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Black History Month: Why we celebrate it

Why do we celebrate Black History Month and why in October?

 Black History Month is celebrated in October in the UK, acknowledging the contribution, endurance, and diversity of people of African origin. It’s a highlight event that reminds us to look back at the history and remember the struggle these communities endured in the past, learning lessons from then and creating better opportunities for them at the present time.

But, what are the origins of Black History Month?

Historian Carter G Woodson (1875-1950) wanted to challenge the preconceptions at the time that “the negro has no history”. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 and encouraged scholars and historians to research and preserve black history and culture. In 1926, he founded ‘Negro History Week’, later that has been expanded to a month and in 1969 Black History Month had been established.

 Why USA celebrates it in February and the UK in October?

 BHM is celebrated in February in the United States because the birthdays of former president Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass fall that month.

In the UK it is celebrated in October as this is the time of the year when African leaders gather to settle their differences, so Akyaaba chose this month to reconnect with black people’s roots and cultural heritage.

The history of Black History Month is long and complex, and the UK plays a big part in it after WW1 many soldiers of African and Caribbean origin wanted to stay in the UK, but they faced resistance in places like Cardiff and Liverpool.

After demobilisation, many ex-servicemen faced unemployment and returning white soldiers resented the presence of black men, especially those who had found employment and married white women. Between January and August 1919, there were anti-black ‘race riots’ in seven towns and cities in Britain. Cardiff’s black population had increased during the war from 700 in 1914 to 3,000 by April 1919. The tensions between the white and black communities exploded into violence in Butetown (aka ‘Tiger Bay’) in June 1919. 2,000 white people attacked shops and houses associated with black citizens. “Many were injured” the history press reported.

However, things began to change as the Race Relations Act of 1965 was passed and protections against discrimination were extended in the Act of 1968, and further in the Act of 1976. This legislation resulted in the right to take discrimination complaints to civil courts or industrial tribunals and set up the Commission for Racial Equality.

Despite that, there were many forms of discrimination and racial prejudice, and many people from African Caribbean heritage had done to make a difference throughout the years. Among them have been:

  • Trevor McDonald joins ITN and becomes the first black news reporter. He goes on to receive an OBE in 1992 and a knighthood in 1999.
  • Viv Anderson becomes the first black British footballer to play for England in an international tournament.
  • Tessa Sanderson becomes the first black British woman to win an Olympic gold medal; she is awarded an OBE in 1998.
  • In 1987, the UK elects four black members of parliament: Dianne Abbott (the first black woman), Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and Keith Vaz; all Labour MPs.

In 2020, the first Black Lives Matter Protest in the UK took place, on 3rd June thousands of protesters marched in London from Hyde Park to Victoria Station and then to Westminster, where they gathered outside Parliament to protest against the injustice and death of George Floyd.

Stand for Racism has created the campaign #TakeTheKnee in which millions of people across the world have taken part.

This year’s theme is Time For Change: Action Not Words, to learn more about it, visit Black History Month.

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