The Escape of Henry ‘Box’ Brown

Henry ‘Box’ Brown was born enslaved in Richmond, Virginia, in 1816.

Returning from work one day in 1849 to find that his wife and children had been sold, he decided to orchestrate an unbelievably risky escape to free himself from the cruel reality of enslavement.

Brown paid for a box to be made, measuring one meter by one meter and just 60 centimeters wide. He squeezed himself into the box and posted himself from Virginia (where slavery was still in force) to Philadelphia (where slavery had been abolished two years before). 

The box had holes so Brown could breathe and, with only some water and biscuits, he managed to survive the journey by wagon, boat and train. The journey took 72 hours and abolitionists in Philadelphia described how when they opened the box, ‘Brown clambered out and sung a freedom hymn: he was finally free.’

The passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 forced Brown to leave for the UK. This act meant formerly enslaved people - even if they were living free lives in the free north - could be captured and returned to their “owners”.

In England, Brown toured the country, performing his escape, as well as drawing from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), to create a panorama of enslavement on stage. Brown published the first edition of his autobiography in 1849. After marrying an English woman, he returned to America in 1875 and continued performing until his death in 1897.

The story of Henry ‘Box’ Brown is an example of people using their intelligence and creativity to flee the most appalling circumstances. Stories such as this are key to our understanding of the history of enslavement. Enslaved people were not passive victims, they were integral to the political processes of abolition in the UK and put their intellectual, creative and artistic weight behind the movement.



The British Black Power Movement

Much has been written about the civil rights movement and protests in the United States in the 1950s and 60s. However, relatively little is known about the fight against racial discrimination in Great Britain.

The British Black Power Movement of the late 1960s sprung from a need for racial equality in a hostile Britain. This influenced various groups to take action to fight discrimination in their communities and promote equal opportunity for Black people and those from minority ethnic communities. 

The British Black Panthers was set up following a visit from Malcolm X and Stokey Carmichael in September 1967. It was officially founded by Obi Egbuna and Darcus Howe in 1968 and was later led by Althea Jones-Lecointe.

It was a revolutionary, militant underground organisation. The party’s activities ranged from attending marches and protests, to producing banners and publishing and distributing the newspaper Black People’s News Service. A publication from 1970 read: “Black Panther Movement in Britain stands fundamentally for the LIBERATION. Liberation of ALL oppressed People. And primarily the liberation of Black People totally from every form of enslavement and exploitation.”

Their influence can be seen primarily in their work to expose racism and injustice in the educational and law enforcement systems. 

The Black Liberation Front was founded in 1971 in London and aimed to achieve equal access to things like healthcare, safe housing, voting, and fair and equal education. They worked to challenge racism in Britain, educate Black members on their history, and encouraged people to take part in political activism in their community.

The movement had a significant impact on the political landscape and played a key role in local communities. They created supplementary schools, community bookshops and affordable housing for black families and support for black prisoners, and also organised the annual Africa Liberation Day alongside other organisations. 




George Floyd and the #BlackLivesMatter Protests of 2020

On 25 May, 2020, a 46-year-old African American man was killed whilst under arrest, sparking civil unrest and protests across the globe. George Floyd died after police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for at least seven minutes as three other officers looked on.

Police were originally called to the scene by staff at a grocery store who suspected that Floyd was using counterfeit money. He was forcibly removed from his car and handcuffed by police after he “physically resisted”. Officers then noticed he appeared to be “suffering medical distress” and so called for an ambulance. Floyd fell to the ground where two officers held his back and legs and Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck.

On the Facebook Livestream recorded by a bystander, Floyd can be heard repeatedly saying “Please” and “I can’t breathe”. Floyd became motionless but Chauvin didn’t remove his knee until the ambulance arrived. When it did, the medics were unable to detect a pulse, and Floyd was declared dead at the hospital.

The murder of George Floyd also saw the return to international headlines of Black Lives Matter. The movement first began in July 2013 with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter following the shooting of Black teen Trayvon Martin at the hands of the police and the acquittal of police officer George Zimmerman. A decentralised political and social movement, Black Lives Matters highlights racism, discrimination, inequality, police brutality and racially motivated violence experienced by Black people. 

Protests began hours after the murder of George Floyd as word of mouth and videos from bystanders started to spread. They started in Minneapolis and quickly spread nationwide and internationally to more than 2,000 cities and towns across 60 different countries. Most were peaceful; however, some demonstrations escalated to looting and riots, with protesters clashing with police and counter-protesters. An estimated 15 to 26 million people participated in Black Lives Matter protests in the US.

Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 22.5 years in prison in June 2021.




Harriet Tubman: The “Conductor” of the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman was an American abolitionist and social activist. Born enslaved, she became known as the “Moses of her people” after helping other enslaved people to find freedom.

Born around 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland, she was originally named Araminta Ross. By age five, her owners rented her out to neighbours as a domestic servant. At age 12, she intervened in her master’s beating of an enslaved man who had tried to escape. She was hit in the head with a two-pound weight, which led to a lifetime of severe headaches and narcolepsy.

Enslaved people were not technically allowed to marry but in 1844, Harriet married John Tubman, a free Black man. She took his name and called herself Harriet.

In 1849, Tubman escaped enslavement along with her two brothers. Her husband refused to join her and by 1851 had remarried a free Black woman.

Following her escape, she returned south several times, helping dozens of others escape as the “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. Established by abolitionists in the late 18th century, Tubman likely used the railroad herself when she escaped.

She was so successful in her mission of freeing enslaved people that enslavers offered a 40,000 dollar reward for her capture or death. However, she was never caught and never lost a “passenger”.

Harriet is also thought to be the first African American woman to serve in the military after carrying out various roles for the Union Army during the American Civil War including scout, spy, guerrilla soldier and nurse.




Political Action: the Grunwick Strike & the New Cross House Fire

Following the second world war, migrants from former and current colonies moved to Britain in hope of better opportunities or having been forced to flee. As British citizens, they were entitled to move to the country. However, they encountered a hostile reception in post-war Britain.

Here are two cases of political action by Black and minority ethnic people who stood up to fight against racial discrimination in Britain.

The Grunwick Strike

In the 1970s, the predominantly Indian and female workforce at the Grunwick film processing factory walked out in protest at the working conditions at the factory. They joined a trade union who, after a few months of picketing, came to the support of the workers. Despite a government inquiry recommending the company recognise the trade union, Grunwick rejected the proposal.

The strike went on for two years and by June 1977, as many as 20,000 people marched in support of the strikers. As the numbers grew, police began to attend the demonstrations and there were reports of violence from police towards protesters. Eventually, the trade union withdrew their support. But the women would not back down and went on a hunger strike outside the Trade Union Congress headquarters in November 1977. They were ignored and the strikers were eventually defeated. The women didn’t get their jobs back but conditions for the workers that remained greatly improved.

The New Cross House Fire

In 1981, a blaze was started at a house party in New Cross, south east London. The fire killed 13 young Black people plus one survivor who took his own life two years later, and more than 50 people were injured; some left with life changing disabilities. 

It was believed by those in the community that it was a racist attack by facists, likely using a petrol bomb. Forensic evidence found that the fire was started inside the house, but no one has ever been charged in connection with the fire. Two inquests into the deaths held in 1981 and 2004 recorded open verdicts. Although, during the second inquest, the coroner said that the fire was probably started deliberately by one of the guests, but he could not be sure.

In the aftermath, the New Cross Massacre Action Committee (NCMAC) was set up, which organised the Black People's Day of Action on 2 March 1981. This event saw 20,000 people march for eight hours across London carrying placards which read ‘13 Dead. Nothing Said.’ The protesters believed that police didn’t do enough to find those responsible for the deaths of these 13 young people and suspected a police cover up. There was also anger at the lack of attention to this tragedy which should have triggered a national mourning.

Barbados-born filmmaker Menelik Shabazz, living in London at the time, chronicled the fire and community response in a documentary, Blood Ah Go Run.




Nanny of the Maroons

Nanny of the Maroons, sometimes known as Queen Nanny (among many other monikers) is a Jamaican historical icon, whose life and actions are still remembered and celebrated to this day. Most of what is known about her has been pieced together from oral histories, but her presence in Jamaican history is undeniable. With nothing to go on but descriptions of her piercing eyes and fearsome leadership abilities, her likeness appears on the Jamaican $500 bill, making her one of just a handful of women of colour to appear on a bank note globally. 


Although much about her life remains a mystery, she was likely born in the late 1600s in present-day Ghana. After being trafficked to Jamaica and escaping slavery, she fled to the mountains to live among the Maroons.  


The Maroons were a community of people in Jamaica who were descended from African slaves who freed themselves from plantations, and escaped to live in the mountains after the Spanish lost their colonial hold over the island in 1665. Within this community of freedom fighters, Nanny quickly became a skilled and respected leader, and founded a settlement known as Nanny Town. This was the base for her numerous guerilla warfare operations to free more slaves from plantation slavery. Said to be a shrewd and cunning strategist, she helmed these masterful insurgencies and battles so successfully that her forces became impossible to defeat, and she is credited with freeing over 1000 slaves. The British faced such losses that they had no choice but to broker a peace treaty to end the violence. This treaty secured Nanny and her community their freedom, and granted them 500 acres of land, which today is known as New Nanny Town. Although it far from makes up for the atrocities committed against enslaved peoples, the story of Nanny and what she achieved remains a fierce emblem of freedom and fighting spirit. 




A Profile in Courage: Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano's fascinating rise to becoming a writer, abolitionist and prominent member of the “Sons of Africa” group began with his kidnapping.

Born in a southern Igbo community of the Benin Empire (present-day Nigeria), Olaudah was kidnapped with his sister and sold to local enslaved traders at age 11. Arriving at the English colony of Virginia, Olaudah was purchased by a Royal Navy lieutenant Michael Henry Pascal. Renamed Gustavus Vassa; Olaudah become a seaman with Pascal. 

Later, Olaudah was sold to a Quaker merchant, Robert King. As with Pascal, Olaudah learned from Robert, acquiring skills as a merchant, along with reading and writing. Eventually, his skills meant he could buy his freedom. King offered Equiano the opportunity to buy his freedom in 1765 for 40 pounds. In 1766, that's what Equiano did.

With his newfound freedom, Olaudah spent the next 20 years travelling the world campaigning for the abolition of enslavement. Returning to London, he became connected with some of the leaders of the abolitionist, most notably Granville Sharp. Around the same time, he converted to Christianity. With renewed motivation and good political connections, Equiano, along with his friend, Ottobah Cugoano, campaigned for the end of the enslavement trade.

Creating the genre of the "slave narrative", Equiano published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, in 1789. A valuable depiction of human experience, it was one of the earliest books published in the West by an African writer. The book presented evidence that helped the abolitionist cause. It also made Olaudah wealthy. It chronicles his journey from kidnapping to freedom.



African Liberation Day

The British Pan-African Congress Movement (PACM) sent a delegation of activists to the sixth Pan-African Congress in Tanzania in 1974. This was the first Pan-African Congress held on African soil and hosted by President Julius Nyerere. He was a key figure in the African liberation movement.

The delegation included a number of activists from Birmingham, including Bini Butwaka, Maurice Andrews and Marcel Scully. When they returned from the Congress they were inspired by all they had heard from the range of delegates from Africa and the diaspora.  

Since 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which brought together the independent countries on the continent, had organised Africa Liberation Day to celebrate the freedom movements on the continent.

When the British delegation returned to the UK they decided to organise Africa Liberation Day celebrations. The first two were in London and Manchester but the third in Birmingham in 1977 was by far the largest. Held in Handsworth Park, it drew in thousands of attendees and is suspected to be the largest demonstration of Black people in the UK at the time. During the march to the park, local children left school to join.

In the park, people were entertained with poetry, speeches, drama and the event was headlined by London reggae group, Aswad. The event was only possible because of decades of organising and resisting that are largely overlooked in British history. There was a vibrant Black power, Pan African movement in Britain, that continues today. The PACM continues to organise ALD celebrations in Birmingham every May bank holiday, keeping the spirit of 1977 alive. 


Kehinde Andrews

Kehinde Andrews


The Story of the Mangrove Nine

The Mangrove Restaurant opened in March 1968 in Notting Hill, West London, and quickly became a centre for the black community. It attracted intellectuals, creatives and campaigners.

The restaurant was repeatedly raided by police. Although the raids were carried out on the claims of drug possession, drugs were never found. In fact, restaurant owner Frank Crichlow was known in the community for his own anti-drugs stance. 

The raids on the Mangrove were seen as reflecting a wider culture of oppression by authorities. In response, the Black community and allies took to the streets to protest on 9 August 1970. The demonstration was organised by a small group from The Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove and the Black Panthers. This included Frank Crichlow, restaurant owner and barrister Anthony Mohipp, secretary of the Black Improvement Organisation.

The protesters were met with a disproportionate police response. There were 150 demonstrators at the beginning of the march accompanied by 200 police.

The Metropolitan Police files detailed how things proceeded. There are witness statements from the police and other people involved. The material included evocative images of these protests. Photographs were used by the police to suggest that key allies of the Black Power movement  were implicated in planning and inciting a riot.

Nine protesters were arrested, charged and eventually tried: Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Frank Critchlow, Rhodan Gordon, Darcus Howe, Anthony Innis, Althea Lecointe Jones, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett.

Darcus Howe and Althea Jones-Lecointe took the bold move of demanding an all Black jury under the Magna Carta’s “jury of my peers" clause, turning the court case into a public spectacle and exposing the contradictions in the prosecution’s case. In Jones-Lecointe’s closing speech, she referred in detail to the police persecution experienced by the black community in Notting Hill.

Pickets were organised outside the trail at the Old Bailey, and literature handed out to raise public awareness of the case.

The final verdict was reached by the jury, and on the most serious charge of riot all nine were cleared. The trial had also succeeded in winning popular support.

In his closing remarks Judge Clarke commented: ‘What this trial has shown is that there is clearly evidence of racial hatred on both sides.’

This watershed statement went a small way to recognise police wrongdoing and racial prejudice.


The National Archives

The National Archives


The Unlikely Journey of Ignatius Sancho

The beginnings of writer, composer and shopkeeper, Ignatius Sancho, are something of a mystery. Joseph Jekyll’s 1782 biography states that Sancho was born on a ship of enslaved people en route from Guinea. In his own posthumously published letters, and the accompanying biography, Sancho tells us he was born in Africa. However his life began, Ignatius went on to lead a remarkable life of influence, becoming a business owner, and a cultural and literary figure in his own right. 

Arriving, enslaved, in London at the age of two, Sancho was forced to work as a servant in Greenwich. Ignatius found an unlikely ally in John Montagu, the 2nd Duke of Montagu. The Duke encouraged Sancho's interest in reading and education by giving him books to read. Although the Duke died, Ignatius liberated himself from servitude, persuading the Duke's widow to employ him instead. He became a butler to the family for the next 20 years. 

It was in the libraries of the Montagu house that Sancho continued his self-taught learning and composing. The cultured visitors to the house offered stimulation and inspiration to Sancho, who eventually became an accomplished composer. A prolific letter writer, Sancho used his network and influence to convince people such as Lawrence Sterne to engage in the abolitionist cause.

Sancho went on to become a homeowner and open his own business, a grocery store in Westminster. He and his wife, West Indian Anne Osborne, parented seven children. 

Ignatius became the first person of African descent to vote in a British general election. He is also the first known person of African descent to have an obituary published in British newspapers.  His letters, published after his death, were hugely influential. They provided supporting evidence, from a Black perspective, in the movement to abolish enslavement.


Courage of Our Ideals

Princess Adenrele Ademola

Throughout history, there have been stories of princess nurses who have gifted their talents to hospitals, particularly during wartime. However, missing from this history of royal altruism are the African princesses.

Princess Omo-Oba Adenrele Ademola, daughter of a Nigerian king Alake of Abeokuta, came to England and began a life and career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years. 

Some of her story was captured in the lost film produced by the Colonial Film Unit, ‘Nurse Ademola’. Without this film, Ademola’s experiences in London as a black woman and as a nurse are lost.

Ademola arrived in Plymouth on 29 June 1935, aged 22. She resided at the Africa Hostel in Camden Town where she stayed until she returned to Lagos temporarily in 1936.

The hostel was established by the West African Students’ Union (WASU), an important social and political organisation for West Africans in Britain. Like for many Africans in Britain in the early 20th century, the hostel acted as a refuge for Ademola and it is here that she attended social events and committees. 

Ademola balanced her role as a princess with her vocation as a nurse. As a princess, she returned to England in 1937 with her father and brother, Prince Ademola III (the future Chief Justice for the Federation of Nigeria) for the coronation of King George, staying at the Grosvenor Hotel, London.

She worked as part of the nursing staff at Guy’s Hospital from 1939, and became a registered nurse in 1941 after six years of training. In the same year, she moved to Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital and then New End Hospital in Hampstead in 1942, having passed her midwifery exams.

Ademola’s story is one that deserves equal attention as that of Florence Nightingale or Edith Cavell, but it is limited to the details that can be found wading through archives.

The National Archives is working with historians and community groups to recognise the history of black people in the archives. But there is still a long way to go.


Courage of Our Ideals

Harold Moody and The League of Coloured Peoples

Harold Moody was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1882 to a well-known pharmacist, Charles Earnest Moody and his wife, Christina Emmeline Ellis. In 1904, Harold moved to the UK to study medicine at King’s College London. A highly intelligent young man, Harold graduated at the top of his class in 1910.

Despite his clear talents and knowledge, Harold was repeatedly denied work as a medical practitioner in early 20th century London due to his race. In 1913, he decided to take matters into his own hands and founded his own practice in Peckham. Harold’s experiences of discrimination motivated him to care for others in numerous ways. He began treating poor, sick children free of charge and welcomed other Black professionals into his home after they too had been refused work or lodgings because of their race. 

In 1931, Harold became involved in politics when he founded the League of Coloured Peoples alongside Charles Wesley. Harold remained President of the League for the rest of his life. The League saw plenty of success and began exercising a large influence on the economic, political and social treatment of Black people in the UK, campaigning against racist policies such as the colour bar in Britain.

The League also made strides for better treatment of Black service men and women in the armed forces by overturning the Special Restriction Order (also known as the Coloured Seamen’s Act) of 1925, which deliberately restricted the employment of non-white people. Harold was also a devout Christian and in 1943, he was appointed chair of the London Missionary Society. 

Harold died in April 1947 at the age of 64 of acute influenza. Though the League of Coloured Peoples would survive him by just four years, his life and work had long-reaching consequences for Black Britons in the 20th century.


Courage of Our Ideals

Lady Phyll

Phyllis Opuku-Gyimah, otherwise known as Lady Phyll, is a British icon and political activist known for her work to fight for, defend and build on LGBTQIA+ rights and racial equality in the UK and Commonwealth. She is also the co-founder of UK Black Pride - the world’s largest celebration of LGBTQIA+ people of African, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Latin American and Caribbean Heritage. In 2020 she was named one of the 100 Most Influential Black Britons, and it is not hard to see why. 

Born in 1974 in London, Lady Phyll is of Ghanaian heritage, and grew up in London. As is the case for many Black LGBTQIA+ people, she didn’t see herself represented in equal, influential or aspirational positions within society, and has made it her life’s work to address this imbalance, and advocate for current and future generations of Black and LGBTQIA+ people. Her rights organisation, Kaleidoscope Trust, works with governments, change-makers and civil society organisations to affect change in legislation, policy and equality for LGBTQIA+ folks in the UK, Europe and across the commonwealth. 

In 2016, she was offered an MBE, which she turned down. She has since cited her discomfort with the empirical foundations of Britain’s relationship with the Commonwealth, and their inextricable contribution to systemic and institutional racism across the UK, as reasons for the refusal. Whether it is regarding the Windrush Generation, the Grenfell Tragedy or the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has had on marginalised people globally, she says ‘you can’t help but to do something. You can’t help but to look at what some of these root causes are and many of those root causes [are] really going back to enslavement, slavery, colonisation, the way we are positioned economically [and] how poverty hits us.’ 



Courage of Our Ideals

A Flag for a Global Community of Peoples of African Descent

Sometimes, the most profound expressions of our power are found at times of greatest struggle. 

Black rights in the United States were suppressed with sustained violence in the early 20th century. The values of democracy, justice and equality the state projected abroad were bitterly denied to Black people at home. 

In response, Black Nationalism grew more ardent and organised, with Jamaican Marcus Mosiah Garvey its foremost voice. His vision was of a united Africa ‘at home and abroad’; a global community of peoples of African descent. Garvey believed in the importance of shared heritage, struggles, and African land. He also saw the need for a bold symbol, like a flag, under which Black people could unite. 

Garvey founded the UNIA (United Negro Improvement Association) in Kingston in 1914. Two years later, he travelled to New York City where his leadership and organisation met the artistic and cultural cusp of the Harlem Renaissance. Garvey’s teachings found massive support among US Blacks angry with the racial retrenchment that followed the First World War.

Garvey saw the need for a United African nation to have its own national anthem and distinctive flag, separate from the symbolism of the Stars and Stripes or other national emblems. The colours of the UNIA flag, unveiled in 1920, had symbolic meaning: red for shared African blood and the blood shed by the oppressed, black for a unifying skin colour, and green for land abundant in Africa. 

Garvey believed that the flag would both symbolise and help foster a proud pan-African identity. In later decades, Garvey’s philosophy influenced leaders of African independence movements. The UNIA flag’s colours inspired those of many African nations, such as Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, and Mali.

A century after its creation, the flag still flies proud. It is instantly recognisable as a mark of African heritage and unity, as well as a reminder of historical and persistent injustices towards Black people.


Courage of Our Ideals

Marcus Rashford MBE

Marcus Rashford started playing football at the age of five and his talents were quickly noticed by coaches and scouts. He went on to be signed by Manchester United making history for his club with his goal scoring abilities, and playing for his country. However, it is arguably his charitable work and campaigning off the pitch which turned him into a household name.

Marcus was born in Manchester in 1997 and was raised in a low-income family by his mum, Melanie Maynard. His mum often worked multiple jobs and skipped meals to make sure that Marcus and his siblings had food on the table. Growing up in family that struggled to make ends meet had a profound impact on Marcus, and as a footballer he was keen to use his fame to give back. 

In 2020, when Covid lockdowns were imposed, families who rely on free school meals and breakfasts clubs to feed their children suddenly had their lifeline cut. Marcus teamed up with food charity FareShare, who provide meals to vulnerable low-income families, to help raise awareness and fundraise. He raised £20 million providing over four million meals.  

Galvanised by this, Marcus then turned his attention to holding the UK Government to account. The Government policy was to not provide school meals over the summer holidays, so Rashford wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister which gained a huge amount of interest. The policy was overturned in 24 hours and because of this, 1.3 million children were able to get meals throughout the summer.

Rashford then created a petition requesting that the Government end child poverty, by increasing Healthy Start vouchers and extending free school meals into all school holidays. Millions of people signed the petition and the Government pledged £400million to provide food and support for Britain’s poorest communities. 

In 2020, Rashford was made MBE for his campaigning against child food poverty, BBC Sports Personality of the Year, became the youngest person to be ranked number one in the Sunday Times Giving List, and Campaigner of the Year in the GQ Men of the Year awards. 


Courage of Our Ideals

London's First Black Mayor: John Archer

On 10 November 1913, John Archer was elected as the Mayor of Battersea, making him London’s first Black mayor. John was born in Liverpool, the son of Richard Archer from Barbados, and Mary Theresa Burns from Liverpool. This photograph shows Archer poised in the traditional parliamentary robe. The scarlet robe, made of wool and trimmed with ermine or black velvet was adorned with a livery gold medallion collar. 

John Archer’s acceptance speech summarised the historic event: ‘Battersea has done many things in the past, but the greatest thing it has done is to show that it has no racial prejudice, and that it recognises a man for the work he has done.’

Archer's political efforts were noticed globally. The African American writer and activist, W. E. B. DuBois, featured Archer in his journal, The Crisis.  

Archer's other achievements included founding the African Progress Union within the UK; being the first British Black person to represent his country at an international conference abroad; and the first Black man to become an election agent for a constituency Labour Party. 

One of his famous speeches at the African Progress Union Meetings concerns the dynamics many Black soldiers and Black Britons faced during World War I: 

‘The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show them that we have given up the idea of being hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire. That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough to receive the benefits of the country. One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, it will be “demand” all the time that I am your President. I am not asking for anything, I am out demanding.'

Along with many other Black British political personalities of that time, John Archer paved the way for today's Magid Magid (Mayor of Sheffield 2018), Ernest Ezeajughi (Mayor of Brent 2019) and Eileen Taylor (Mayor of Leeds 2019).


Courage of Our Ideals

Baroness Doreen Lawrence

When one woman saw racism and incompetence in the Metropolitan Police’s investigation of her son’s murder, she refused to accept it. Doreen Lawrence’s campaigning in the years since not only helped to secure convictions for his murderers, but also led to lasting reforms in the police and criminal justice system.

As Stephen Lawrence was travelling home on 22 April 1993, he was attacked and killed by a group of white teenagers. The assault was unprovoked, and his murderers had shouted racist slurs before stabbing him repeatedly.

Although charges were brought against several suspects, they were acquitted under the so-called “double jeopardy” law as it stood; this meant they would be unable to stand trial again.

Rather than accepting this injustice, Doreen and her husband Neville fought it tirelessly. Eventually, as a direct result of their campaigning, Home Secretary Jack Straw commissioned an inquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s investigation in 1997.

The Macpherson Report was scathing about the investigation, concluding that mistakes and delays meant that necessary evidence was not gathered in time. It also stated that The Met was affected by institutional racism, which impacted the investigation of racist crimes and the treatment of Black victims, families and witnesses.

Crucially, the report also recommended the partial repeal of the double jeopardy law, which the government did. This meant that when, in 2007, new evidence came to light, Gary Dobson and David Norris – two of the original subjects – could be arrested and tried again. This time, they were jailed for murder.

Doreen has continued to fight for justice for victims of racist crimes. In 2013, she was awarded a peerage and became Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon. Her activism was born of tragedy, but there is no doubt that Doreen Lawrence has been one of the most influential campaigners of recent times.


Courage of Our Ideals

Dorothy Kuya: A Force for Positive Change

Dorothy Kuya (1932-2013) was a Communist Party member and a tireless activist for racial equality. Born in Liverpool to a Black father from Sierra Leone and a White-Liverpudlian mother, Dorthy was raised, in part, by a Nigerian man when her biological father left. It is from the Nigerian, who became her father, that she got the name Kuya.

In Liverpool, Kuya became interested in politics, race and class. It was here that she began a 40-year relationship with the Communist Party by joining the Young Communist League. 

Dorothy then moved to London where she became a teacher and set up the organisation, Teachers Against Racism. The organisation was one of the first of its kind. She continued her activities in the Communist Party in London. Her efforts were largely focused on antiracism and to this end she contributed work to the party pamphlet, Black and Blue Racism and the Police.

Eventually, Dorothy moved back to Liverpool when she persisted in fighting for Black rights and the acknowledgement of Liverpool's colonialist past. She was an instrumental figure in pushing for a museum which told the story of Liverpool's intimate role in the transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans. The International Slavery Museum opened up on 23 August 2007. 

In recognition of her work, the  National Museums Liverpool named the annual Slave Day Memorial Lecture after Dorothy Kuya. Following her death, she is remembered by the Communist party and the communities she served as a relentless force for positive change.


Courage of Our Ideals

Eric Lynch: A Keeper of History

Eric Lynch (1934-2021) was a Liverpudlian historian, trade unionist and Black rights activist.

Born in Liverpool to a Barbadian father and a Black-English mother, Eric received an education which left him barely able to read and write because of racial and class prejudices. Despite this, Eric had a hunger for knowledge. After formal schooling, he educated himself in Liverpool history and found inspiration in learning about the lives of the working class. 

Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Lynch worked towards better conditions in the building industry as a shop steward. Following this Lynch began tenure in the Liverpool City Council. It was during the 80s and 90s under various roles that he strove to improve health and safety in the workplace and create racial equality.

A keen public speaker, Lynch began giving informal tours which explored Liverpool's relationship with enslavement in the 70s. By the 80 and 90s, these had become more formal. Eric eventually went into collaboration with Liverpool's Maritime Museum. 

Eric Lynch went on to lecture on the history of the transatlantic trade of enslaved people in institutions around the globe including in Britain, the US, Africa and the Caribbean.

His son Andrew told a Liverpool paper, 'He persuaded Liverpool to confront its role at the centre of the slave trade and as the most active of all slaver seaports. This resulted in the City giving a formal apology for its role in the slave trade.'


Courage of Our Ideals

The Black Man and His Party: William Cuffay

Imagine it: a Black, disabled, working class man rising to prominence in one of the most powerful and feared social movements of the 18th century. 

William Cuffay was born in 1788 in Chatham, Kent. His father was an enslaved person in St Kitts but became a free man and ship’s cook. Despite a spinal deformity, Cuffay worked as a tailor in London, becoming politically active through a strike in 1834. By 1839, he was a Chartist, famed for his powerful oratory and leadership. 

Chartism was a movement pressing for the rights of the working class, demanding voting rights for all men over the age of 21 and pushing the country to the brink of a revolution; one like the 1789 French Revolution. Cuffay became so prominent in the movement that, in 1848, The Times referred to his section of Chartists as “the black man and his party”.  

A government spy called Powell alleged that Cuffay was planning an armed uprising. In court, Cuffay maintained his innocence, stating that the outcome of the trial was a foregone conclusion. While entering his plea, he also declared, ‘I demand a fair trial by a jury of my peers and equals.’ In this period, much like with voting, jurors had to meet a property qualification which barred much of the working class from taking part. 

Despite efforts to prove the evidence unreliable, the jury found the defendants guilty. Cuffay was sentenced to deportation and sent to the other side of the world, to Tasmania, off the coast of Australia. 

Although he was now old and in unfamiliar surroundings, this is not the end of Cuffay’s story. Despite receiving a pardon in 1856, Cuffay chose not to return to Britain and records in Australia show that he grew to be an important campaigner in his new home as well. When he died in 1870, at an impressive 82 years old, a number of obituaries were published. The Maitland Mercury wrote that, ‘he always supported the people’s side, and opposed everything that tended to cripple the rights of the people.’

A pioneer of his day, Cuffay was important to social movements and political reform on two sides of the globe. He was a Black, disabled, working-class leader, and the historical significance of his life should be recognised.


The National Archives

The National Archives

Soaring High

The life and career of Stuart Hall

Ever heard of Cultural Studies? Stuart Hall, a Jamaican-British scholar was a pioneer in this field and critical in its development at the University of Birmingham.

Born on 3 February, 1932, in Kingston, Jamaica, Hall became a Marxist sociologist, cultural theorist, and political activist. He held an impressive list of accolades. Stuart Hall was a Rhodes scholar at Merton College, Oxford, Director of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and Professor of Sociology at the Open University. He presented several television programmes, including the BBC series Redemption Songs.

Like many Caribbean people of the Windrush generation, he came to England with great admiration. Motivated by Jamaica's racial and colonial limitations, he applied and won a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University. Arriving in 1948, Hall recalled seeing a landscape familiar to him from Thomas Hardy novels. Although he knew much about British culture, Hall referred to himself as a "familiar stranger". Despite his knowledge, a new sense of racial and cultural awareness made it difficult for Hall to relate to his European peers. As a result, his identification with Blackness deepened.

Whilst navigating the trials of being a Black Caribbean immigrant in England, Hall made his mark in the academic world. He was known to emphasise teamwork and never took full credit for a project. Hall's energy was described as immense, creating change around the discussions on media, deviance, race, politics, Marxism, and critical theory. Hall produced several excellent collectively written, edited volumes in essays and journals and famously coined the term "Thatcherism". Several of his works were acknowledged with publication in 2017. 

Stuart Hall lived a life of exceptional passion, laying a foundation for future intellectuals to have tough but vital conversations that society often refuses to take on.


Soaring High

Sir Trevor McDonald

Sir Trevor McDonald was born in Trinidad in 1939 where his career in the media began; first as a radio reporter, news presenter and sports journalist. 

In 1969 he moved to London to work for BBC Radio and later joined ITN as a reporter. At a time when Black representation was almost non-existent on Broadcast, Sir Trevor McDonald became the first Black news anchor in the UK. 

His firsts didn’t stop there. He was the first journalist to interview Nelson Mandela after his release from prison in 1990 and did the first (and still the only) British television interview with former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. 

In 1992, he received an OBE in the Queen’s Honours List and received a Knighthood in 1999 for services to journalism. He has won more awards than any other news broadcaster in the UK.

Sir Trevor McDonald continues to be one of the most respected and well known figures in British Broadcasting.


Soaring High

Bernardine Evaristo

Bernadine Evaristo made history in 2019 when she became the first Black woman and the first Black British person to win the prestigious Booker Prize award for her novel Girl, Woman, Other

The novel follows 12 characters, most of them Black British women, moving through the world in different decades and tackles themes of race and feminism. Amongst its many accolades, Barack Obama listed Girl, Woman Other as one of his favourite books. 

The novel also won many other prizes including the British Book Award’s Fiction Book of the Year and Author of the Year, and the Indie Book Award for Fiction. It was a #1 Sunday Times bestseller for five weeks, the first woman of colour to achieve this position in the paperback fiction chart, spending 44 weeks in the Top 10. There are now over 60 translations of the book in over 40 languages.

As well as a successful writer, she is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University, and Vice Chair of the Royal Society of Literature. She was made an MBE in 2009. 

A long-standing advocate for the inclusion of artists and writers of colour, Bernardine has initiated several successful schemes to ensure increased representation in the creative industries.


Soaring High

Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE: Delivering the Next Generation

Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent was born in Britain to Caribbean parents. She first started off her healthcare career as a general nurse, before deciding to move into midwifery.

Her passion for maternal care led her to work her way through all areas of maternity before turning her attention to education, leadership and management, holding senior positions in all these fields. 

Throughout all these roles in teaching and management, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent continued practising as a Midwife. In 2019 she became the first ever person to be appointed to the new role of Chief Midwifery Officer, the most senior midwife in England. 

Her experience has seen her leading and influencing national maternity standards and guidance. She also mentored many healthcare professionals from diverse backgrounds. 

On top of all of this, she sets aside time to volunteer with Wellbeing Foundation Africa, an organisation working to reduce the maternal mortality across the African continent, as well as sitting on the Tommy’s charity pregnancy advisory board.    

As well as her distinguished professional reputation she is also famous for being the midwife to Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. 


Soaring High

John Blanke: Trumpeter to the Tudor Court

If you were in charge of the music and entertainment for a royal affair, which artist would be on the top of your list to perform? 

Now, cast your mind back about 500 years and imagine a medieval budget of about 2,000 shillings. Black musicians and their impact on the British music scene are by no means new or miniscule.

John Blanke, a Black man, is one of the first notable royal trumpeters during Tudor rule around 1510-1511. Historic receipts of payment from the Treasurer of the Chamber to “John Blanke, the black trumpeter”, paid 8d [8 pence] a day, act as evidence for him being summoned by Catalina de Aragón (also known as Catherine of Aragon) and King Henry VIII, for some of the most prestigious events in any royal calendar, including the monumental birthing ceremony of their son. 

Here, John is painted in the middle, alongside other trumpeters and horsemen. Blanke wears a canary yellow turban and other royal embellishments at what would have been the two-day Tournament of Westminster in February 1511.


Soaring High

I. Stephanie Boyce

Ingrid Stephanie Boyce was moved to study law because of the great injustices she saw around her growing up in her hometown of Aylesbury and then in the US. 

The daughter to a working class, first generation, Caribbean family, she was the first person in her family to stay in school past 16. When her mum remarried, she was moved to the US and held back a year, because teachers presumed her accent was a speech impediment. Then, on returning from the US her school exam results weren’t recognised by the UK university system.    

But Stephanie was determined and she finally earned herself a place at London Guildford University, before heading to Kings College London to graduate with a Master's degree in Public Law and Global Governance. During her studies she worked two jobs to make ends meet. 

Entering into the legal profession wasn’t easy either. She was made redundant twice in the first two years of working before finally landing a role where she finally hit her stride. She quickly climbed through the ranks, working on incredibly complex matters, specialising in overhauling governance arrangements. It was often an uphill battle for her though, she said:

‘People told me because of my socio-economical background, and because I hadn’t gone to the right university the first time around, I didn’t come from a privileged background, I hadn’t qualified in a magic circle firm, I even had people tell me that I didn’t look like a solicitor, didn’t sound like a solicitor. And the more people told me I couldn’t, the more I was determined I could.’

In 2020, Stephanie Boyce became the 177th president of the Law Society of England and Wales, only the sixth female, and first Black person to fulfill this role. In her inauguration speech she spoke of her commitment to leaving the legal profession more diverse and inclusive than the one she entered.


Soaring High

Black British Nobel Prize Winner: Sir William Arthur Lewis

Becoming the first Black professor and Nobel prize winner are the many successes of Sir William Arthur Lewis. World-renowned for his contributions to the understanding of Economics, Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979.  He was the author of 12 books and more than 80 technical works in Developmental Economics.

Born and raised in St Lucia, he won a government scholarship to study in the UK, where he received First Class Honours for his degree in Commerce at the London School of Economics and later on a Ph.D in Economics and Commerce.

Sir Lewis is the author of the Lewis Model – a concept still used today to further our understanding of wages in the industrial sector. In his works, he attached enormous importance to education and social development as agents of change. Between 1938 and 1957, Sir Lewis was recognised as the first Black person to hold a Chair at the University of Manchester. He was also the London School of Economics' first Black faculty member. 

Apart from his stellar academic record, Sir Lewis also distinguished himself in public service by advising the British Colonial Office about the ways Britain could alter its economic relations with colonial territories, in preparation for their independence. He advised governments moving towards independence. For example, Lewis became Ghana's chief economic adviser, following independence, helping to shape its first Five Year Development Plan in 1959.

After leaving Ghana, Lewis became Principal and then the first Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.  He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of his service to the Commonwealth in 1963. In the same year, he began a Professorship of Political Economy at Princeton University where he remained until he retired in 1983.

Sir William Arthur Lewis is a classic example of the potential to make a mark, no matter where you start.


Soaring High

Sir Mo Farah: Modern trafficking survivor

Sir Mo Farah is the most successful British male track runner, ever. He has won an incredible ten championship gold medals. With his gleaming smile, his strong family unit and his ability to laugh at himself on TV shows such as ‘I’m a Celebrity’, he has also managed to win the hearts of the UK public.

His stunning announcement, in July 2022, that he had been trafficked from Somalia to the UK as a child aged nine, came as a shock to an entire country. Farah instantly became the most high-profile victim of trafficking every British person could name on sight.  

Farah’s story reminds us that although the forced movement and ill-treatment of others for profit is acknowledged internationally as a disgusting abuse of power, it continues to the modern day. While this is not part of the transatlantic slave story, it is evidence of the greed, shame and inequality that is involved with the forced enslavement of others. 

While Farah may not have been sent to the Americas to work on a plantation, the fundamental reasons were the same: one person took advantage of another for their own benefit. Brought over illegally from Djibouti, Farah was separated from his mother, his twin brother and all his other siblings just to work in the UK to work as a domestic servant. Farah’s aunt, who was aware of how he was brought over by a distant family associate, said “She didn’t bring you as a human being.”

Kate Garbers, a trafficking expert, explained in Farah’s BBC documentary ‘The Real Mo Farah’ that over the course of the last year in the UK “over 10,000 potential victims of trafficking were identified. And that's the tip of the iceberg."

While this figure is shocking, it pales in comparison to the 3.1 million enslaved Africans transported by the British during the transatlantic trade. It illustrates that there is still work to be done to educate the public and regardless of ethnic attitudes to this treatment, try to stamp trafficking out for whatever purposes. 


Authority of Women

Diane Abbott

In 1987, Diane Abbott became the first Black woman ever elected to British Parliament. Today, she is the longest-standing Black MP, after serving her constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington for over three decades.

Diane was born in London in 1953 to Jamaican parents who had found careers as a welder and nurse after emigrating to the UK as part of the Windrush generation. Diane inherited their hard work ethic. After graduating from the University of Cambridge, Diane immediately immersed herself in politics. She worked for Greater London Council and Westminster City Council before her 1987 election victory as a Labour candidate.

Her position within the party has evolved over the years. She received minimal support from Labour in her first election campaign and wasn’t taken seriously by some party members, but that would change. In 2008, she was recognised for her speech in favour of civil liberties in the counter-terrorism bill debate and was awarded in the 2008 Human Rights Awards ceremony. She made history yet again in 2010 by becoming the first Black MP to run for Labour leadership. Though unsuccessful, she then became the Shadow Minister (Public Health), later the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, and in 2016, the Shadow Home Secretary. It was in this position that she became the first Black MP to represent their party at the dispatch box during Prime Minister’s Questions.

With every milestone, Diane has helped to pave the way for more Black MPs to follow. Now, she advocates for human rights from the backbenches, remaining a prominent voice in the campaign for better compensation for victims of the Windrush Scandal. She has founded multiple foundations including ‘Black Women Mean Business’ and ‘London Schools and the Black Child’, which are still going strong today.


Authority of Women

Beverly Bryan: charting a course for Black British women

What does it take to effect change? It’s never easy, taking courage, vision and indomitable will. 

Beverly Bryan is a model of a changemaker. Her story begins in the district of Fairy Hill in Portland, Jamaica in the 1950s. Her parents emigrated to London as part of the Windrush generation, and she joined them when she was a child. As a young adult, she developed a passion for teaching and education. She supported young Black students in Brixton schools by teaching a curriculum that revolved around Black empowerment, so that they could form a foundation of pride in who they were. Her friends remember her as being fierce with a strong personality – an educator, role model and leader.

Between 1970 and 1973, Beverly was actively involved with the British Black Panther Party, whose goals were to improve political and social conditions for the Black British community by challenging prejudice in education, police brutality, housing, and community interaction. In 1973, she co-founded the British Black Women’s Group in Brixton to address the issues and grievances of women within the British Black community, such as immigration and family planning. 

She is the co-author of The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain, a pioneering book about the rise of Black British feminism during the 1970s. It is a key educational resource for expanding on the stories of Black women in Britain at that time.  

Although retired, Bryan still gives lectures on Black women's lives and issues. Her story is an inspiring example of the practical ways that knowledge can be used to empower and uplift people in the face of prejudice and discrimination.




Authority of Women

Malorie Blackman

Malorie Blackman was born in 1962 in Clapham, London, to Barbadian parents who had emigrated to Britain as part of the Windrush generation. She grew up in Bromley, developing a love of science and literature. After being discouraged from a career in teaching by her school advisor, she followed her interest in science and worked as a systems programmer.

In the 1980s, Blackman decided to follow her passion and start writing. Far from an easy career transition, she received over 80 rejections from publishers before releasing her first book Not So Stupid! in 1990. Blackman followed this with other well-received children’s and young adult novels, such as Pig Heart Boy (1997).

Despite her steady release of novels, Blackman faced challenges. From being asked to change the race of her black protagonists by publishers and having her books categorised as “multicultural” despite their consistent science fiction focus, Blackman endured plenty of pushback from the industry.

In 2001, Blackman published her 50th book, Noughts & Crosses, to much acclaim. This book marked her first time explicitly writing about race. Set in dystopian Britain, Noughts & Crosses depicts a society where social and racial hierarchies are inverted with black people being more powerful than their white counterparts. The now six-part book series has been adapted into a BBC television series as well as stage productions.

Blackman’s success doesn’t end there. In 2008, she was appointed OBE for her services to children’s literature. She was also the Children’s Laureate from 2013-2015 and campaigned for greater diversity in children’s literature. She continues to inspire Black creatives, including the rappers Stormzy and Tinie Tempah, both of whom have name dropped her in their songs. To date, she has released over 70 books.


Authority of Women

Margaret Busby: Britain's First Black Female Publisher

Margaret Busby made history in 1967 when she became Britain’s youngest and first Black female publisher. She was born in Accra, Gold Coast (now Ghana) in 1944 to parents Dr George Busby and Sarah Busby. She moved to the UK for her education and attended schools in the Lake District and Sussex growing up, before going on to study English at Bedford College, London University.

It was at university that Margaret met Clive Allison. The two started their publishing company, Allison & Busby, shortly after graduating in 1967 when Margaret was in her early 20s. The company did extremely well, publishing works by notable authors like James Ellroy and The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy.

Margaret sought to uplift and promote Black writers during her time as Editorial Director at the company, whilst also as serving on the boards for organisations like the Africa Centre and the Organisation of Women Writers of Africa. In the 1980s, Margaret became a founding member of Greater Access to Publishing and has continued to ask publishers to look inward to be a 'more accurate reflection of their lists, readers and society.'

Since going freelance in the late 1980s, Margaret has continued to revolutionise the industry from the inside. In 1992, she edited the anthology, Daughters of Africa, which compiled written works by women of African descent from the Ancient Egyptian period onwards. The anthology was so successful that, in 2019, Margaret published the New Daughters of Africa anthology, taking the 19th century as its starting point.

Always looking out for Black talent, Margaret has ensured that the funds from the book go towards establishing a £20,000 MA bursary fund, the Margaret Busby New Daughters of Africa Award, for a female African student at SOAS, University of London.


Authority of Women

Who was Mary Seacole: The Greatest Black Briton?

Mary Seacole was voted the Greatest Black Briton in 2004 and yet she spent the end of her life in obscurity and poverty. Who was she and why is her acknowledgement so overdue?

Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamacia in 1805. She grew up helping her mother run a boarding house for injured soldiers and developed an interest in medicine. 

Mary also developed a fondness for travel. In 1821, she visited England for a year. This experience introduced her to European medicinal practices, which, when combined with her knowledge of traditional Caribbean techniques, made her a skilled healer. She travelled the Central Americas before returning to Kingston in 1826. She remained there for many years, eventually caring for the victims of the cholera and yellow fever epidemics that took hold of Kingston in the 1850s.

In 1853, the Crimean War dominated Europe. Wanting to helpMary travelled to London’s War Office and requested to be sent to Crimea as an army nurse. She was denied and instead funded the trip herself. In Crimea, she continued her mother’s legacy by establishing the British Hotel which cared for wounded soldiers. On occasion, Mary would visit the battlefield under fire, earning the nickname ‘Mother Seacole’ amongst the soldiers.

After the war, Mary returned to England in poor health and with little money. In appreciation of her help, soldiers who had returned from the war wrote to newspapers to ensure that Mary was recognised for her service. They also organised a fundraising gala for her which was held over four nights in 1857. The funds that were raised enabled Mary to write her memoir, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, that year. She died in 1881, receiving little public recognition until her grave was rediscovered in 1973.


Authority of Women

Moira Stuart: The First Black Female News Presenter on British Television

Moira Stuart is a familiar name and face to many. In 1981, she made history by becoming the first Caribbean female newsreader on national British television, presenting every type of news bulletin for the BBC until her departure in late 2007. She began her career behind the scenes at the BBC in a production assistant role in the Talks and Documentaries department in the 1970s until she transitioned to taking center stage on the news desk. In 2001, she was awarded an OBE for her services to broadcasting after reporting on some of the most significant events of the late 20th century.

In 2004, Stuart opened up about her heritage during an appearance on Who Do You Think You Are?, claiming she comes from a ‘long line of outsiders'. Later in the episode, she had an emotional response when she learnt that she had both enslaved and enslaver ancestors in Antigua. Going forward, Stuart would discuss race and equality more openly in her work.

In 2007, she presented the BBC documentary, In Search of Wilberforce, to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. Steering away from the traditional British reverence for Wilberforce, Stuart explored the experiences of enslaved Africans in the programme. Famously, she visited Ghanaian “slave castles” which imprisoned Africans before the Middle Passage journey. Looking out from the castles to sea, Stuart remarked ‘the ocean is a burial place for my ancestors.’

Today, Stuart presents on a different medium: the radio. She hosts her own show on Classic FM, The Hall of Fame Concert, every Saturday from 4 to 7pm. In 2022, she was recognised again for her services to media with a CBE.


Authority of Women

The unusual story of Dido Belle

In 1778, David Martin painted Dido Belle alongside her cousin, Elizabeth Murray, in a portrait that has captured the attention of scholarly and mainstream audiences. Today, this work is displayed in Scone Palace in Scotland; however, Dido’s story spans the Atlantic world.

There is much uncertainty surrounding the details of Dido’s birth and the relationship between her parents: John Lyndsay (1737-1788), a British navy captain, and Maria Bell, an African woman (who was possibly enslaved at their meeting), of whom little is known. Scholars speculate that they met while Lyndsay sailed in the Caribbean in the 1760s.

In 1766, Dido was five years old and living in London with her great-uncle. William Murray, the 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705-1793), who served as Lord Chief Justice and is famous for his judgment in Somerset v. Stewart (1772), a high-profile case related to British slavery. Unusual for a free person of colour in this period, Dido was raised and educated at Mansfield’s residence, Kenwood House, in Hampstead. Dido managed Kenwood’s dairy and poultry yard and assisted him in the library writing dictations. Following Mansfield’s death in 1793, Dido married John Davinere, a French steward. Together, they lived with their three sons in Pimlico. She died in 1804.

Dido and Elizabeth’s portrait is famous for its portrayal of an aristocratic free person of colour, a subject uncommon in eighteenth century British art. The lack of details about so much of Dido’s life offers an intriguing space for imagination and interpretation. In recent years, the painting has provided inspiration to artists and writers whose histories are reflected in her life, as a woman of both African and European heritage in Britain. Dido’s legacy lives on through cultural imaginings across art, theatre, novels, and film that, to different extents, have attempted to re-centre the experiences of the real woman behind the painting.


Authority of Women

Tessa Sanderson: Britain’s First Black Female Olympic Gold Medallist

Tessa Sanderson, born Theresa in 1956, quickly became a household name when she beat the competition to win gold in javelin at the 1984 Olympics. Sanderson would remain a fixture in British sports, competing in six different Olympics between 1976-1996 and winning gold three times at the Commonwealth Games.

Sanderson was born in St Elizabeth, Jamaica, in 1956, to Ghanaian parents. When she was 5, her parents moved to England as part of the Windrush generation. Sanderson was raised by her grandmother, before joining her parents in England a year later. They settled in Wolverhampton, and it was there, aged 14, that Sanderson was encouraged by teachers to follow her natural talents in javelin.

Sanderson joined Wolverhampton & Bliston AC and quickly rose through the ranks, winning her first British javelin title in 1975.

Sanderson has been open about the hardships of being a black female athlete. Following her 1984 Olympic victory, she received death threats and racist letters claiming that she was not truly British. Sanderson believes that a lot has changed in sports, but has criticised the ongoing lack of diversity within sport’s governing bodies. Speaking with Sky Sports in 2020, Sanderson called it a ‘disgrace that so many black sportsmen have achieved so much for this country and we’re still fighting to be in the boardroom.'

Through her organisation, the Tessa Sanderson Foundation and Academy, Sanderson aims to do her part towards diversifying sport and encouraging a new generation to follow their sporting passions.


From Roots to Fruit

Paul Stephenson, Civil Rights Campaigner

In 1964 it was legal in the UK to refuse service in pubs based on someone’s skin colour. People found themselves turned away from bars, working men’s clubs, jobs, and housing.

The Bay Horse Pub in Bristol was notorious for not serving Black people. One day a Black man named Paul Stephenson walked into the pub, ordered a half pint of beer, sat down, and refused to move.

The police were called, and he was taken to a cell, later facing a trial which caught the attention of the media. In their statements the police claimed that Paul Stephenson had been aggressive, but witnesses came forward to dispute this and he was finally dismissed and awarded £25.

This wasn’t just a win against one pub’s racist policy – the Prime Minister Harold Wilson sent him a telegram personally saying he would change the law. In 1965 the first Race Relations Act was brought in, outlawing discrimination in public places.

Paul Stephenson was not new to civil rights activism though. Previously he had been heavily involved in the Bristol Bus Boycott. For years Bristol Omnibus Company had refused to give jobs to Black and Asian people; Paul had been overturning this policy and bringing the attention of this segregation to the country.

He even met his wife through his work when he knocked on her door to ask her to sign a petition on housing in Bristol and were married five months later.

Following the Bay Horse Pub protest they moved to Coventry with the Community Relations Council. His high profile meant they incurred the wrath of the National Front, having bricks thrown through his window and police doing very little to stop it. His work caught the international attention of the NAACP and he was invited to the US to meet Louis Farrakhan and Louis X.

They then moved to London and through a chance encounter met Muhammad Ali, and wasted no time in convincing him to give a talk to the school he was Governor at in Brixton. The two struck up a friendship and together formed the Muhammad Ali Sports Development Association, to give inner-city youth access to sports.  

He lives with his family in Bristol and continues to campaign for the city to face up to it’s links with slavery. In 2008 he became the first Black man to made Freeman of the city. In 2009 he was rewarded an OBE for  “for his services to equal opportunities and to community relations in Bristol”. 


Explicit Content

The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

From Roots to Fruit

Marsha P. Johnson and The Stonewall Riots

In the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s only recently that Black, transgender activist, Marsha P. Johnson has started to get the recognition she deserves. Born in 1942 in New Jersey, USA, Marsha called New York City her home from her teenage years until her tragic death in 1992.

The “P” in her name standing for her personal motto ‘Pay It No Mind’, Marsha was bold and unapologetic in her identity. Sometimes hailed as The Saint of St. Christopher Street (an LGBTQIA+ hub in New York) she was also known for her kindness and generosity. 

When Marsha was alive, “masquerading” as the opposite sex was illegal, but she didn’t let that stop her from expressing herself. In fact, she was unfailingly outspoken when it came to gay rights.

It’s often noted that she was instrumental in the Stonewall uprising - a week-long series of riots and protests sparked by police raids and brutality towards the LGBTQIA+ community.  In 1970, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall raid, LGBTQIA+ activists organised the Christopher Street Liberation March to conclude the New York City’s first ever Gay Pride week, and the tradition of Pride marches was started.

Later that year, during a five-day sit-in protest at Weinstein Hall, Marsha P. Johnson founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) along with her friend and fellow activist Sylvia Rivera. STAR was a radical political collective that provided homeless LGBTQIA+ youth and sex workers with safe housing. This organisation was seminal in the Queer liberation movement. For years Johnson also worked with the international, grassroots political group ACT UP, who were fighting to bring light to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

On 6 July 1992, after being missing for six days, Marsha’s body was tragically discovered in the Hudson River. Police ruled her cause of death as suicide, but due to the nature of her injuries, and the constant violence and harassment the LGBTQIA+ community and specifically Marsha herself was subjected to, many members of the community argued that she was murdered. 

Marsha lived loudly and unashamedly, and although this made her a constant target for violent homophobia, her resilience, bravery and pride still echoes and influences people to this day. Marsha was a beacon of hope, individuality, activism and to many she was the personification of the word Pride.


From Roots to Fruit

Olive Elaine Morris

During her short life (1952–79), Olive Elaine Morris made a profound and engaging mark as a grassroots activist. Her life and works are a testament to Black women's resilience and power. Born in Jamaica in the 1950s, she emigrated to London at the age of nine to join her parents, like many other children of the Windrush generation. 

At 17, Morris was involved in political activism. This included her intervention in the arrest of a Nigerian diplomat who was being mistreated by police officers. She was beaten by the English police and arrested. Whilst in custody Morris was racially abused, forced to strip and threatened with rape. As a result of her experiences, she became a British Black Panther Youth League member. 

In 1973, she co-founded the British Black Women’s Group in Brixton, which fought against issues affecting Black women, such as immigration and family planning. Olive and other community activists squatted to help establish self-help community spaces and find a solution to homelessness. She played a significant role in the squatters’ rights campaigns, which led to a triumph in 1973. Lambeth council agreed to purchase some abandoned flats for squatters. 

Morris enrolled to study social science at Manchester University in 1975. Here, her activism gained momentum and strength. She created the Organisation for Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD). They were an organised support group for women to empower one another and to connect, share ideas and grow their community. 

Although tragically, she died of cancer at the age of 27, Olive Elaine Morris is remembered as a cornerstone of Black women's rights and feminism. Her legacy and works live on through the Olive Morris Memorial Award, which gives bursaries to young Black women. In 1986, the building at 18 Brixton Hill was officially named ‘Olive Morris House’.


From Roots to Fruit

Oswald Denniston

Nicknamed “Columbus”, Oswald Denniston was the first African Caribbean trader in Brixton Market. He became a pillar of the community in more ways than one.

Born in Jamaica, Oswald left school at 14 to work on a sugar plantation but later trained as a sign-writer and decorator. By 1948, he had established his own business, but his spirit of adventure saw him travelling from Jamaica to England on board the MV Empire Windrush.

Oswald was among the 236 men who spent their first night at Clapham South Deep Shelter in south London. It was here that he displayed his leadership qualities by moving a vote of thanks to officials who’d organised the accommodation. As a result, he was offered work the following day as a sign writer in Balham.

Ever the entrepreneur, Oswald opened a jukebox coffee bar, in Brixton’s Coldharbour Lane – the Sugar Cane. In the 1960s he began selling fabrics, dresses and remnants at a shop in Granville Arcade, Brixton Market, becoming the first African-Caribbean trader there. Gregarious and always ready to lend a helping hand, Oswald quickly became a key figure in the community. The shop became a meeting point for activists like Herman Ouseley, Darcus Howe and Linton Kwesi Johnson, who regarded themselves as his friends as well as his customers. Blessed with the “gift of the gab”, a talent he used to entertain his customers, he would often be called on to speak at community events.

Outside of work he was a keen cyclist, becoming the first Black person to join the Herne Hill Cycling Club in the early 1950s. He was also a founding member of the Association of Jamaicans and the Lambeth Community Relations Council. He had two children with his wife Margaret.


From Roots to Fruit

Britain's First Black Dame: Jocelyn Barrow

Dame Jocelyn Barrow, or DJB as she affectionately became known, was a race relations campaign and teacher. She helped pave the way for the Race Relations Act to make racial discrimination illegal in Britain. She later became and important and influential Black presence on a number of public bodies and became the first Black female Governor of the BBC.

Born in Trinidad, she moved the Britain in 1959 to study. She immediately felt the full force of racist attitudes and, together with other people from her community, created Card (Campaign Against Racist Discrimination). Their key aims were cemented when in 1964 Martin Luther King met with Card on his way to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. They campaigned for proper legislation and lobbied the Prime Minister to make it illegal for people to be discriminated against on the ground of race, colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin.

A teacher by profession, she noticed the huge gap between resources for middle-class white children and working-class black children in schools. She created a project called Each One Teach One, designed to help Black children and their families support each other educationally. 

Her incredible work gained her national attention and she was invited onto many public governing boards, including Parole Board, Ofcom and Whittington Hospital NHS Trust. 

She was founder and President of the Hackney Community housing association, National Vice President of the Townswomen’s Guild, a member of the European commission’s economic and social, a trustee of National Museums Liverpool, and a governor of the British Film Institute. 

She became the second Black person to ever be a governor for the BBC and campaigned to have better representation on broadcast. One of her proudest moments in this role was when Moira Stewart was moved from BBC Radio to BBC television.   

In 1992 she became the first Black woman to be made a Dame. 


From Roots to Fruit

Mavis Best and "Scrap the SUS"

The Race Relations Act in 1968 made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on the colour of their skin. However, systematic racism was still very much intrenched in many institutions.

An example of this was the SUS law, which gave police the right to stop, search and arrest anyone they thought could be about to take part in a crime. This law could be used on anyone over the age of 11. In the 1970’s and 80’s they used this law to disproportionately arrest thousands of young black boys and men. 

Mavis Best and a group of women from Lewisham spent hours going into police stations to rescue these people, many of them just children. These women, led by Best created the “Scrap the SUS” campaign, lobbying the Government to have the SUS law scrapped. It took three years, and many demonstrations but finally they achieved it.  


From Roots to Fruit

Altheia Jones-LeCointe, Black Panther and Mangrove Nine Hero

Altheia Jones-LeCointe was born in Trinidad in 1945, the daughter of politically active parents involved in the People’s National Movement, that campaigned for independence. 

She moved to London in 1965 to study Chemistry and found the move incredibly hard as she was confronted by racism in and out of the classroom. Joining the West Indies students group she learnt that there were two landlady lists; one that would take black students, and another that wouldn’t. They decided to demonstrate, and the BPM support them, which is when she decided to join them and do more for Britain’s Black community. 

In 1968 Obi Egbuna who had founded BPM was arrested for creating a leaflet called What to Do If Cops Lay Their Hands on a Black Man. Jones-LeCointe was made de-facto leader, a point she has always disputed, sighting that the movement was a collective so there could be no leader. The BPM organised activities such as teaching Black history in Saturday schools, creating a newsletter, canvassing, and creating a youth league. 

Altheia Jones-LeCointe is probably most recognised with her involvement in the ‘Mangrove Nine’ trial. A group of around 150 people met to peacefully demonstrate the frequent racist police raids the black owned Mangrove restaurant in West London received. The demonstration, which included speeches by Altheia Jones-LeCointe, was met by 700 police who violently broke up the group and arrested nine people including Altheia Jones-LeCointe. 

Jones-Lecointe decided to represent herself in court, and sighting the Magna Carta demanded a Black jury. During the trial she successfully exposed the police brutality and lies they had been victims of. The nine were found not guilty– a monumental victory for the Black community in Britain and a great embarrassment for the police and British state.


From Roots to Fruit

Olivette Otele: The UK's First Black Female History Professor

It was not until 2018 that a UK university appointed a Black woman as a professor of history. That woman – Olivette Otele of the University of Bristol – has also helped to shape Britain’s understand of its Black history. 

Born in Cameroon and raised in Paris, Otele moved to the UK after graduating from the Sorbonne and settled in Newport. This trajectory – from Africa through two European countries with colonial history on the continent – has given her a particular perspective on race and identity. Much of her research concerns how these countries address questions of citizenship and nationality through the remembrance of their histories, saying that France and the UK 'have more in common than they [would] like to think.'

Nowadays, she argues, Black people in France are often defined more by their ancestry than their Frenchness. Meanwhile, in the UK, people of African descent find themselves subject to “loyalty tests”. This, according to Otele, is not always how things were. Her book African Europeans: An Untold Story highlights European protagonists of African descent throughout history – from Roman emperors to Black Britons in the 17th and 18th centuries. This demonstrates that there is no need to see African and European identities as an ‘either/or’.

A key element of Otele’s research and writing is memory and remembrance of slavery. When, in 2020, the statue of slaver Edward Colston was torn down and thrown into Bristol Harbour, Otele took the view that it should be placed in a museum. ‘It’s part of the history of Bristol,’ she says.

Otele was named to the BBC 100 Women list, celebrating influential women around the world, in 2018. In 2021, the Institute of Historical Research introduced the Olivette Otele prize for PhD research in the field of Black history.


From Roots to Fruit

Tackling Racism in Football

For as long as there have been Black sports people, they have had to deal with racism. While it is still a problem today, generations of Black footballers have made their mark on the sport and led to concerted efforts to tackle the issue.

When Ghanaian-born goalkeeper Arthur Wharton played in the 1890s, it is generally accepted he was the first Black professional footballer in Britain. Victorian attitudes to Black immigrants were not kind and, despite his highly regarded ability, his exploits were not even known to his descendants until later research unearthed them.

As decades passed, more Black players rose to the top of the game. Liverpool winger John Barnes (who, when he retired, had played more for England than any other Black player) regularly received racist chanting from opposing fans. In one famous incident in 1988, he was photographed discarding a banana skin that had been thrown at him with a deft backheel.

With the advent of satellite sports TV and the foundation of the Premier League in 1992, football became far richer and more visible than ever before. This also led authorities to tackle racism. ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out Of Football’ – today known simply as Kick It Out – was founded in 1993. Initially a single campaign, Kick It Out now runs a range of programmes and supports fans and players to report racist incidents they witness.

Today, racist abuse is far from gone from British football, and technology has given it a new dimension. When England lost the European Championship final on penalties in 2021, the three Black players who missed their kicks received a barrage of racist abuse on social media. A mural of Marcus Rashford in Manchester was defaced with racist slurs. The one positive: that graffiti was quickly covered with a sea of supportive messages.


From Roots to Fruit

The Black Equity Organisation

After the murder of George Floyd in the USA sparked anti-racism protests around the world, a selection of influential Black British people came together to discuss the lack of a major national Black civil rights group in the UK. The result of this discussion was the Black Equity Organisation (BEO).

Officially founded in May 2022, the BEO lists among its trustees well-known names, including Labour MP David Lammy, and historian and author David Olusoga, as well as leading Black businesspeople, barristers and activists. The board is chaired by Dame Vivian Hunt, honoured for her contributions to the economy and to women in business.

The BEO sets a simple but bold goal: to dismantle systemic racism. To achieve this, it identifies six specific areas in which Black people experience discrimination: economic empowerment and equality of opportunity; justice, immigration and rights; culture, awareness, representation and respect; education; neighbourhood and housing; and health, wellness and care.

Its first programme focuses on the issue of economic empowerment. Funded by Sky, the Future 100 Growth Fund sets out to back Black entrepreneurs to set up and grow their businesses. It will provide funds alongside coaching and connections to reduce inequality and encourage success in Black-run businesses.

Systemic racism is deep-rooted in British society, but the BEO will hope that a combination of clear messaging, high-profile support and concrete action will help to turn protest into real change.