Black history is a subject we deal with in several modules, particularly in British and US history. However, Black History will be a theme in our blogs next month because every October Black History Month (BHM) is celebrated in the UK. BHM began originally in the USA and was instigated by an African American historian, and son of a slave, Dr. Carter G. Woodson. He established the Association for the Study of Negro (subsequently African American) Life and History in 1925 and began Negro History Week in 1926. This later changed to Negro History Month and then in 1976 became Black History Month. President Jimmy Carter gave it official recognition in 1978 and it has continued ever since. In the USA and Canada BHM is celebrated in February, the month of Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’s birth.
The celebration did not come to the UK until 1987 when Akyaada Addai-Sebo, a special projects worker at the GLC in London, began it. This reflected the growth in the British black population after World War II, and was also perhaps a response to some of the tensions of the 1980s. Addai-Sebbo chose October as it coincided with Marcus Garvey’s centenary – and also because it followed shortly after the start of the school year. The event was endorsed by the then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone who declared that ‘In order to further enrich the cultural diversity of the Greater London area, it is imperative that Londoners know more about African influences on medieval and renaissance European music and more about the roots of Greek music so that accepted ideas about European music is changed. Despite the significant role that Africa and its Diaspora has played in the world civilization since thebeginning of time, Africa’s contribution has been omitted or distorted in most history books’.
This was of course true in for most parts of Britain, and BHM has since become well established and spread beyond London. Intended to widen British appreciation of the historical and cultural contributions of members of the African Diaspora, it has now become a celebration of key individuals, events, and movements in black life and history and the black contributions to our history and heritage. Locally, BHM will be celebrated by a series of events – all open to the public – organised by the Cheltenham West End Partnership: details can be found here.
There is also a lecture organised by the Historical Association on “Africans in Tudor and Stuart Britain” by Dr Miranda Kaufman at 7.30 pm at Friends Meeting Hose, Greyfriars, Gloucester. Entrance is free for all members of the university. And watch our blogs on various aspects of the theme through October!