"Until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship and the rule of international morality, will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued, but never attained." - Bob Marley.
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
The roots of Black History Month are found in America. Black History Month was established in 1976 by the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. The month long celebration was an expansion of Negro History Week, which was established in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, director of what was then known as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Negro History Week was conceived as a means of undermining the foundation of the idea of black inferiority through popular information grounded in scholarship.
The British version of Black History Month started about twenty years ago. Prior to that, and since the 1970's, African Britons in the Diaspora had celebrated African history, art and culture. Whether the vehicle was Berry Edwards or Eric and Jessica Huntley 'Caribbean week' or Alex Pascall's 'Black Londoners' programme on the BBC, their story was being told.
Celebrating Black History Month in the UK stems from London and the activities of Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. After talking to Black British teenagers, Akyaaba, a special projects officer for Greater London Councils, discovered that they had a great reluctance to have anything to do or identify with Africa. Akyaaba felt this was due to the negative representation of Blacks and Africans in the media and the many racist and distorted images about Africa's past and present. In 1986 and 1987, Akyaaba with the backing of several other people organised key events that established the trend for Black History Month. These included serious debates about the Black contribution to civilisation with leading U.S. historians.
In 1987 the race unit, of which Akyaaba was a part, moved to the London Strategic Policy Unit. Symbolically the year 1987 also marked 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery (1838). Prior to the demise of the GLC, and in a drive to improve racial harmony in London, councillors passed a declaration that put Black History Month in October. As a result the UK's first Black History Month took place as part of the African Jubilee Year 1987-88 celebrations organised by the former London Strategic Policy Unit.
The event was a success. In response, the then Association of London Authorities later endorsed Black History Month as an annual event leading to its official recognition on the cultural calendars of all London boroughs. Several metropolitan and city councils around the country followed London's example. Later, London councils became committed to financially supporting the month every year and again, local councils around the country followed suit. Today, Black History Month is celebrated across the entire country.
"You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man." - Frederick Douglas, 1845.
In 1805 the House of Commons passed a bill that made it unlawful for any British subject to capture and transport slaves, but the measure was blocked by the House of Lords.
In February 1806, Lord Grenville formed a Whig administration. Grenville and his Foreign Secretary, Charles Fox, were strong opponents of the slave trade. Fox and William Wilberforce led the campaign in the House of Commons, whereas Grenville had the task of persuading the House of Lords to accept the measure.
Greenville made a passionate speech where he argued that the trade was "contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and sound policy" and criticised fellow members for "not having abolished the trade long ago". When the vote was taken the Abolition of the Slave Trade bill was passed in the House of Lords by 41 votes to 20. In the House of Commons it was carried by 114 to 15 and it become law on 25th March, 1807.
British captains who were caught continuing the trade were fined £100 for every slave found on board. However, this law did not stop the British slave trade. If slave-ships were in danger of being captured by the British navy, captains often reduced the fines they had to pay by ordering the slaves to be thrown into the sea.
It was apparent that the only way to end the suffering of the slaves was to make slavery illegal. This final step, from banning the trade in slaves to outlawing slavery in its entirety, was a long drawn battle that took twenty-six years. It was not until 1833 that Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act, thereby ending a very dark chapter in British history.
When the steamship docked at Tilbury, Essex, on June 22, 1948, it brought nearly 500 people from Jamaica and Trinidad. Their role was to play a part in the reconstruction of Britain, which was emerging from the shadow of the second world war.
Though the climate may have been a shock to the system, and the welcome was often not as warm as they might have hoped, the Windrush passengers were about to make a deep and lasting impression on the national culture.
"No one should doubt that Thurrock is a modern and multicultural borough. As our towns continue to grow and expand, so does the diversity of our residents. Events such as Black History Month are an important opportunity to meet our neighbours, to learn of different cultures and celebrate what makes Thurrock and other towns, cities and countries throughout the world, a special place."
Councillor Gareth Davies,
Portfolio holder for Business and Culture, October 2007