You may have already heard about Black History Month and its key aims. Black History Month is a significant and important time of the year, marking a time for celebration and reflection.
For most of history, the achievements and contributions of Black people to society have been disregarded. At Compass, we understand how important it is to acknowledge and celebrate Black history and the contributions the Black community have made across the globe.
In this article, we’re looking at some UK Black History Month facts, as well as answering some of the most frequently asked Black History Month questions and answers! We’d also recommend checking out our guide to teaching young people about Black History Month.
1. Black History Month Began in 1987
Black History Month celebrations in the UK first began in 1987, more than 30 years ago. The month was first organised by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a special projects coordinator of the Ethnic Minorities Unit at the (now defunct) Great London Council.
Addai-Sebo wanted to boost the self-esteem of Black British children and young adults by educating them on the long history and achievements of Black people living in the UK.
The first event was held on 1 October 1987 at County Hall and was attended by American historian Dr. Maulana Karenga, who founded the African American holiday of Kwanzaa; and Kenyan women’s activist Wanjiru Kihoro.
Question: Why is Black History Month celebrated at different times across the globe?
Answer: In the United States, Black History Month takes place in February to coincide with the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Addai-Sebo choose to celebrate Black History Month UK in October because of the month’s importance in the African calendar, as well as is coinciding with coincided with the 150th Anniversary of Caribbean emancipation from slavery, as well as the 25th Anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity.
2. The USA began observing Black History Month 61 years before the UK.
Did you know that the United States of America had already been observing their own version of Black History Month for over 61 years before the UK began their Black History Month observations?
The idea for Black History Month was first proposed by American author and historian Carter G. Woodson, who founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. In February 1926, Woodson launched the very first Black History heritage celebration – a week dedicated to educating others about the cultural significance and history of Black Americans.
Question: Why should we separate Black History Month celebrations in the US and UK?
Answer: When Black History Month UK started in the UK, there was a big emphasis on African American history. Over time the focus has moved to celebrating and recognising Black British history and key Black figures in the UK.
3. Britain Has a Lot of Rich Black History
When people talk about Black history in general, they often talk about Black history in the USA – especially the Civil Rights movement, and historical figures like Martin Luther King. While the USA is, of course, full of fascinating, important Black history – the UK has just as much Black history to learn from.
Black History in Britain dates all the way back to the Roman Empire, as far back as the 3rd century AD. Black communities have been present in the UK since at least 1500, helping to form and shape the development of Britain throughout history.
Question: Were there any Black Roman Emperors?
Answer: Yes! Septimius Severus was a Roman Emperor who ruled between 193-211 CE. He was an epic warrior and political mastermind, ruling over a large portion of Europe – including Britain. Severus was a hugely influential figure, founding the Severan dynasty, and his descendants continued to rule until 253 CE.
4. The Wealthiest Person Ever to Live was a Black King
Black figures are often forgotten or overlooked in history – even figures like Mansa Musa, the richest man of all time.
Mansa Musa was the king of the Mali Empire during the 14th century in West Africa. Living between 1280-1337, Musa had unlimited access to gold, revitalizing cities in his kingdom using his wealth and enjoying the endless luxuries his wealth afforded him.
Arab writers of the period reported that Musa travelled with an entourage of tens of thousands of people at a time, alongside dozens of camels – all carrying 300 pounds of gold each. Furthermore, Musa supposedly gave away so much of his gold while visiting Cairo, that the overall value of gold in Egypt dropped for the next 12 years!
Question: Were there any Black British Monarchs?
Answer: It’s claimed that Britain has had two Black Queens throughout History. One, Queen Phillipa of Hainault, purportedly lived between 1310 – 1369, while the other, Sophie Charlotte, supposedly lived between 1744 – 1818. Both supposedly had African heritage and ruled as queen consort throughout history.
5. Black History Month is Also About the Future
Not only is Black History Month about celebrating the history of yesterday, but it’s also about looking forward – to the history of tomorrow.
Part of observing Black History Month involves ensuring we have continued action in tackling racism and ensuring that the Black community are given the proper representation and celebration going forward.
Not only is studying history interesting, but it also gives us perspective, helping inform the decisions we make moving forward. By educating ourselves and those around us during Black History Month, we can try to avoid the mistakes we have made in the past and move toward securing a fairer future for everyone.
Question: What are the aims of Black History Month in the UK?
Answer: To celebrate and recognise the achievements of African and Caribbean heritage people’s role in helping to shape UK culture, history, and economic development. Educating the UK population on how the relationships between Britain, Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States helped create modern Britain. To encourage government, institutions, and corporations to embrace and adopt equality and diversity policies.
You can read more about what we’re doing this year to celebrate Black History Month here.