What is Black History Month?

Black people have not always been treated equally simply because of the colour of their skin. Lots of people knew that this was wrong and wanted things to change.

In the UK, a movement began in the 1980s as part of a local community activism to challenge racism. In 1987, this turned into what we know today as Black History Month. Black History Month is a time set aside each year to celebrate the achievements of black men and women in the past and today.

The information below will introduce you to some key black figures, both from history and from the present day. You may have heard of some of them, others you may not have done. Take a read, they have contributed so much and really should be known.

George Washington Carver

1861-1943

 George Washington Carver was born as a slave in Missouri, America after his family were kidnapped and sold. Less than 200 years ago, slavery was still seen as acceptable by some people. Can you believe that?  Eventually, George was found by his brother and after slavery was abolished, he went to live with them. He soon learned to read and write, but because black people still weren’t allowed to go to the local school, he walked 10 miles to go to the nearest black school. While there a friend told him, ‘You must learn all that you can, then go back out into the world and give your learning back to the people.’ This made a gret impression on him, and it is just what he did.

He became an agricultural scientist and inventor and helped poor farmers improve the soil on their land in order to grow better crops. He was also a keen environmentalist and he promoted racial harmony. George received many honours for his work and for his paintings. What a talented man! Before he died, he left a huge legacy by creating a museum for his work and a foundation to continue agricultural research. Despite his difficult start in life, George achieved so much and helped so many. What an inspiration to us all! 

John Edmonstone

1793 – ???? (date of death unknown)

John Edmonstone was a freed black slave from Guyana, South America. He lived in Edinburgh and taught the art of taxidermy to students at Edinburgh University. One of his students was Charles Darwin. The taxidermy skills and knowledge of the natural world that Darwin learned from John were essential during his voyage aboard H.M.S. Beagle in 1831, allowing Darwin to study animals in close detail. Without him, would Darwin have been able to do what he did?    

Taxidermy — The art of preparing, stuffing and mounting the skins of dead animals to look lifelike.

Alice Coachman

1923 – 2014

Alice Coachman was an African American athlete, who specialised in the high jump. In London in 1948, she became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Look at how many black people are among the very best athletes in the world now. How many do you know? What about our very own Mo Farrah, Marcus Rashford and Dina Asher-Smith?  

Barack Obama

1961 – present day

Barack Obama was born in Hawaii on 4th August 1961. His father is from Kenya and his mother is from Kansas.

On 4th November 2008, he became the 44th American President. He was the first African American president in the United States of America. Many people believe him to have been one of their fairest presidents they have had, who really tried to help improve social injustice for many people who struggle in American society. Do you do your best to help those not doing as well as yourself?

Dr Mae Jemison

1956 – present day

Dr Mae Jemison was born in Alabama, USA to a very ordinary family but she loved school and worked hard.She was the kind of girl to try everything and got involved in all sorts of after school clubs. Science was her favourite subject from a very early age, and she dreamt of going into space one day. Following a career in medicine, she was selected by NASA for astronaut training. Look at where perseverance and determination can get you? Mae became the first African American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the 12th September, 1992. When she returned to earth,she noted that society should recognise how much both women and members of other minority groups can contribute if given the opportunity.  We agree with that, don’t you? What dreams do you have? What opportunities would you like to be able to take one day?   

Mary Seacole

1805-1881

Mary Seacole went to help soldiers in the Crimean War. Because of all her efforts, the soldiers called her “Mother Seacole,” as she comforted them, nursed them back to health and was always there if they needed clothes, blankets and kindness. She was probably just as important as Florence Nightingale but is far less well known.

Rosa Parks

1913-2005

Rosa Parks is someone that we study in school as she is an example of a woman who knew what was right and stood up for her beliefs. She was born in America and, as a child, she was used to having to sit at the back of a bus because she had black skin, but she didn’t think that this was fair. One day on a bus, she refused to give her seat to a white person just because she was black. She was arrested by the police and fined for breaking the rules, but other black people and some white people agreed with Rosa and made this clear to the American government.

Eventually, they changed the rule and black people no longer had to sit in a separate section of the bus or give up their seat to someone just because of the colour of their skin. Too right!

Bishop Wilfred Wood

1936 – present day

Wilfred Wood became the first Black Bishop in the Church of England. He was Bishop of Croydon from 1985 to 2003.

In 2004, the British people voted him second in the 100 “Great Black Britons” list.

Bishop Wilfred Wood worked hard to help with the relationships between people of different races living in the United Kingdom. This is something all of us can try to do every day.