The History of Black History Month: When and How Did it Start?
October marks the beginning of Black History Month in the UK, where we celebrate the achievements and contributions of people of black heritage. This year’s theme centres around “Saluting our Sisters”, to highlight the crucial role that black women have played in shaping history and inspiring change. But let’s take a deep dive into how this historical month came about!
How was Black History Month Created?
It all started in September 1915, when Harvard trained Carter G Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH),which was dedicated to researching and promoting the achievements of Black people and those of African descent. He later went on to create Negro History Week in February 1926 to extend and deepen the study and scholarship of African American history. His reasons for choosing February were the birthdays of two men who greatly influenced the black population: Frederick Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln. Frederick Douglas escaped slavery and became an abolitionist and civil rights leader. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and abolished slavery in the American states. The creation of this week had a ripple effect across the USA, and it inspired schools and communities nationwide in the upcoming years to have weekly celebrations on African American history. The rise of the civil rights movement in the 1960s led to a greater light being shone on Black Identity, which led to the evolution of Negro History Week to Black History Month. This was officially recognised by President Ford in 1976.
When do we celebrate Black History Month in the UK?
During the Thatcher era, following a number of riots across the country, such as the Brixton and Toxteth riots, Black Britons were experiencing high levels of marginalisation and racism. Thus, Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a Ghanaian activist and Special Projects Coordinator for the Greater London Council, was instrumental in bringing Black History Month to Britain. Akyaaba and other local community activists joined together and successfully organised the UK’s first Black History Month celebrations in 1987 in London. Initially, there was a greater focus on US based Black History in the UK, but this had gradually evolved as more UK figures came into prominence. These include:
Malorie Blackman: a best-selling author and the first black Children’s Laureate.
Dr Shirley Thompson: the first woman in Europe to conduct and compose a symphony within the last 40 years.
Lewis Hamilton: one of the most high profile competitors in Formula One and the only black driver.
Thus, it served as an important opportunity to start conversations around race. Black History Month is a way of reflecting on the diverse histories of those of African and Caribbean descent, taking note of the achievements and contributions to the social, political, economic and cultural development of the UK.
How can we support it?
This year’s theme is centred around “Celebrating our Sisters.” Black women have always been at the forefront of social justice and have been championing for change. This year is a momentous opportunity to celebrate their efforts and contributions to society. Hearing from leading voices such as Afua Hagan can help to engage your team on topics regarding diversity and equality.
Reflecting on Diversity & Inclusion Efforts: this is the perfect time to question your diversity policies and consider whether you are fostering an inclusive workplace. It could also provide you the opportunity to speak to your employees to gauge their thoughts and views related to this topic.
Inviting a Diversity Speaker for a Workshop or Talk: hiring a diversity speaker enables your team to hear about thought provoking topics from people who are experts in the field. This will help to break any unconscious bias and give new insights to your team that they can reflect upon in the workplace and in their wider lives.
At Speakers Corner, we’re dedicated to finding the perfect speaker for your event. Our friendly team of experts are more than happy to share their knowledge with you, to ensure that your event reaches its full potential.
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