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Black History Month (UK)

October is when Black History Month is celebrated in the United Kingdom – an incredibly important part of human history. During October, we are reminded of some of the greatest Black historical figures that shaped the world we live in today, from the likes of Ida B. Wells and Rosa Parks, to Bessie Coleman and Gwendolyn Brooks. Today, Black History Month has become an extremely important month in the cultural calendar of numerous UK galleries and museums, and if you feel as though you could be more educated on the subject, museums and galleries are a great place to learn. If you are from the United Kingdom, there are some brilliant exhibitions and museums around the UK that have great coverage on the topic of Black History. There is a list of museums at the bottom of this blog post. To honour Black History Month, here are some other things you can do to be more educated:

-You may choose to watch a documentary about the Black Experience. Some great ones on Netflix are: ‘13th’, ‘Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History’, ‘Is That Black Enough For You’, and ‘Civil: Ben Crump’. There are some more to choose from too.

-Read some books written by Black authors. Some great books are: ‘Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde’, ‘Beloved by Toni Morrison’, ‘Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges’ and ‘The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs’.

-You could take a virtual museum tour if you cannot afford to go to a museum or if there isn’t any near where you live.

-Listen to some podcasts. Some examples are ‘Historically Black’, ‘1619’, ‘Code Switch’ and ‘Noire Histoir’.

-Support Black owned businesses – eat at a Black owned restaurant to expand your knowledge of the culture, find Black owned retailers, buy from Black owned businesses, etc.

-Donate! You could donate to charities that support the Black community. Some great charities are: Anti Police-Terror Project, The Audre Lorde Project, Colorlines, Equal Justice Initiative and Centre for Antiracist Research.

-Research and educate. Here are five influential figures of Black history to get you started:

Ida B. Wells, whom I mentioned earlier was born in 1862 and passed away in 1931. She was an American investigative reporter, journalist, educator and early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She was also one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. She also led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s and fought for woman suffrage. She was ousted from the NAACP for being too ‘radical’, however her determination and influence and her fight for civil rights is admirable.

With the title ‘mother of the civil rights movement’, Rosa Parks was (and still is) one of the most influential figures in Black history. She invigorated the struggle for racial equality when she famously refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man in Montgomery Alabama which led to her arrest on December 1st 1955, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott launched by 17,000 black citizens. Segregation on public buses eventually stopped in 1956 after the Supreme Court ruled in unconstitutional in Browder v. Gayle. She famously stated ‘’you must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right’’, and ‘’I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free so other people would be free.’’

Bessie Coleman, born in 1892, was the first African-American woman and self-identified Native American to hold a pilots license. She proved that Black people in the United States could soar to heights they never thought they could reach, and she inspired a lot of people. On September 3rd 1922, she borrowed a Curtis JN-4D Jenny and she made the first public flight by a Black woman in the United States. Unfortunately, she passed away in a plane crash in 1926 at just 34 years old, however her tenacity and determination is admirable and she proves to be an inspiration to young girls and women for years to come.

Gwendolyn Brooks, an American poet, author, and teacher, explained the personal celebrations and struggles of ordinary people in her community. She was a devoted educator, and still is one of the most influential and widely read 20th century American poets. Having written more than 20 books, she was highly regarded and even became the first Black poet to win the Pulitzer Prize. If you are interested in reading a book of hers, I suggest ‘Maud Martha’.

Martin Luther King Jr was an American minister, political philosopher and activist who was one of the most prominent civil rights movement leaders in history. Known by many for his infamous ‘I have a dream speech’, he was much more than that. He organised and led marches for Blacks’ right to vote, labour rights, desegregation and other basic civil rights. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was one of King’s greater marches that served as a national and international influence – 200,000 people. While King was the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, it achieved the victories tied to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. King was assassinated in April of 1968, however, what he did for the world changed the future for so many people.

These five people are only a handful of hundreds of highly valued figures in Black history. If you have some free time, do some research on Black history and familiarise yourself with the struggles, accomplishments, people, places and events throughout Black history. Also, you shouldn’t just wait until October to celebrate Black history - celebrate all history, all year round. It is an integral part of who we are.

Here is the list of museums and galleries with excellent Black History Month exhibitions around the UK:

-The Black Cultural Archives, South London

-The Africa Centre, South London

-National Jazz Archive, Birmingham

-The British Library, Boston Spa

-The National Archives

-International Slavery Museum, Liverpool

-Racial Equality Exhibition, Glasgow Botanic Gardens

-St Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff




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