HISTORY: A-Z BLACK BRITONS – PART 1/3
Politics, activism and histories of the struggle for racial justice
Black people have been residing in Britain as early as the 16th century when musician John Blanke played for both King Henry VII and his son King Henry VIII. It was only after Britain's tirades of Imperialism and colonisation that ‘race relations’ became toxic.
Since the rise of Imperialism, countless Black Britons have fought tirelessly against injustice and other forms of oppression existing within and beyond the UK. These range from holding positions within the political establishment to writing historical books, news columns as well as leading activist movements like the British Black Panthers and Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD). Black people have often been at the forefront of organising in the face of racial adversity, but their collective efforts are so rarely organised and celebrated. The following list is a non-exhaustive A-Z of Black Britons who have played a key role in the struggle for racial justice and have paved the way for political change across multiple fields.
Ordered alphabetically by last name:
A-G: Part 1
A - Diane Abbott became the first-ever Black woman to win an election in the British Parliament in 1987. In 1999, she founded the London Schools and the Black Child initiative in an effort to raise educational achievement levels amongst Black children. Despite serving as the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington for 33 years, she has faced disproportionate sexism and racism (misogynoir) both in office and from the public.
Honourable mentions to:
John Richard Archer, political activist and the first black mayor in London in 1913.
Kehinde Andrews, academic, activist and first professor of Black Studies in the UK.
Akala, rapper, activist and author of ‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’.
B - Beverley Bryan, activist and author of 'The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain', 'In a way, if you think about things like Brexit and Trump, I suppose not much has changed. We're definitely not in a post-racial, post-feminist state. The Jamaican phrase I tend to use is ‘di uona kom fi di yaad’ [the owner always comes back for his house or property]. In other words, those who own and control will always try to reassert themselves.'
Honourable mentions to:
Paul Boateng, one of the three first black MPs elected in 1987.
Guy Bailey and Prince Brown who formed the action group that led to the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963.
C - Learie Constantine, a Trinidad born cricketer, broadcaster, lawyer and the first person of African descent to gain a life peerage in 1969. He was Trinidad's first high commissioner to London following independence. In 1944, he became the first black person to win a court case against a service establishment that barred people based on skin colour. In 1954, he wrote the book 'Colour Bar' with C. L. R. James about racial prejudice in Britain.
D - William Davidson, born in 1781, the illegitimate son of the Jamaican Attorney General who became involved in radical politics: 'It is an ancient custom to resist tyranny... And our history goes on further to say, that when another of their Majesties the Kings of England tried to infringe upon those rights, the people armed, and told him that if he did not give them the privileges of Englishmen, they would compel him by the point of the sword... Would you not rather govern a country of spirited men, than cowards?'
Honourable mention to:
Stella Dadzie, activist, founding member of OWAAD and co-author of 'The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain'.
E - Reni Eddo-Lodge, feminist activist, journalist and author of 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race', 'The mess we are living in is a deliberate one. If it was created by people, it can be dismantled by people, and it can be rebuilt in a way that serves all, rather than a selfish, hoarding few.'
Honourable mentions to: Olaudah Equiano, born in 1745, the first political leader of Britain's Black community.
Audley Evans who formed the action group that led to the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963.
F - Flip Fraser and Joyce Fraser, founders of the Black Heroes Foundation. Flip was the founding editor of The Voice Newspaper and handed out the first copies under the bridge at Ladbroke Grove during the Notting Hill Carnival in 1982. Joyce has been raising cultural awareness through the Black Heroes Foundation in honour of Flip. The charity exhibits a wall of fame each year, which celebrates the achievements of Black people. It also runs community-based projects focused on the youth, education and the arts.
G - Bernie Grant, politician, racial justice campaigner and one of three first black MPs elected in 1987. He began as a local councillor in Haringey and then became the MP for Tottenham. He also started to work with the European Parliament to tackle racism at the European level. He was dubbed 'the elder statesman and father of the house for black parliamentary representation' in The Voice Newspaper.
H-M: Part 2 available here