Featured image for “Black History Month – UK Black History”

Black history month runs from Friday 1st October to Sunday 31st October. Here at GottaBe! we are proud to celebrate black history month supporting this year’s theme of #Proudtobe. As multicultural marketing specialists, we will be celebrating the contributions and achievements of black people throughout Britain’s history. Black history has been a big part of British culture over the years but has often been dismissed. Discover some of the key figures who changed British history!

Black history is a key part of England’s story and helps us to reflect on the connections between the past and present, and the importance of history to our understanding of what’s happening today.English Heritage

Black people have lived in Britain since the Roman times. The Ivory Bangle Lady is the name given to remains discovered in York in 1901. Archaeological analysis reveals that whilst she was born in Roman Britain and is likely to be of North African descent. The Ivory Bangle Lady was given her name as she was found with jet and elephant ivory bracelets, earrings, pendants, beads, a blue glass jug, and a glass mirror. Indicating she was not poor or of low social standing, something often associated with Black people in British history. 

10 Black people who changed history in Britain

Queen Charlotte

The German princess married King George III in 1761 becoming the first Black British Queen, as many historians believe Queen Charlotte had African ancestry. 

Charlotte and King George III had 15 children, two of who went on to become British monarchs – George IV and William IV.

Although Queen Charlotte was from Germany, it was believed she descended from a branch of the Portuguese royal family which held a black heritage.

Sons of Africa 

In 1796 the Sons of Africa were a group of former slaves who had escaped or bought their freedom. The group is considered to be Britain’s first black political organisation, made up of educated individuals who worked towards the abolitionist movement. Ottobah Cugoano sometimes referred to as John Stuart, and Olaudah Equiano were key figures in Sons of Africa. 

On the 25th of March 1807, King George III signed into law the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, banning trading in enslaved people in the British Empire. 

Ira Aldridge (1807-1867)

At a time where black actors did not have the same opportunities as white actors, Ira Aldridge was one of the highest-paid actors in the world. Born in New York, Aldridge moved to the UK to pursue his acting goals, as he knew staying in America would limit his success. He became well-known across Europe as a brilliant actor in Shakespeare plays.

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole grew up in Jamaica but came over to England in 1854. Now you probably have heard of Florence Nightingale but not many have heard of Seacole or the amazing work she had done alongside Nightingale. With their efforts rivalled in England at the time of the war.

Seacole has asked the War Office if she could help the wounded soldiers fighting in the Crimean War (1853-1856) but was turned away. So instead she raised the money and travelled to Ukraine where she looked after British soldiers who had been injured. The soldiers called her Mother Seacole.

In the past years, we have seen campaigns to honour everything that Mary Seacole did for Britain. In 2016, a statue of her was built outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London.  

Claudia Jones 

Claudia Jones was born in Trinidad in 1915 but moved to the United States as a child. A prominent feminist and communist, Jones was eventually deported for her political activities in 1955. Gaining asylum in the UK, she launched Britain’s first major black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette.

The UK was not a welcoming place for some back in the ’50s and Jones was confronted by “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish” posters. She became a leader in the emerging black equal rights movement and in 1959, she helped to found Notting Hill Carnival. With the hopes that showcasing Caribbean culture and heritage would empower her community. Jones died aged 49 leaving her legacy –Notting Hill Carnival is currently Europe’s biggest street festival.

Lilian Bader

Bader was one of the first Black women to join arm forces in 1941. Fired from her first employment due to issues over her heritage she was determined to be a part of the effort in World War II. Lilian Bader had overheard a group of West Indian soldiers on the radio talking about how they had been rejected from the Army but were able to join the Royal Air Force. So, Lillian quickly volunteered becoming one of the first Black women in the RAF.

Dr Paul Stephenson OBE

Paul Stephenson was born in England in 1937 and was the only black child in his school. Although not that long ago, being a black English child was very different for Stephenson than it would be today. His struggles inspired him to dedicate his life to stopping racial discrimination, bringing black and white communities together.

Paul Stephenson became Bristol’s first black social worker, where he improved the relationship between black and white people in the city. He spent his life leading important campaigns that made big changes in how black people were treated, and it is said that his work played a part in Britain’s first Race Relations Act in 1965.

This was an important law that took steps to give equal rights to black people.

Tessa Sanderson – Javelin Thrower and Heptathlete

A rising star on the field by the age of 16 Sanderson had already won her first javelin championship. In 1976 she had earned her spot in her first Olympics Games. She also participated in the Commonwealth Games in the heptathlon, and in 1981 she became the top British woman heptathlete.

Tessa’s biggest moment came in 1984 when she won a gold medal for Great Britain at the Olympics in Los Angeles. This made her the first British woman to win Olympic gold in the heptathlon, and the first black British woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

Malorie Blackman

Best-selling author of the Noughts & Crosses series Blackman was chosen to become the eighth Children’s Laureate in 2013. The first black person to take on the role. 

Malorie says she wanted to “make reading irresistible” for children, by encouraging them to explore a range of literature, from short stories to graphic novels.

Stormzy

The Stormzy Scholarship was launched in 2018 and has provided financial support to two UK black students each year, it aims to help transform their university experience.

The #Merky Foundation, in partnership with HSBC UK, expanded the scheme to provide scholarships to 10 black UK students admitted to the University of Cambridge in autumn 2021. The commitment will last for at least three years, meaning 30 more UK black students will benefit from this support.

A total of 13 scholarships will be available this year, 10 funded by HSBC UK, two by Stormzy, and one by an anonymous donor. The scholarships are non-repayable, cover the full cost of tuition fees and provide a maintenance grant.

The team at GottaBe! look forward to showcasing the talent and achievements of Black people across Britain. Black History Month is a great time to learn more about our ancestor’s history that has paved the path for Britain today. Keep up to date with all our Black History content on social media.