3.0 / 5
Every time Black History Month comes around, I take it upon myself to learn more about the richness of Black British history. Whilst Black History is something I try to immerse myself in the year round, a lot of time the discourse is heavily Americanised – often, to the detriment of the Black British story. The more I come to realise the extent of the systematic erasure of this history in schools in the UK and the socialised erasure that comes from the prominence of the African American experience, the more determined I am to celebrate the unsung Black British heroes. So, here are 3 people who I’m celebrating this November, because Black British History shouldn’t just be part of our conversations in October:
1) Robert Wedderburn (1762-1835/6) was the son of a Scottish plantation owner and an enslaved woman. Wedderburn went on to be an essential anti-slavery lobbyist and, as a founding member of The Society of Spencean Philanthropists, he was also a powerful figure in fighting for free independent press in Scotland. Marxist historians, Linebaugh and Rediker, identify him as a “linchpin” of the “Atlantic Working Class”. His autobiography, entitled ‘The Horrors of Slavery’ advocates revolution and redistribution of property, and had an undeniable impact on society at the time.
2) Olive Morris (1952-79) was born in Jamaica and moved to London at the age of nine. In her short life, Olive Morris co-founded the Brixton Black Women’s Group and the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) and was an instrumental part of the British Black Panther Movement. She campaigned for access to education, decent living conditions for Black communities and fought against state and police repression. Despite dying at a young age, she empowered the people who lived and worked around her.
3) Dorothy Kuya (1933-2013) was an anti-racism campaigner and she fought all her life for truth and justice in the UK. Dorothy lived in Liverpool and she became the city’s first community relations officer. She is most remembered for being part of the steering group that developed Slavery Remembrance Day and the International Slavery Museum, which opened in 2007.
Looking back on my time at school, I always enjoyed studying history but I also felt estraanged from the people on the pages of my textbooks. In the few times that we looked at Black History, we always studied the history of African Americans and my Black Britishness felt like an unspoken anomaly. Only now, as a young Black woman who has the luxury of an Internet full of Black British history, am I beginning to appreciate the strength, tenacity and resilience of my ancestry.
It’s so important that we tell these stories – this is Black History and British History, and as such, it should be considered worthy of our textbooks.