October is Black History Month. This is a period where we highlight the often undiscussed achievements and experiences of Black people across the world. It is not just a month for learning about Black people who made a difference in the past, but also a time where we come together to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black people today. This is an important month where we are all encouraged to actively tackle racism, reclaim Black history and create a better tomorrow.
Today, we are highlighting just some examples of Black History, as well as local events that you could get involved in this month.
After the second world war, Britain faced huge labour shortages and looked to the colonies within the Commonwealth to provide the labour needed to rebuild the country and strengthen the economy. There were lots of jobs in construction, manufacturing, transport and the NHS which needed to be filled, and Caribbean migrants began to move to the UK with the promise of work.
The first boat carrying individuals from the Caribbean was the Empire Windrush, and it arrived at Tilbury Docks on 22nd June 1948. These citizens of the British Empire, mainly from Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, faced an unwelcoming environment when they came to Britain, with many being subject to racism, employment discrimination and housing discrimination. Yet, they were essential to the rebuilding of postwar Britain and made substantial contributions to British culture and society in the coming decades. Many influential Black British people today have links to the Windrush generation, and their legacy remains visible in the vibrant British Caribbean communities dotted up and down the country.
Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797) was a writer and abolitionist who detailed his experiences as an enslaved man in his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Within his autobiography, Equiano explains that he was born in the Eboe Province of Nigeria before being kidnapped, enslaved and sent to Barbados and Virginia at a young age.
In 1766 he purchased his freedom and travelled to London where he became a key figure in the British abolitionist movement. He was an active member of the Sons of Africa, a group formed of Africans living in Britain. His writing and campaigning were extremely influential in the passage of the British Slave Trade Act which abolished the slave trade in 1807. Despite this, his influence is hardly known in Britain.
Mary Seacole (1805-1881) was a British-Jamaican nurse and author who is best known for her role as a nurse during the Crimean War. Her mother ran a lodging house where she treated people using traditional Jamaican medicines. It was here that Mary began learning about nursing and caring for others. Throughout her life, she travelled extensively and visited England in her teens, as well as Cuba, Haiti and the Bahamas.
In the 1850s she played an important role in the treatment of many epidemics, including the cholera and yellow fever epidemic. She was even invited by the British medical authorities to supervise nursing at the British Army’s headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica. When the Crimean war began she was drawn to England and asked to be sent to Crimea. The army refused, but she funded the trip herself regardless. Mary established a boarding house with provided care for sick and recovering soldiers – her methods were as well known as Florence Nightingale’s and she was lovingly called ‘Mother Seacole’.