Do We Still Need Black History Month?
We wish to round off Black History Month by highlighting some extraordinary figures who have contributed handsomely to British History. Their stories however may be somewhat lesser known in our formal education system. Some claim this is due to a lack of diversity in our historical coverage and others claim that people of ethnic minorities have been written out of the history books. Some great figures however shine so bright that even when one’s gaze is focused elsewhere the glimmer of their brilliance will catch the eye.
One figure who not only caught my attention but left my jaw wide open for the best part of ten minutes was Ignatius Sancho.
Ignatius was born on a slave ship in 1729 but ended up becoming the first recorded black person in Britain to vote after successfully owning a business with his wife and owning property. He contributed to British culture with some fine music composition, still celebrated today and was the first black person to have an obituary printed in an English newspaper. If all of that wasn’t enough for one man to have achieved, he also, posthumously became the first person to have published accounts of life as a slave written in English. Ignatius falls gracefully amongst our nations more celebrated gentry, but given his more than humble beginnings there is a strong argument that School children up and down the country should know who this man is.
The second man I would like to highlight, is Olaudah Equiano, who was also known as Gustavus, Michael and Jacob with each slave owner choosing his new name.
His perseverance and ingenuity allowed him, in his early 20’s to purchase his own freedom. He then used his ability to read and write to author his autobiography being funded by those who were advocating the abolition of the slave trade. Received as a fine work of literature it shattered some of the myths surrounding the abilities of a black man. He rose to be a prominent figure, championing the cause to extend the vote to working men in Britain. Just how many of us owe a debt to that cause! Olaudah, as a free man chose to live in Britain, touring to promote his book and campaign to end slavery, seen as pioneer to end the slave trade. Britain may never claim a great figure like Olaudah but I may romantically allow myself to believe that he chose to be British and is remembered as such.
I have chosen the two figures who, frankly blew my socks off! These two figures are perhaps two of the most important figures in the development of democracy and human rights in the UK. But there are many more great black Britons to celebrate.
At the end of Black History Month, I’m left with a rather troubling question. Why do we still have the need for this month? With figures like Ignatius and Olaudah why wait until Black History Month to celebrate people who contributed so much to Britain. It’s time to do these men, and many others justice and simply include them in British history and the School curriculum. I don’t want my children to only focus on some of the greatest historical figures for one month a year. Perhaps the best way to celebrate Black History Month is to push for it to become obsolete.
Written by: Ian Werrett