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The History of Black History Month

6 October 2017

The early origins of Black History Month (BHM) were devised by the celebrated historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926 where it was called Negro History Month.  This was at the height of the Jim Crow laws and segregation in America. During the rise of the Black Power Movement in the 1960s, it was renamed Black History Month, highlighting the changing perception around the politics of identity and race for African Americans.

Britain in the 1980s was in turmoil in the Thatcher era with the after-effects of the riots in Brixton, Tottenham and Toxteth. Black Britons were fighting for tolerance and acceptance, and against marginalisation, racism and also trying to define a sense of identity and purpose. It is in this context that Black History Month was adopted in the UK

In 1987 the concept of Black History was developed by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a special projects officer at the Greater London Council, and later at the London Strategic Policy Unit. With the support of these bodies, politicians, community activists and senior officers Akyaaba Addai-Sebo coordinated the first official Black History Month event on 1 October 1987.

Dr. Maulana Karenga was invited as the first speaker as result of being the originator of Kwanzaa which had now become a successful part of the cultural calendar both in the USA and the UK in celebrating traditional values and African history as part of cultural and religious programme that takes place every December.

1987 was also the year that the African Jubilee Year Declaration was launched which called on:

  • local and national government to recognise the contributions of Africans to the cultural, economic and political life of London and the UK
  • authorities to implement their duties under the then Race Relations Act 1976 and to intensify their support against apartheid
  • a call to action for authorities to support and continue the process of naming monuments, parks and buildings reflecting the contributions of historical and contemporary heroes of African descent thus giving positive affirmation to children and young people identity and self-worth.

The above activities created the catalyst for many local authorities to formally institute the month of October as Black History Month in the UK. Today across the UK during October over 4000 events are organised celebrating Black History Month along with activities within schools. It is difficult to assess the tremendous impact and legacy of the contribution of Black History Month over the last 29 years and whether the month has changed the perceptions of how people of African descent are viewed in society and also within communities in exploring self-identity and racial pride.

Visit the Black History Month website for more information: http://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/

Last updated: 6 October 2017