empire Windrush, is also being celebrated for their significant contributions to British society.
Black History Month stands as a testament to the resilience, achievements, and contributions of black individuals in the UK and beyond. It serves as an annual reminder to acknowledge and celebrate this rich heritage, ensuring that the stories and legacies of black people are not forgotten but continue to inspire and educate future generations.