To celebrate Black History Month at AGGS, our Media Team has decided to write about black historical moments you may not know about:
In the UK, the impact of institutionalised racism has been more evident then ever, with young black men being stopped and searched 20,000 times in London during corona virus lockdown. #BlackLivesMatter protests around the world have sparked a commitment among many individuals and organisations to educate themselves about Black history, heritage and culture – as part of understanding racism and standing in solidarity against it. Therefore this year’s Black History Month is a time to shine a light on our shared British history and tell the whole story honestly and truthfully, to decolonise and reclaim history, and tell stories from the perspective of all people – not just the rich white men in power. Black History Month 2020 is also a time to look forward and celebrate the here and now – and the future possibilities. So here are some black historical moments you may not know about.
The first Britons had dark to black skin, curly hair and blue eyes. This was proven after DNA analysis of a 10,000-year-old skeleton (Britain’s oldest complete skeleton), known as Cheddar Man, located in Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge. He was found to have had dark curly hair and either dark or Black skin, suggesting that the idea of Europeans as having fair skin is a recent phenomena. People of white British ancestry today are descendants of the Mesolithic hunters like Cheddar Man.
At the Roman Empire’s peak, it stretched far and wide from north-western Europe to North Africa and into the Near East. People were known to have travelled widely across the empire. By the 3rd century, there is evidence of African people making their way to Britain where they lived as soldiers, slaves or even free men and women.
Slavery was not the start of the Black community’s experience in England. The African diaspora traces to the 18th century; these people came to England from Africa, Europe and the Caribbean with privateers, pirates, merchants, aristocrats and royalty. They lived and worked at different levels of society – some found paid work as porters and trumpeters, while others were present at the royal courts of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and James I. That’s not to say that Britain was multicultural during this period – Miranda Kaufmann found around 360 individuals from 1500-1640. However, her research does prove that Black people were a part of Tudor life, and that they lived freely.
In the BBC’s The Black and White Minstrel Show, people would wear blackface, sing, dance and act. It attracted audiences of 16 million, its stage show spin-offs broke records and in 1961 it even received critical acclaim, winning the prestigious Golden Rose of Montreux. In 1975, a teenage Lenny Henry appeared on the programme, proving how few opportunities there were then for Black performers.
The BBC ignored complaints from 1967 from Black Britons who criticised the blacking up at the show’s centre. The broadcaster failed to recognise the show’s abject racism, nor how it could be seen as offensive and it wasn’t pulled from air until 1978.
Written by Ruth R, Y11