HISTORY: A-Z BLACK BRITONS – PART 3/3
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.
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:
N-Z: Part 3
N - Onyeka Nubia, writer, law lecturer and historian who has documented the lives and history of the African experience in Britain. His book 'Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England, their Presence, Status and Origins' involved the investigation of over 250,000 artefacts and documents, amounting to more than 25 years of research.
O - Liz Obi, founder of the Remembering Olive Collective, which archives the history and brings together personal memories about the activist Olive Morris. She said, 'Within the [Black Panther] Movement itself I was most inspired by Olive Morris. I'd never met anyone like her before and haven't met anyone like her since. She was fearless, bold, and outspoken'. From 1972, Obi worked closely alongside her friend both in the Black Panthers and in founding the Brixton Black Women's Group.
Honourable mentions to:
Herman Ouseley, parliamentarian and life peer who worked extensively on race relations and set up the Kick It Out campaign to tackle racism in football.
David Olusoga, historian, broadcaster and author of ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’.
P - Mary Prince, born in 1788 to an enslaved family in Bermuda. She travelled to England with her owners in 1828 and managed to run away to freedom. Prince presented an anti-slavery petition to Parliament and became the first black woman to write and publish an autobiography, 'The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave'.
Honourable mentions to:
David Pitt, Labour Party politician, general practitioner, life peer and political activist who was a leader in the movement against apartheid in South Africa.
Leslie Palmer, community activist, writer and teacher, and one of the pioneers of the Notting Hill Carnival.
Q - Cassie Quarless, producer and co-director of 'Generation Revolution', a documentary about the new generation of British Black and Brown activists fighting for social and political change, released in 2016. Quarless has a strong interest in the potential for radical futures but stressed that the film industry lacks opportunities: 'The way we're trying to dismantle certain things in our work is seen as too 'risky' and unlikely to get a big audience.'
R - Dr Nicola Rollock, academic and writer, specialised in racial justice in education and the workplace: 'At the start of the millennium there was a hesitant, inconsistent whimper of activity around race at universities; today the picture is very different. Attention is on 'diversity' and one need not scratch very far below the surface to detect that in reality, this tends to mean gender.'
S - Paul Stephenson, community worker, activist and racial justice campaigner who led the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963. The boycott against the Bristol Omnibus Company lasted for four months until they backed down and overturned the colour bar. When Stephenson refused to leave a public house until he was served, he was arrested. Alongside the boycott, his trial paved the way for the first Race Relations Act in 1965.
Honourable mention to:
Mary Seacole, born in 1805, who was an army nurse during the Crimean war.
Ignatius Sancho, born in 1729, writer, shopkeeper and abolitionist in the 18th century.
T - Arthur Torrington, community advocate who co-founded (with the late Sam King) the Windrush Foundation. It was first established in 1995 in London to commemorate the arrival of Caribbean men and women on the Empire Windrush, which docked in Essex on 22 June 1948. He also co-founded the Equiano Society in 1996 to publicise the achievements of Olaudah Equiano.
V - Patrick Vernon, social commentator, political activist and historian: 'It is even more crucial that our history is seen as part of the national narrative, especially in the context of Brexit, as British identity is going through change and we have a legitimate right and voice in the shaping of this economic, social and political transformation which will have an impact on future generations. By learning about our shared history and the impact of Black British history and successes, I hope we will no longer be marginalised or erased out of public consciousness for the next generation.'
W - Kathleen Wrasama, community organiser and founding member of the Stepney Coloured Peoples Association. Born in Ethiopia, Wrasama came to England as a child in 1917, but suffered a series of traumatic experiences in children's homes in Yorkshire. She dedicated her time to improving community relations, educational opportunities and housing for black people.
Honourable mention to:
Simon Woolley, Lord Woolley of Woodford, activist and co-founder of Operation Black Vote in 1996.
X - Asquith Xavier, campaigner who fought to become the first non-white train guard at Euston railway station. He risked his job to end the colour bar at British Railways in London. He put pressure on the government to strengthen the Race Relations Act of 1965, which was widely discredited as it did not apply to the workplace.
Y - Gary Younge, journalist, author and academic, signing off from his column at The Guardian, Younge said: ''Ingratitude' is the accusation launched by racists at black people in the public eye who have the audacity to highlight the racial injustice they see and have experienced. So I'd like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the youth who took to the streets, and bereaved families who took to the courts, to make my career possible.'
Z - Benjamin Zephaniah, poet and writer, who rejected an OBE in 2003: 'Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought ... You can't fool me, Mr Blair. You want to privatise us all; you want to send us to war; you stay silent when we need you to speak for us, preferring to be the voice of the USA.'
U - Unknown. There is no doubt that there were many other Black British people who were involved in the struggle for racial justice but whose histories have been forgotten, lost or erased. The letter 'U' was omitted purposefully to stand in for all of those whose names and histories were not considered important enough at the time to be recorded.
A-G: Part 1 available here
H-M: Part 2 available here
For more information about the lives of the Black Britons included in this list and examples of their work, review the list below.
Akala, ‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’, 2019.
Kehinde Andrews, ‘Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century’, 2018.
Beverley Bryan, 'The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain', 2018.
Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, ‘Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, 2019.
Learie Constantine, 'Colour Bar', 1954.
Stuart Hall, 'Notes on Deconstructing the Popular' in People's History and Socialist Theory, 1981.
Reni Eddo-Lodge, 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race', 2017.
gal-dem, ‘"I Will Not Be Erased": Our stories about growing up as people of colour’, 2019.
Afua Hirsch, ‘Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging’, 2018.
Doreen Lawrence, ‘And Still I Rise’, 2007.
Onyeka, ‘Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England, Their Presence, Status and Origins’, 2013.
Lola Olufemi, Odelia Younge, Waithera Sebatindira and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, 'A FLY Girl's Guide to University: Being a Woman of Colour at Cambridge and Other Institutions of Power and Elitism', 2019.
Lola Olufemi, 'Feminism Interrupted: Disrupting Power', 2020.
David Olusoga, ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’, 2016.
Nicola Rollock, ‘The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry 10 Years On’, 2009.
Nicola Rollock, ‘The Colour of Class: the educational strategies of the Black middle classes’, 2014.
Gemma Romain, ‘Race, Sexuality and Identity in Britain and Jamaica: The Biography of Patrick Nelson, 1916-1963’, 2017.
Patrick Vernon and Angelina Osbourne, ‘100 Great Black Britons’, 2020.
Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis, ‘Generation Revolution’ available online, 2016.
Gary Younge, ‘Angry, White and American’ available online via Channel 4, 2017
The Big Narstie Show: ‘Benjamin Zephaniah On Why He TURNED DOWN His OBE’ available online via Channel 4 and YouTube, 2020.
David Olusoga, ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’ available online via BBC Two, 2016.
Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘Dread Beat An' Blood’, 1978.
Ways to Change the World with Krishnan Guru-Murthy, ‘Benjamin Zephaniah on Windrush, anarchism and his time in North Korea’, 2018.
BBC Radio 4: ‘Asquith's Fight for Equality’, 2016.