Black History Month: What is it and why does it matter? (2024)

  • Published

Black History Month: What is it and why does it matter? (1)Image source, Getty Images

By Adina Campbell

Community affairs correspondent, BBC News

October marks Black History Month in the UK.

The event began in the US in the 1920s, and was first celebrated in the UK in 1987.

It also takes place in Canada, Germany and Ireland.

When is Black History Month and what is it?

In the UK, Black History Month happens every October.

It gives everyone the opportunity to share, celebrate and understand the impact of black heritage and culture.

People from African and Caribbean backgrounds have been a fundamental part of British history for centuries. However, campaigners believe their contribution to society has often been overlooked or distorted.

  • Windrush arrivals made UK a better place - William

How did Black History Month start?

The event was the brainchild of Carter G Woodson, known as the father of black history.

Born in Virginia in 1875 to parents who were former slaves, he had limited access to education and job opportunities. But he was able to study at one of the few high schools for black students after saving money earned by working as a coal miner.

Image source, Alamy

Woodson went on to gain various qualifications, including a PhD in history from Harvard University, and became a professor at Howard University.

Throughout his life, he worked tirelessly to promote black history in schools.

In 1926 he launched the first Black History Week, set in February to coincide with the births of former President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Both men played a significant role in helping to end slavery.

The event was expanded in 1970, and since 1976 every US president has officially designated February as Black History Month.

A separate holiday - "Juneteenth", held on 19 June - commemorates the end of slavery in the US.

How did Black History Month start in the UK?

The first Black History Month in the UK took place in 1987, the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean.

It was arranged by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who came to the UK from Ghana as a refugee in 1984. Like Woodson before him, he wanted to challenge racism and celebrate the history of black people.

October was chosen partly because it's traditionally a time when African leaders gather to talk about important issues, and partly because it was at the start of the school year.

How is Black History Month celebrated in the UK?

When Black History Month first began, there was a big focus on black American history. Over time the event has prioritised black British history and key black figures from the UK, such as:

  • Walter Tull, the first black officer to command white troops in the British Army, and one of English football's first black players
  • Malorie Blackman, bestselling author and the first black Children's Laureate
  • Shirley J Thompson, leading composer and conductor
  • Lewis Hamilton, the only black driver in Formula One

Image source, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Black History Month is also celebrated in local communities, where museums, care homes and workplaces explore a broad range of topics, from Britain's colonial past to migration and music.

For 2023, people are being encouraged to find out more about the exceptional achievements of black women, especially those who have been forgotten.

There is a national poetry competition, open to primary, secondary, college, and university students across the UK.

The contribution of the Windrush generation is also being celebrated, 75 years after the arrival of passengers on HMT Empire Windrush to the UK.

Other events include:

Is black history taught in schools?

For many children in the UK, October is the only time of the year they will learn about black history.

Wales became the first nation in the UK to introduce mandatory changes to its curriculum in 2022, including lessons about black history, racism and contributions of figures from black, Asian and other ethnic minorities.

Image source, Finlayson Family Archive/Getty Images

Education is a devolved issue and in England there are no such plans to make changes.

The UK government says black history is an important topic, and that schools have the freedom to teach it within the existing history curriculum, from primary-school age onwards.

  • Malorie Blackman calls for year-round black history
  • Can teaching black history help curb racism?

Related Topics

  • Black Lives Matter
  • Black History Month

Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

As an expert and enthusiast, I have access to a wide range of information and can provide insights on various topics, including Black History Month. I can draw on my knowledge and the information provided in this article to discuss the concepts mentioned. Let's dive into it!

Black History Month

Black History Month is an annual observance that takes place in October in the UK. It provides an opportunity for people to share, celebrate, and understand the impact of black heritage and culture The event originated in the United States in the 1920s and was first celebrated in the UK in 1987 It is also observed in other countries such as Canada, Germany, and Ireland.

Origins of Black History Month

Black History Month was the brainchild of Carter G. Woodson, often referred to as the father of black history. Woodson, born in Virginia in 1875 to former slaves, faced limited access to education and job opportunities. However, he was able to study at one of the few high schools for black students after saving money earned as a coal miner. Woodson went on to gain various qualifications, including a PhD in history from Harvard University, and became a professor at Howard University. Throughout his life, he worked tirelessly to promote black history in schools.

In 1926, Woodson launched the first Black History Week, which was set in February to coincide with the birthdays of former President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, both of whom played significant roles in ending slavery The event was later expanded and since 1976, every US president has officially designated February as Black History Month.

In the UK, the first Black History Month took place in 1987, marking the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean. It was organized by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a Ghanaian refugee who wanted to challenge racism and celebrate the history of black people. October was chosen as the month for the event because it is traditionally a time when African leaders gather to discuss important issues and because it falls at the start of the school year .

Celebrations and Focus

Black History Month in the UK has evolved over time. Initially, there was a strong focus on black American history, but it has increasingly prioritized black British history and key black figures from the UK. Some notable figures highlighted during the event include Walter Tull, the first black officer to command white troops in the British Army and one of English football's first black players; Malorie Blackman, a bestselling author and the first black Children's Laureate; Shirley J. Thompson, a leading composer and conductor; and Lewis Hamilton, the only black driver in Formula One.

Black History Month is celebrated in various ways, including local community events, museum exhibitions, care home activities, and workplace initiatives. These events explore a broad range of topics, such as Britain's colonial past, migration, and music. In 2023, there was a particular emphasis on highlighting the exceptional achievements of black women, especially those who have been overlooked or forgotten. The celebration also included a national poetry competition, a series of comedy shows featuring black comedians, a festival of films, talks, and performances focused on black excellence in the Royal Ballet, and a free tour at the Natural History Museum in London exploring the contributions of female scientists of color .

Black History in Education

Black History Month plays a significant role in raising awareness and educating people about black history. In the UK, for many children, October is the only time of the year they learn about black history. Wales became the first nation in the UK to introduce mandatory changes to its curriculum in 2022, including lessons about black history, racism, and the contributions of figures from black, Asian, and other ethnic minorities. However, in England, there are currently no plans to make similar changes to the curriculum. The UK government states that black history is an important topic and that schools have the freedom to teach it within the existing history curriculum, starting from primary-school age .

Teaching black history can help curb racism by promoting understanding, empathy, and appreciation for the contributions and experiences of black people throughout history. It can challenge stereotypes, combat ignorance, and foster a more inclusive and equitable society.

In conclusion, Black History Month is an annual observance that takes place in October in the UK. It originated in the US and was first celebrated in the UK in 1987. The event aims to share, celebrate, and understand the impact of black heritage and culture. Black History Month has evolved to prioritize black British history and key black figures from the UK. It is celebrated through various events and activities, including local community initiatives, museum exhibitions, and workplace programs. While Wales has introduced mandatory changes to include black history in its curriculum, there are currently no such plans in England. However, the UK government acknowledges the importance of black history and encourages schools to teach it within the existing history curriculum. Teaching black history can help combat racism by promoting understanding and appreciation for the contributions of black people throughout history.

Black History Month: What is it and why does it matter? (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Prof. An Powlowski

Last Updated:

Views: 6153

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (64 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Prof. An Powlowski

Birthday: 1992-09-29

Address: Apt. 994 8891 Orval Hill, Brittnyburgh, AZ 41023-0398

Phone: +26417467956738

Job: District Marketing Strategist

Hobby: Embroidery, Bodybuilding, Motor sports, Amateur radio, Wood carving, Whittling, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Prof. An Powlowski, I am a charming, helpful, attractive, good, graceful, thoughtful, vast person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.