HS2017 Telling Our Stories:
Gender, Ethnicity and Class in Twentieth Century Britain

Week 2 Black History in Britain

Black history is an intellectual and a political activity. It is about discovering or rediscovering the history of people of African or Asian descent who came (or who are descended from those who came) from the British colonial empire i.e. from Africa, the Caribbean or the Indian sub-continent.

The Black history movement in Britain started in the 1970s, emerging out of the Black nationalist and anti-racist movements of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Like working class history and women's history, the Black history movement is concerned with groups of people who have been left out of the historical record or treated as marginal to British history. This omission or marginalisation is comparable with, and arguably caused by, the exclusion and discrimination that Black people experience in white British society.

Research and publication of Black history has a number of different purposes

  • Rectifying the incompleteness and imbalance of the historical record
  • Providing useful knowledge for Black people
  • Providing useful knowledge for white people

Task for students

Expand on the last two points However, research and publication of all types of history have 3 basic requirements
  • Sources
  • Historians
  • Publishers

Black history outside the academy has arguably been more significant than that within the academy

  • 1970s Black History in schools
  • 1980s Black Community History
  • 1990s 50 years since Windrush

F. Shyllon in Chapter 9 of Gundara, J. & Duffield, I. (eds) (1992) Essays on the History of Blacks in Britain, says that it is useful to divide Black history in Britain into 5 periods

  • From early times to the English Civil war
  • From the Restoration to the end of slavery in the British Empire
  • From Emancipation to 1914
  • From WW1 to the end of WW2
  • Since 1945

James Walvin in Chapter 10 of the same work says 'In little more than two decades, the history of Britain's Black community has emerged from effective anonymity to a point where conferences and publications abound and clearly appeal to a large and varied audience and readership' (p. 225).

He argues that the expansion of historical scholarship on Black history since the 1970s was inspired by

  • The growth of African history
  • The emergence of African-American and Caribbean Studies
  • The influence of E. P. Thompson The Making of the English Working Class 1963
  • The influence of Eric Williams Capitalism and Slavery 1944

I think there are 4 dimensions to the Black history produced in Britain

  • The Black presence
  • Black achievement
  • Black resistance
  • Black experience

Task for students

Do you agree? Should there be any other dimensions?

Famous Black People in Britain 1890s - 1960s

Dadabhai Naoroji 1825 -1917 Liberal MP for Finsbury Central 1892-1895

Mancherjee Merwanjee Bhownagree 1851 -1933 Conservative MP for Bethnal Green 1895-1906
John Archer 1863-1932 Mayor of Battersea 1913
Shapurji Saklatvala 1874-1936 Labour MP for Battersea 1922-23, Communist MP for Battersea 1924-1929
Dr. Harold Moody 1882-1947 Founder of League of Coloured People
Marcus Garvey 1887-1940 Founder of Universal Negro Improvement Association
Noor Inayat Khan 1914-1944 Special Operations Executive wireless operator in Occupied France
Claudia Jones 1915-1964 Journalist and activist
George Padmore 1901-1959 Journalist and activist
C.L.R.James 1901-1989 Writer and activist
David Pitt 1913-1994 First Black Chairman of GLC

Task for students

What can you learn from these photographs?

ATS members from Trinidad

ATS members from Trinidad 1943 ATS members from Trinidad
Residents of Bute Town, Cardiff in 1954
Residents of Bute Town, Cardiff in 1954 Residents of Bute Town, Cardiff in 1954
A trio of Jamaican immigrants walking the streets of Birmingham 1955

A trio of Jamaican immigrants walking the streets of Birmingham 1955
Published in Picture Post

waiting in the customs hall at Southampton

27th May 1956 A crowd of 700 West Indian immigrants in the customs hall at Southampton
Picture Post

waiting in the customs hall at Southampton arriving at Stansted airport
27th May 1956 Immigrants waiting in the Customs Hall at Southampton Docks after disembarkation
Picture Post
28th February 1968 Asian immigrants disembarking on their arrival at Stansted Airport
Asian children arriving at a British airport from Nairobi, 1968

23rd February 1968 Asian children arriving at a British airport from Nairobi

Penny Welch February 2006

URL: http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~le1810/hs2017w2.htm
Page created by Penny Welch February 2006/updated January 2008

Studies Links
Women's History
My Homepage University