Please note, I do not own the rights to the photographs used within this post. However, all views outlined below are my own.
Happy Black History Month to my UK peeps. October is our month to be even more boastful about the melanin in our skin. It is our time to shine so let’s not allow trolls or Wandsworth Councils ‘Diversity’ Month nonsense to get in our way.
Growing up in Britain one the figureheads in slavery and colonial history has not exactly been a walk in the park. It is kind of awkward knowing their colonial pursuits dismantled the nations of my forefathers. Yet here I am living in a now multi-cultural Britain, my oh my how times have changed. I can only commend those from the Windrush generation who came here and conquered the grounds in its original form. If it was not for what they endured, ethnic minorities would not be able to live in Britain as they know it today.
The funniest thing is the majority of the Windrush generation did not plan to settle here but I thank God they did. Despite the misogyny, racism, and oppression that they faced upon entering “THEIR MOTHER COUNTRY” they managed to push through.70 years on and it is impossible for me to deny the way in which Black people have thrived in Britain. Although the success of Black Brits can sometimes be overlooked by our cousins in the United States. As I am now a little bit older, I have since come to understand, love and appreciate the black British experience. So in honour of BHM, I have decided to write up about some of my favourite Black icons who have made a significant impact here in the UK.
- Claudia Jones (21 February 1915 – 24 December 1964)
The Trinidadian born journalist and activist dedicated her life to standing up for racial justice. First in the United States as a member of the American communist party and then in the UK campaigning for the rights of West Indian immigrants. Claudia Jones was a woman of many strengths, she went on to establish the West Indian Gazette, the first black newspaper to hit the streets of Britain in 1958.
In addition to her other accolades, Claudia has crowned been as the Mother of the London Nottinghill Carnival. In a time where racial tensions were at an all-time high in Nottinghill riots, Jones was determined to tackle the issue head-on. By putting together a carnival celebrating West Indian Culture to unite the wounded community.
Many deemed this as an odd attempt to bring peace into a community where ‘no blacks, no Irish and no dogs” were the mantras. Claudia was definitely onto something because it helped bring people together and since 1959 the Notting Hill carnival has graced the streets of West London. It is now one of the biggest street parties in Europe, attracting tourists from around the world.
2. Olive Morris (26 June 1952 – 12 July 1979)
In her young age, Jamaican born Olive Morris was a pioneer activist and feminist, who founded organisations such as Brixton’s Black Women’s group and co-founded the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent. If that was not enough Olive was an active member of the British Black Panther movement also.
Morris had a heart for the community and tirelessly campaigned for equality, the rights of black people and women. Sadly at the tender age of 27, she passed away from Cancer as a prominent black community leader who stood against police brutality and the oppression of Black people. Lambeth Council then went on to honour her by naming one of their central buildings after her in the heart of Brixton where she resided.
3. Darcus Howe (26 February 1943 – 1 April 2017)
Leighton Rhett Radford ‘Darcus’ Howe was an outspoken social activist, writer and broadcaster originally born in Trinidad. Like both Claudia Jobes and OliveMorris, Darcus became a member of the British Black Panther movement in the 1970s. Howe is widely known for his part in a demonstration against the racially targeted police raids on the Mangrove a Caribbean restaurant in Notting Hill.
The peaceful demonstration was hijacked by Police which led to the arrests of Darcus and 8 others. This incident was then trialled at the Old-bailey, where Darcus and one other led the defence for the entire Mangrove nine. Together their council annihilated the prosecution as evidence of racial hatred was found on both sides of the argument which resulted in all charges being acquitted. Following this huge win, Howe went on to establish a Brixton based magazine, ‘Race Relations’ which became a voice for black political journalism and migration in Britain. Mr Howe continued to build an insightful broadcasting career, he has taken part in some compelling documentaries, tv shows, mini-series and political interviews.
4. Diane Abbot
The first black woman elected into the House of Commons is enough for Aunty Di to be included in my list of Icons. Miss Abbot’s political career started in the early 80s elected as a Labour MP to Westminster City Council in 1982 and then Hackney and Stoke Newington in 1987 with a 75% majority. At present, she sits as the Shadow Home Secretary for the Labour party. Aunty Di is assertive and from time to time can ruffle a few feathers when she calls things how she sees them.
For the most part, the Black British community has the utmost respects for her because she speaks up for us whenever she gets the chance. Even when her stance goes against the majority. Sadly she has been subjected to heavy racial and sexist abuse since the beginning of her political career and in recent years this has only tripled. The level of hatred shown towards her from some members of the British public is quite frankly disgusting. Anyhow she is an icon in her own right and for that, she gets a Jenna’s world view Salute.
5. Naomi Campbell
When I think of a Supermodel, Naomi Campbell is the first and only name that comes to mind. Born in Streatham, South London Naomi’s is Britain’s first black supermodel. A career that started at the age of 15 and has lasted over 30+ years. Naomi was a force to be reckoned with in a predominately white modelling industry.
Even though she has acquired much success within her career and walked the same runways as her white colleagues their pay grades were never the same. This is just one of many struggles Naomi has faced and spoken publicly about throughout her career. Despite all of these obstacles, Naomi has had longevity within the industry and even till this day she continues to work with some of the most prestigious powerhouses in fashion.
6. Sir Trevor McDonald
Growing up and seeing this man on the evening news with his wide shaped glasses brought my household to a standstill. Whenever Uncle Trevor spoke the Queens English entwined with his crisp Trinidadian accent everyone knew to keep their mouths shut lol. The voice is so distinct you can recognise it with your eyes closed. It is without a doubt that he is one of Britain’s well known and most respected television broadcasters.
Let me also remind you that he is the first Black man in Britain to ever do it. In 1999 he was knighted for his services to Journalism and retired shortly after in 2005. From time to time he does TV specials and leads the crime and punishment documentaries on ITV. Sir Trevor McDonald is another well-respected Black Brit, big him up every time.
8. Baroness Doreen Lawerence
Baroness Doreen Lawrence of Clarendon OBE is the mother of Stephen Lawerence who was murdered in a vicious racist attack in 1993. The words strong, resilient and determined come to mind whenever I hear her name. The death of Stephen led to Baroness’s long fight for Justice which uncovered the depths of institutional racism deeply woven into the genetic make-up of the Metropolitan police.
After many years of campaigning which ultimately destroyed her marriage and family life, Baroness was finally able to see two of the 5 assailants convicted for her son’s murder. The road to justice landed her an OBE and peerage as a Baroness for her services to the British. This year marked 25 years since the anniversary of Stephens death in April 1993, to which she gave her last ever TV interview.
Baroness Lawerence never gave up even when the odds were against her, because of her defiance the way murders are investigated in the UK has since changed. I had the pleasure of bumping into her once at London Bridge station one evening and in true Jenna mode, I screamed but then quickly got myself together lol. As I firmly held her hand in mine and shook it, I told her how much I respected her, she thanked me, smiled and went on her way. I will never ever forget that moment and I will forever admire her.
Jenna’s Final Thoughts
There is no doubt that since Black people arrived in the UK things have never quite been the same. Our presence has made an impact in this country during the time of our enslavement and more thereafter. The British Army, National health service, Royal Air Force and Transport for London are just of the organisations that would not be what it is today without the contribution of black people. With that being said it is impossible for anyone to downplay the influence Black people have had in British society.
Just look at the lives of the people that I mentioned above, they are all phenomenal individuals in their own right. As I was putting this post together I learned so many more things about individuals I was already aware of and those I knew nothing about. I truly wish my Black History lessons in school never shed light on some of the things Black people have done in Britain.
Did you know?
Olaudah Equiano (c.1745-1797) was the first black person to be employed by the British government.
West Indian Cricketer Sir Learie Constantine (21 Sep 1901 – 01 Jul 1971) was appointed as Britain’s first black Peer.
In 1999 Baroness Patricia Scotland former attorney general made British legal history by becoming the first black female QC (Queens’s counsel).
As a community, Black people have endured so much and despite systematic obstacles and sometimes their own shortcomings they have managed to press on. There is no denying that Black people in Britain have worked continuously to break those glass ceilings. With each generation going a little bit further than the one before. The new generation of black brits today are doing big things and it brings me great joy seeing them go on to higher heights.
However I say that to say this because although Black Brits have done and continue to do some amazing things. There are some areas within Black British community that I feel spits on the blood, sweat and tears of our elders. Knife, gun crime, gang culture and black on black violence seem to have taken up long-term residence. It hurts me to say this but I feel like these issues often overshadow our great achievements both past and present. It is bittersweet to watch one side of black Britain decay whilst the other side thrives. To me it almost feel like this dark grey cloud over our heads and no matter what good we do here, it continues to weigh ALL of us down.
Anyway, Happy Black History Month, how will you celebrate this October, let me know in the comments below?
“The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” – bell hooks
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Lots of Love