To honour Black History Month, throughout October Fawcett will be celebrating the work of some incredible Black women in the UK. From politicians to activists to women working on the front line of Coronavirus, these women are doing amazing things in 2020. Watch the videos to learn more about the work of these women, their proudest achievements and their journeys.
Black History Month is celebrated annually in October
To promote and celebrate Black history, we've created a list of quotes, blogs, videos, books, podcasts, resources, profiles, and events that we hope will get you thinking, help you learn more, and start conversations.
Almost all of the items listed below are freely available online or from Warwick’s library (where this is not the case, this has been indicated).
This year we've also created a BHM calendar which lists one item each day, as a suggestion for reading, listening, and learning for the month (this link is to a PDF, you can also find a word version of the calendar here ).
Even when it's no longer Black History Month, it’s important to remember that Black history shouldn’t just be celebrated for only one month of the year, which is why we have this information available all year round.
Please find below all of the content we have collated, so you can read/watch/listen to the materials in October and beyond:
If you want to learn more about Black History Month and can't find what you need here, contact us and let us know.
Akala (March 2015) Sometimes, Knowledge is Power 2 “Inspiration is the strangest thing, How it travels one spirit to another, transforms how we think”.
For more music, have a look at this blog 30 British Black Music Albums To Mark African History Month @ 30 and this Spotify playlist Black Britain: Windrush Generation (based on the sounds made by, influenced and inspired by the Windrush generation and their descendants). For more from Akala, have a look at Akala (2018) Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.
Kimberlé Crenshaw (June 2017) “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things”.
A civil rights activist and academic specialising in race and gender issues, Kimberlé Crenshaw is best known for coining the term ‘intersectionality’, defined in the quote above. And if you want to hear more from her on this topic, watch this TED Talk Kimberlé Crenshaw (October 2016) The Urgency of Intersectionality.
Lilla Watson, Queensland Aboriginal Activists Group “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together”.
Artist, academic, and activist, Lilla Watson is cited as the source for this quote, which she is reported to have said reflects the collective belief of the Queensland Aboriginal Activists Group. The quote expresses how humanity unities us, and sets a challenge to those who work for social change to focus on solidarity not charity.
Stuart Hall (1993) “The capacity to live with difference is, in my view, the coming question of the twenty-first century”.
For more on Stuart Hall, listen to this podcast Thinking Allowed (Feb 2014) Stuart Hall (1932-2014). Sociologist, cultural theorist, political activist, and former director of the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies Stuart Hall died in February 2014. This episode of Thinking Allowed (a BBC Radio 4 programme examining new research in the social sciences) pays tribute to this work on ’multiculturalism' and “the changing character of 'post Imperial' British society”.
Social activist, commentator, and former Labour Councillor Patrick Vernon OBE describes how October came to be Black History Month in the UK, and how it differs from the month in America (which is celebrated in February).
“Sometimes the nation’s art can seem overwhelmingly white – both in subject and artist. Here at Art UK we want to share with you some of our favourite Black and British artists from the nation’s art collection”.
As an added bonus, all but one of the books discussed in this article are available in the library.
“Olive Morris was a community activist in South London in the 1970s, who died of cancer aged 27 in 1979. Through her activities organising the Black community and feminist activism, she left behind an extraordinary legacy of local activism”. Also have a look at the 2006, Remembering Olive Collective for more information about her life and interviews with people who knew her.
A range of blogs on pre-colonial Black history.
Acknowledging and celebrating the thousands of historic contributions that Black LGBTQ individuals have made throughout history, paving the way not only for LGBTQ PoC but the LGBT community overall.
In this TedTalk, Don John talks about his life working to identify, address and confront racism, to explore why Black history matters.
These two TED Talks consider femininity and masculinity, and what it means to be a Black woman and a Black man respectively. They also both touch on physical and mental health, each speaker drawing on their own experiences to examine these topics.
Novelist Chimamanda Adichie talks about the misconceptions and misunderstandings that arise when only one version of someone’s story is told, drawing on her own experiences of hearing one version of poverty, how people viewed her when they had heard only one story of Africa, and “how she found her authentic cultural voice”. For more great TED Talks see Talks To Celebrate Black History Month.
“In this vital re-examination of a shared history, historian and broadcaster David Olusoga tells the rich and revealing story of the long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa and the Caribbean”. A documentary series of 'Black and British: A Forgotten History' was also created for the BBC.
"A black porter publicly whips a white Englishman in the hall of a Gloucestershire manor house. A Moroccan woman is baptised in a London church. Henry VIII dispatches a Mauritanian diver to salvage lost treasures from the Mary Rose. From long-forgotten records emerge the remarkable stories of Africans who lived free in Tudor England. They were present at some of the defining moments of the age. They were christened, married and buried by the Church. They were paid wages like any other Tudors. The untold stories of the Black Tudors, dazzlingly brought to life by Kaufmann, will transform how we see this most intriguing period of history".
“Both devastating and funny, The Lonely Londoners is an unforgettable account of immigrant experience - and one of the great twentieth-century London novels”. This edition includes an introduction by Professor of Modern Literature at the Open University, Susheila Nasta. If you want to learn more about the book, the Open University offer a free online course on The Lonely Londoners.
This book “begins to map the field of Black Studies scholarship from a British context, by collating new and established voices from scholars writing about Blackness in Britain. Split into five parts, it examines: Black studies and the challenge of the Black British intellectual; Revolution, resistance and state violence; Blackness and belonging; Exclusion and inequality in education; Experiences of Black women and the gendering of Blackness in Britain”.
“The child of a field slave on the Amity sugar plantation in Jamaica, July lives with her mother until Mrs. Caroline Mortimer, a recently transplanted English widow, decides to move her into the great house and rename her "Marguerite." Together they live through the bloody Baptist War and the violent and chaotic end of slavery. An extraordinarily powerful story”. The BBC recently announced that they will be making a three-part adaptation of the book, at present dates haven’t been announced for when the series will air so keep an eye out for it later this year/early next year. If you want to read Andrea’s other books Every Light in the House Burnin', Never far From Nowhere, Fruit of the Lemon, and Small Island are all available from the Library.
“This is the first volume in a monumental ten-volume survey of thirty thousand archival documents and original manuscripts from widely separated sources, brought together by editor Robert A. Hill to provide a compelling picture of the evolution, spread, and influence of the UNIA. Letters, pamphlets, vital records, intelligence reports, newspaper articles, speeches, legal records, and diplomatic dispatches are enhanced by Hill's descriptive source notes, explanatory footnotes, and comprehensive introduction. And if you want more on Marcus Garvey, have a look at Robert A. Hill and Barbara Bair Eds (1987) Marcus Garvey: Life and Lessons: A Centennial Companion to the Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Movement Association Papers “A collection of autobiographical and philosophical works produced by Garvey in the period from his imprisonment in Atlanta to his death in London in 1940”.
Ask anyone moderately interested to name a Black intellectual and chances are the response will be American: Malcolm X, Audre Lourde or Cornel West. Yet Britain has its own Black intellectual traditions and its own master teachers, among them C.L.R. James, Claudia Jones, John La Rose and Una Marson. However, while in the USA Black public intellectuals are an embedded feature of national life, Black British thinkers remain marginalized. This book explores histories of race, education and social justice through the work of Black British educators, campaigners and academics, and the wider world of Black British politics, from the 18th century to the present.
“In this classic study, cultural critic bell hooks examines how Black women, from the seventeenth century to the present day, were and are oppressed by both white men and Black men and by white women… While acknowledging the conflict of loyalty to race or sex is still a dilemma, hooks challenges the view that race and gender are two separate phenomena, insisting that the struggles to end racism and sexism are inextricably intertwined”.
“Terrible, unspeakable things happened to Sethe at Sweet Home, the farm where she lived as a slave for so many years until she escaped to Ohio. Her new life is full of hope but 18 years later she is still not free. Sethe's new home is not only haunted by the memories of her past but also by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless”.
"Olaudah Equiano's 1789 narrative tells the remarkable story of his childhood in Africa, his kidnapping and subsequent years as a slave and seaman, and his eventual road to freedom in the Caribbean and in England". One of the first widely read books about slave narratives, this book is credited as playing a large role in influencing public opinion against the salve trade in Britain. This edition includes explanatory notes, reviews and essays on the narrative, and a map showing Olaudah’s travel.
“In a comprehensive account, Peter Fryer reveals how Africans, Asians and their descendants, previously hidden from history, have profoundly influenced and shaped events in Britain over the course of the last two thousand years”.
"The daughter of a Scottish soldier and a Jamaican herbalist, Mary Seacole (1805–81) gained recognition for her provision of care to British troops during the Crimean War. She had travelled widely in the Caribbean and Panama before venturing to England to volunteer as an army nurse in the Crimea. Although rebuffed by officials, an undeterred Seacole funded her own expedition, establishing the British Hotel near Balaclava to provide a refuge for wounded officers. Known affectionately as 'Mother Seacole' among the men, yet returning to England bankrupt at the end of hostilities, she had her plight highlighted in the press. First published in 1857, and reissued here in its 1858 printing, her autobiography was intended to share her story and restore to her some financial security."
"Mary Prince recalls that in the slave market in Bermuda, where she was put up for sale, the buyers' talk 'fell like cayenne pepper into the fresh wounds of our hearts'. During her life as a slave she was taken from Bermuda to Turks Island and Antigua, eventually arriving in London where, in 1828, she reported the cruelty of her master and mistress to the Anti-Slavery Society. The History of Mary Prince(1831) was the first life of a Black woman to be published in Britain. This extraordinary testament of ill-treatment and survival was a protest and a rallying-cry for emancipation that provoked two libel actions and ran into 3 editions in the year of its publication. This edition includes an introduction which discusses The History within the context of Black writing, explanatory notes, a chronology, and supplementary material on enslavement and the case of Mary Prince."
"Today Bill Richmond is largely unknown to the wider public, but he was one of the most significant sportsmen in history and one of the most prominent celebrities of Georgian times. Born into slavery in Staten Island, Richmond won his freedom as a young boy and carved a new life for himself in England as a cabinet maker and then a renowned prizefighter and trainer. His amazing life encompassed encounters and relationships with some of the most prominent men of the age, including Earl Percy, William Hazlitt, Lord Byron, the Prince Regent and Lord Camelford. His fame was such that he fulfilled an official role at the coronation celebrations of King George IV in 1821.The story of Bill Richmond is an incredible tale of personal advancement, as well as the story of a life informed and influenced by a series of turbulent historical events, including the American War of Independence, the fight for Black emancipation and Britain's long-running conflict with Napoleon Bonaparte".
"Teacher and writer Jeffrey Boakye has encountered endless labels – all of which have informed his experience of being Black and British today. Here, he unpicks their meanings".
"For the teeming populace of Old Mack's cacophonous yard in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, it's a cheek by jowl existence lived out on a sweltering public stage. Snatches of calypso compete with hymn tunes, drums and street cries as neighbours drink, brawl, pass judgment, make love, look out for each other and crave a better life. But Ephraim is no dreamer and nothing, not even the seductive Rosa, is going to stop him escaping his dead-end job for a fresh start in England. Set as returning troops from the Second World War fill the town with their raucous celebrations, Erroll John's 'Moon on a Rainbow Shawl' depicts a vibrant, cosmopolitan world that is as harsh as it is filled with colour and warmth".
"A collection of early, emerging works from some of today's most celebrated African American female writers. When it was first published in 1970, 'The Black Woman' introduced readers to an astonishing new wave of voices that demanded to be heard. In this groundbreaking volume of original essays, poems, and stories, a chorus of outspoken women -- many who would become leaders in their fields: bestselling novelist Alice Walker, poets Audre Lorde and Nikki Giovanni, writer Paule Marshall, activist Grace Lee Boggs, and musician Abbey Lincoln among them -- tackled issues surrounding race and sex, body image, the economy, politics, labor, and much more. Their words still resonate with truth, relevance, and insight today."
"This is the story of a young woman born in Chicago who came to New York, won fame with her play, 'A Raisin in the Sun', and went on to new heights of artistry before her tragic death. In turns angry, loving, bitter, laughing, and defiantly proud, the story, voice, and message are all Lorraine Hansberry's own, coming together in one of the major works of the Black experience in mid-century America".
The following books are well worth a read, but unfortunately aren’t available in our library:
“In Left of Karl Marx, Carole Boyce Davies assesses the activism, writing, and legacy of Claudia Jones (1915–1964), a pioneering Afro-Caribbean radical intellectual, dedicated communist, and feminist. Jones is buried in London’s Highgate Cemetery, to the left of Karl Marx—a location that Boyce Davies finds fitting given how Jones expanded Marxism-Leninism to incorporate gender and race in her political critique and activism”. If you’d like to read more about Claudia Jones there are two books about her available in the library – Claudia Jones: Beyond Containment: Autobiographical Reflections, Essays, And Poems, and I Think Of My Mother: Notes On The Life And Times Of Claudia Jones.
“You’re British. Your parents are British. Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British. So why do people keep asking where you’re from? We are a nation in denial about our imperial past and the racism that plagues our present. Brit(ish) is Afua Hirsch’s personal and provocative exploration of how this came to be – and an urgent call for change”.
The story of Liverpool's first Black football player, Howard Gayle, will be available from October 2019.
"Joint winner of the Booker Prize 2019, 'Girl, Woman, Other' is teeming with life and crackling with energy. Told through many distinctive voices, this novel follows the lives of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, Black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. Joyfully polyphonic and sparklingly contemporary, Girl, Woman, Other is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible".
"Greg Jenner is joined by Dr Meleisa Ono-George and comedian Nathan Caton to learn all about the roots of Notting Hill Carnival, the largest street festival in Europe. We follow the history from 18th century Trinidad to 21st century London, looking not just at how carnival traditions have changed and developed into a world famous annual celebration but how they helped empower a generation to stand together against the racial injustice they faced in the UK".
“Lenny Henry presents a series of programmes tracing a century of Black British theatre and screen”.
One From the Vaults is a podcast covering the trans history of North America and Europe. This episode focuses on the life of Sir Lady Java, a trans rights activist and performer who “fought back against anti-cross dressing laws which curtailed the life’s of so many trans people across the United States in the twentieth century”. For more on Sir Lady Java see Monica Roberts, TransGriot (December 2010) Sir Lady Java- Trans Civil Rights Warrior.
“Featuring key voices from the last few decades of anti-racist activism, About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge looks at the recent history that lead to the politics of today” – to get a flavour of the podcast listen to a trailer on the podcast’s website here. The podcast covers topics including race in the 1990s, political Blackness and ‘the big question’ (what white people can do to support race equality). The series is based on the bestselling book – Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017) Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race “a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge and counter racism”, including an excellent opening chapter on the history of race and racism in the UK.
“Blacticulate (Black + Action + Articulate) is a podcast and online community where we aim to upskill young Black individuals with the essential knowledge and practical skills needed for professional success”. This playlist features all of the Bl[act]iculate podcast interviews with Black women.
Sociologist, cultural theorist, political activist, and former director of the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies, Stuart Hall, appears on this episode of Thinking Allowed (a BBC Radio 4 programme examining new research in the social sciences) talking about multiculturalism.
This summer (2019), staff in the Law School offered suggestions of books that influenced their thinking on race, especially with regard to the law. To make it a bit trickier, they were asked not to suggest academic books. Their selections were a much more eclectic mix of books, podcasts and even music than expected, and you can find the full list on the School of Law's webpages, including a short paragraph alongside each recommendation about why they chose it. During October 2019, you will be able to browse or borrow any of these books from the Law Student Hub.
The pivotal role of Black LGBT people in Western LGBT history is documented but often forgotten. From Marsha P. Johnson and Stormé DeLarverie who were major figures in the Stonewall uprisings of 1969, to modern day LGBT leaders like Munroe Bergdorf and Lady Phyll, Black people have always paved the way for LGBT liberation. But Black LGBT people have also always existed outside of the Western context. Africa's rich history of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities is rarely taught or discussed in schools. This webpage provides some resources that discuss the experiences of Black LGBT people as well as other LGBT people of colour.
As part of Black History Month the Centre for Ageing Better have collated stories from a number of Black Britons to give them a platform to share their stories about race, inequality, age, and gender.
This website presents the often untold stories of the generations of migrants who came to and shaped the British Isles.
See also specific pages on Sporting Heroes blackhistorymonth.org.uk/section/sporting-heroes and The Black Heroes of Science blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/science-and-medicine/black-heroes-science.
In 2003, the ‘100 Great Black Britons’ campaign was launched, with nurse and entrepreneur Mary Seacole being voted number one. You can read biographies of Mary Seacole and the other 99 Great Black Britons on the 100 Great Black Britons website. In 2017, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Black History Month, 100 Great Black Britons was relaunched by Patrick Vernon, who said “We hope that once more, 100 Great Black Britons will provide role models to Black communities, and also emphasise that the history and achievements of Black Britons are an integral part of our shared heritage in this country” (results will be announced today, 1 October 2018).
This webpage hosts a range of blogs on historic ‘firsts’, like Bishop Wilfred Wood, the Church of England’s first Black Bishop; Diane Abbott, the first Black woman to be elected to the House of Commons; Sislin Fay Allen, Britain’s First Black Policewoman, and Frank Bailey, London’s First Black Firefighter.
“Black Cultural Archives is the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain”.
The V&A holds a variety of material relating to black heritage and culture, including fashion, photography and performance.
The Young Historians Project hopes to encourage the development of young historians of African and Caribbean Heritage and enable people to engage with Black British history, through the creation of digital learning resources and workshops aimed at young people. Have a look at this video about how and why the Young Historians Project was created.
This timeline is the first of a series produced by UCU in close collaboration with the Black Members’ Standing Committee.
Smaller portraits of important individuals in black history will be made available in the next 12 months, thereby helping to shift from Black History Month to Black History 365.
Black people have played a pivotal role in human history. A history that especially in the last four centuries has been repressed and marginalised, but now can no longer be ignored.
The University recognises the power of staff networks. The BAME network aims to provide a space for discussion of issues relevant to its members and to contribute to University initiatives on Equality, Diversity & Inclusion.
There are a number of modules at Warwick which may be of interest – you could consider using your Warwick Learning Vouchers to study these modules, or request to audit them (meaning attending classes, but not taking part in assessments). If you’re interested in studying any of these modules in either of the ways described above, please contact the department and module leader first.
- Race and the Making of the Modern World (SO122).
- Race, Ethnicity, and Migration in Modern Britain (HI2D4) (please note it is not possible to audit History modules, but you could still consider using your WLVs to study this module next year).
- Racism and Xenophobia (SO337).
Below you can read profiles of the people votes in the top five of the 100 Great Black Britons list.
Mary Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805. Her father was a Scottish soldier, and her mother was a practitioner of traditional Jamaican medicine and had a boarding house where she cared for invalid soldiers and their wives. Mary learned about medicine from her mother, soon gaining her own reputation as a 'skilful nurse and doctress'.
She travelled to London, where she heard about the Crimean war and how the nursing system there had collapsed. She made applications to the War Office, the army medical department, and the secretary of war to be allowed to go to the Crimea and tend to the sick and wounded. She pointed out that she had extensive experience, excellent references, and knew many of the soldiers and regiments, having nursed them while they were stationed in Jamaica. But she was turned away by everybody, including one of Florence Nightingale's assistants.
At the age of 50, with her large stock of medicines, Mary went to the battle zone as a sutler - a person who follows the army and sells provisions to the troops. The moment she arrived in Balaclava there were sick and wounded to attend to. She opened her British Hotel in the summer of 1855, near the besieged city of Sevastopol. Soon the entire British army knew of "Mother Seacole's".
In 1857, Mary published her autobiography, an outstandingly vivid piece of writing called 'The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands' which was prefaced by WH Russell:
"I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead".
She was awarded a Crimean medal, and a bust was made of her by Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, sculptor and nephew of Queen Victoria. The last 25 years of her life, however, were spent in obscurity. When she died on 14th May 1881.
In 2016, a statue of Mary Seacole was unveiled in London - the UK's first statue in honour of a named Black woman - following a 12 year campaign which raised £500,000 to honour her.
Read more about Mary Seacole in her autobiography Mary Seacole, Preface by William Howard Russell (1857) The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands or watch this clip about her life David Olusoga, One Show (June 2016) Mary Seacole.
Bishop Wilfred Wood
Born in Barbados in 1936, Wilfred Wood was ordained Deacon after completion of studies in 1962. He was sent to the Diocese of London, first serving in a parish called St. Stephen’s Shepherd’s Bush, where he served as a curate, then honorary curate, of St Thomas With St Stephen, Shepherd’s Bush, until 1974.
Being struck by the harsh conditions that Black immigrants had to undergo and by the problems of the inner city, he soon came to wider attention in Britain for speaking out on racial injustice. It was for this work that he was appointed the Bishop of London Officer in race relations, also serving on a number of other important boards, from 1978 to 1981. He recalled:
“I was a member of a Royal Commission called the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedures and in our report, we recommended an establishment of an independent prosecuting service, which has now been established, called the ‘Crown Prosecuting Service’. Up to that point, police would investigate and prosecute, but we recommended an independent prosecuting service.”
Serving on the Archbishop Commission on urban priority areas – where for three years he and his team visited all the cities and towns in England, such as the large housing estates and areas in need of assistance – Bishop Wood noted that a report on the findings were published and also recalled the setting up of the urban church fund.
Bishop Wood also served as a Lay Magistrate from 1971 to 1982. He was the moderator of the World Council of Churches Programme to Combat Racism, known for its work on South African apartheid, acknowledging the importance of the work of commission as they supported the liberation movements against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.
Serving as Archdeacon of Southwark from 1982 until his consecration as Bishop of Croydon in 1985, where he oversaw the Croydon Episcopal Area, Bishop Wood said that the honour was very humbling. He said:
“When I become Bishop of Croydon in 1985, it was a big occasion because I was then becoming the first ever Black Bishop in the Church of England. At the service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which holds 2 900 [people], there was not enough room, as people had come from all over the world – mostly Black [people] were in attendance – and there are 49 bishops who took part in the service. Actually, when my appointment was announced, I received 703 letters of congratulations and well wishes. It was a great day.”
In 2000, another great honour was placed upon the Bishop, as Queen Elizabeth II appointed him Knight of St. Andrew (Order of Barbados), for his contribution to race relations in the United Kingdom and general contribution to the welfare of Barbadians living here.
In his last years as Bishop of Croydon, he protested at the honours given to Enoch Powell upon his death, and about the government and opposition’s attitudes to asylum seekers.
Read more from Bishop Wilfred Wood in his foreword to Selwyn E Arnold (1992) From Scepticism to Hope: One Black-Led Church's Response to Social Responsibility.
Mary Prince, the daughter of slaves, was born at Brackish Pond, Bermuda, in about 1788.
Around 1818, Mary Prince began attending meetings held at the Moravian Church. She later wrote: "The Moravian ladies (Mrs. Richter, Mrs. Olufsen, and Mrs. Sauter) taught me to read in the class; and I got on very fast. In this class there were all sorts of people, old and young, grey headed folks and children; but most of them were free people. After we had done spelling, we tried to read in the Bible. After the reading was over, the missionary gave out a hymn for us to sing."
Soon after arriving in England (as a servant to John Wood) in 1828, she ran away and went to live at the Moravian Mission House in Hatton Gardens. A few weeks later she went to work for Thomas Pringle, a member of the Anti-Slavery Society. In 1831 Pringle arranged for her to publish her book, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave. Mary's book was the first life of a Black woman to be published in Britain. This extraordinary testament of ill-treatment and survival was a protest and a rallying-cry for emancipation that provoked two libel actions and ran into three editions in the year of its publication.
After the publication of the book John Wood sued the publishers of The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave claiming that Mary Prince work had "endeavoured to injure the character of my family by the most vile and infamous falsehoods". Wood lost his case.
Two prominent supporters of slavery in Britain, James MacQueen and James Curtin, took up Wood's case and in an article in Blackwood's Magazine, claimed that Prince's book contained a large number of lies. Prince and her publisher sued MacQueen and Curtin for libel and won their case.
It is thought that Prince remained in England after 1833, perhaps continuing to work as a servant. Her History is an important contribution to early Black writing, and it offers a glimpse into the lives of enslaved men and women whose life stories cannot be traced.
Source: 100 Great Black Britons, Mary Prince.
Read more about Mary Prince in her autobiography Mary Prince (1831) The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave.
Olaudah Equiano was born in Essaka, an Igbo village in the kingdom of Benin, in 1745. When he was about eleven, Equiano was kidnapped along with his sister, and after six months of captivity he was brought to the coast where he was sold to slave-traders.
Equiano saved whatever money he could, and in 1766 purchased his freedom. In 1767 he went back to London, and worked closely with Granville Sharpe and Thomas Clarkson in the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Equiano spoke at a large number of public meetings where he described the cruelty of the slave trade.
Equiano was also a close friend of Thomas Hardy, secretary of the London Corresponding Society. Equiano became an active member of this political society that campaigned in favour of universal suffrage.
Equiano published his autobiography 'The Life of Olaudah Equiano the African' in 1789, 'a detailed account of an African's movement out of slavery', and the most important single literary contribution to the campaign for abolition. It was highly effective in arousing public opinion. He travelled throughout England promoting the book. It became a bestseller and was also published in Germany (1790), America (1791) and Holland (1791). He also spent over eight months in Ireland where he made several speeches on the evils of the slave trade. While he was there he sold over 1,900 copies of his book. In Equiano's lifetime, his narrative went through eight British editions; six more followed in the 22 years following his death. He had won widespread recognition as principal spokesman of Britain's Black community.
Olaudah Equiano was appointed to the expedition to settle former Black slaves in Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa. However, he died on 31st March, 1797 before he could complete the task.
Read more about Olaudah Equiano in his autobiography Olaudah Equiano (2001) The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, the African.
Philippa was the daughter of William of Hainault, a lord in part of what is now Belgium. When she was nine the King of England, Edward II, decided that he would marry his son, the future Edward III, to her, and sent one of his bishops, a Bishop Stapeldon, to look at her. He described her thus:
"The lady whom we saw has not uncomely hair, betwixt blue-black and brown... Her eyes are blackish brown and deep. Her nose is fairly smooth and even, save that is somewhat broad at the tip and flattened, yet it is no snub nose. Her nostrils are also broad, her mouth fairly wide. Her lips somewhat full and especially the lower lip… Moreover, she is brown of skin all over, and much like her father, and in all things she is pleasant enough, as it seems to us."
Four years later Prince Edward went to visit his bride-to-be and her family, and fell in love with her. She was betrothed to him and in 1327, when she was only 14, she arrived in England. The next year, when she was 15, they married and were crowned King and Queen in 1330 when she was heavily pregnant with her first child and aged only 17.
This first child was called Edward, like his father, but is better known as the Black Prince. Many say that he was called this because of the colour of his armour, but there are records that show that he was called 'Black' when he was very small. The French called him 'Le Noir'.
Philippa was a remarkable woman. She was very wise and was known and loved by the English for her kindliness and restraint. She would travel with her husband on his campaigns and take her children as well. When the King was abroad she ruled in his absence. Queen's College in Oxford University was founded under her direction by her chaplain, Robert de Eglesfield in 1341 when she was aged 28. She brought many artists and scholars from Hainault who contributed to English culture.
When she died, Edward never really recovered, and she was much mourned by him and the country. King Edward had a beautiful sculpture made for her tomb which you can see today at Westminster Abbey.