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Black History: Celebrating the individuals not often mentioned during Black History Month

Every October, in the UK, we celebrate Black History Month. A month dedicated to celebrating the long and detailed history that connects many of us together. A history filled with thousands and thousands of events that have created a map of our black history. But, do you even know where this highly celebrated month emerged from? In 1915, historian Carter G. Woodson co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History created a study in order to put the accomplishments of black people on a pedestal. In 1926, that same group announced that the second week of February would be called “Negro History Week”. The week was later expanded to a month by U.S. president Gerald Ford in order to honor the contributions and accomplishments of African Americans. Over the years other countries such as Germany and Canada have joined in on the celebrations. The UK was also one of these countries, first celebrating the month 1987 and has continued to be celebrated every year since.

Just like the origins of this important month there are many individuals people do not know about or who have simply been forgotten. Many of these individuals may have shaped or changed elements of life today. It is important that we remember all contributions to our black history.

Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805 and eventually moved to England in 1854. She wanted to join the war effort in Crimea but when asking the war office if she could go and help heal the wounded she was denied. So she funded the money herself and traveled to Balaclava, Ukraine. Whilst there, she was able to help thousands of British soldiers who had been injured on the front line. Her tremendous work is often overshadowed by the effort of Florence Nightingale during the Crimean war. However, in recent years many have protested for her achievements to not be forgotten. These protests enabled change which led to a statue of Seacole being built outside St Thomas' Hospital in London in 2016.

Sir Learie Constantine (1901-1971)

Born in Trinidad, Learie Constantine would later become England’s first black peer due to his work around politics and racial equality. This meant that he was allowed to sit in the House of Lords when important political debates were taking place. Additionally, during the late 1920’s he moved to Nelson, a town in Lancashire, Constantine where he became a well known cricket player for the West Indies. His time in cricket often caused a bit of a stir, as people were not used to seeing black people around, especially not in their favorite sport.

Joan Armatrading (1950-today)

Famous Blues artist Joan Armatrading plays a large role in black British music history and if you are a fan of the genre you will definitely know about her talent. This is due to the fact that she was the first UK female artist to be nominated for a Grammy and was later nominated three more times. A self- taught artist, Armatrading moved to the UK from the Caribbean island Saint Kitts at age 7 and started writing her own songs at just 14 years old. Her success continued into the 70’s where she became the first British black singer songwriter to enjoy great success internationally. Over and above that, in 2007 she became the first female UK artist to have a number 1 in the billboard blues chart.

Paul Stephenson (1937-today)

Paul Stephenson was born in England and was the only black child at his school. During this time being black and British was very different to what it is to be black British today. Stephenson used this experience to later dedicate his life to stopping racial discrimination and bring communities together no matter their race. As well as that, he also became Bristol's first black social worker, which improved the relationship between black and white people in the city. He has spent his life leading by example, campaigning for changes to how black people were treated which lead to him playing a part in Britain's first Race Relations Act in 1965.

Claudia Jones (1915-1964)

Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and activist, Claudia Jones, is the founder of the summer event that millions of us Brits have attended every year. Notting Hill Carnival has become a tradition for a lot of black British individuals especially those from Caribbean descent. Jones played an essential role in founding the second-largest annual carnival in the world. From the events she experienced in the US, Jones stated that "people without a voice were as lambs to the slaughter”. In 1958, in order to inform her community, she founded and thereafter edited the West Indian Gazette, above a Brixton barber shop. Its full title subsequently displayed on its masthead as West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News (WIG). This newspaper became a fundamental stepping stone for the black community and its advancements.

Edward Enninful (1972-today)

Ghanaian born and British raised, Edward Enniful has achieved many things in his lifetime. At just age 16 he was spotted, on a train, by stylist Simon Foxton and then went on to shoot with Foxton and Nick Knight, a founder photographer of I-D magazine. And later on in his teenage years, he was appointed fashion director of I-D magazine, a huge achievement for an 18 year old. He has spent his career working in all aspects of the creative industry from modeling, styling to marketing. Enniful has been able to shape the way many advertising campaigns and runways have been created. He has worked alongside brands such as Dior, Armani and Gucci. In 2017 Edward Enniful was named editor-in-chief of British Vogue, making him the first black editor-in-chief for the very famous magazine. I am sure that all of his work in the industry continues to inspire many young and black people.

Diane Abbott (1953-today)

During a time where black individuals, especially women, did not have a lot of political power Diane Abbott changed history. In 1987, she became the first black woman to ever be elected to Parliament. Her career began in 1982, when she was elected to Westminster City Council, before being voted into the House of Commons only five years later. These remarkable achievements made her the first of many black and Asian people to sit in Parliament for almost a century. Diane Abbott, has also used her knowledge and influence to start a number of London schools and the Black Child programme, whose main aim is to help black children to do well in school. Today, she still services in parliament, as part of the Labor party.

Here at Undiscovered we pride ourselves on discovering the undiscovered in this instance it is rediscovering individuals from our history who have paved the way for the life that we live today. A life which is very, very different to theirs. It is important that we remember these individuals and what their achievements have done for us.


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