October is Black History Month, which is an annual celebration to commemorate the achievements of black people and communities who throughout history have often been undervalued and forgotten.
Born to formerly enslaved parents in Jamaica, Fanny Eaton (1835 – 1924) was a portrait model at London’s Royal Academy, sitting for famous artists like John Millais and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Eaton’s contribution to art history is huge, coming at a time when narrow, racialised beauty standards almost uniformly excluded black women.
Born into slavery in Guyana, as a free man later in life John Edmonstone taught at Edinburgh University, where he taught a young Charles Darwin taxidermy and helped inspire a passion for the tropics in the future father of evolutionary science. Without Edmonstone, Drawin may never have hit onto the idea of natural selection in the Galapagos.
Equiano (died 1797) was either born into slavery or enslaved as a child. He escaped slavery in 1766 by purchasing his freedom, and in 1789 published one of the first detailed, honest first-hand accounts of enslaved life. His book and activism helped end the British slave trade.
Evelyn Dove (1902 – 1987) was an internationally renowned cabaret star. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music, and performed with some of the world’s leading black artists, at the time rivalling the fame of jazz star Josephine Baker. Dove’s success depended upon her overcoming the immense racial prejudices of the day.
Existing content from last year; re-use. Change his description from “Former slave” to “Chartist”; change “son of a former slave” to “son of someone formerly enslaved”.
Hailed as “the godfather of multiculturalism", Stuart Hall (1932 – 2014) founded The New Left Review and transformed the academic study of culture within British academia. He established the first Cultural Studies course in the UK and became one of the UK’s foremost black political activists in his lifetime.
Joan Armatrading (1950 – present) was the first ever female UK artist to be nominated for a Grammy in the blues category. Originally from St Kitts, Armatrading starting writing music at 14, and taught herself to play the guitar. She holds eight honourary degrees.
Olive Morris (1952 – 1979) was a civil rights campaigner from Brixton, who founded multiple black womens’ groups in London and Manchester. She won a place to study at the University of Manchester despite having no school qualifications, and made immense contributions to black communities. She died of cancer aged just 27 in 1979.
Since the release of her debut novel when she was just 24, Zadie Smith (1975 – present) has been regarded as one of the leading literary voices of her generation for novels like White Teeth and On Beauty. Smith's writing, informed by her background with its distinct racial and class intersections, provides profound insights into identity, and the human condition more expansively. She now teaches at New York University.
Wiley (1979 – present) is widely considered the Godfather of Grime. He enjoyed success in grime and garage groups, and as a solo artist. He has been noted for his altruism, supporting numerous other artists both financially and musically. From the mid-90s, he has been instrumental in creating a new sonic aesthetic, drawing on the reggae his father played.
Ali (born Cassius Clay) was a boxer, philanthropist and social activist who is universally regarded as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. Ali became an Olympic gold medalist in 1960 and the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964. Following his suspension for refusing military service, Ali reclaimed the heavyweight title twice during the 1970s, winning famed bouts against Joe Frazier and George Foreman along the way. Diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1984, Ali devoted much of his time to philanthropy, earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Ali died on June 3, 2016
Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011) was a Kenyan politician and environmentalist. In 1977, she launched the Green Belt Movement to reforest her beloved country while helping the nation's women. Proving to be very successful, the movement is responsible for the planting of more than 30 million trees in Kenya and providing roughly 30,000 women with new skills and opportunities. Maathai was a Kenyan government minister from 2003 – 2005, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
Dr. John Henrik Clarke (1915 – 1998) was a Pan-Africanist historian and academic, who became hugely influential to the Black Power Movement of the 1960s. Largely self-taught and lacking formal qualifications, Clarke built an academic career against the odds, which he used to actively challenge eurocentricity in the study of history and help re-centre black experience in the teaching of African history
Kofi Annan (1938 – 2018) was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Annan was an extremely accomplished and widely respected Ghanaian diplomat, and as Secretary-General was praised for his work on human rights, anti-poverty work and tackling preventable disease.
Sir Mohamed Muktar Jama "Mo" Farah, was born on 23 March 1983 in Somaliland. As the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medallist in both the 5000 m and 10,000 m He is the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history. Farah was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2013 and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to athletics
Letitia Wright (1993 – present) is one of the stars of the hugely successful Black Panther, in which she portrayed Shuri, the brilliant Wakandan princess-turned-scientist. Wright has also had a busy career in British television, appearing on shows such as Doctor Who, Black Mirror and Humans and appeared in high profile films such as Avengers: Infinity War, Urban Hymn, and Ready Player One. She's open about her Christian faith, and has shared that this faith helped her when she was suffering from depression.
Lupita Nyong'o (1983 – present) is a Kenyan-Mexican actress widely known for her roles in 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Black Panther. She started acting as a teen in Kenya and won the 2014 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years. In 2019, she will join the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Tarana Burke (1973 – present) is a civil rights activist who launched the original ‘Me Too’ movement in 2006. A champion for the rights of women and girls, Burke was one of a group of activists for womens’ liberation named Time’s Person of the Year in 2017. She currently serves at the Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn as its Senior Director.
Somali by birth, Amina Hersi Moghe (1964 – present) is a prominent entrepreneur who has sponsored numerous major investments in Uganada. Moghe built her fortune in cement and soft commodities, and is currently developing a $120million sugar factory in Uganda’s northern region.
Eugenia Charles (1919 – 2005) was the first woman lawyer in Dominica’s history. She helped found the conservative Dominica Freedom Party, and in 1980 became first black woman in global history to win a national election. She served until 1995, a record of continuous service rivalled by no woman world leader since.
Philis Wheatley (c1753 – present) is the first known woman African American author. Taken into slavery as a child, she published a book of religious poetry in 1773 that was widely acclaimed across the English speaking world, though she saw little financial benefit. Her work was routinely challenged by contemporary racists who claimed it must have been the work of a white writer Wheatley had stolen from.
Dame Elmira Minita Gordon (1930 – present) became the first black woman Head of State in the world in 1981, as Governor-General of Belize. She served for 12 years. Before this she became the first Belizean to earn a doctorate in Psychology.
Shirley Chisholm (1924 – 2005) was the first black woman elected to the US Congress, representing New York’s 12th District from 1969 to 1983 and winning seven back to back elections. She paved the way for black women in US politics. In the 1972 election, 36 years before Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, she became both the first black person and the first woman Democrat to seek a major party’s nomination for US President.
A Bermudan author and activist, in 1959 Florenz Maxwell was part of a group of young people who organised a cinema boycott in protest at racial segregation on the island. The boycott grew into an island-wide protest movement and within weeks, segregation in Bermuda became a thing of the past, as business after business agreed to serve black customers.
Dame Jennifer Smith (1947 – present) is a Bermudan journalist and politician. She made history at her country’s 1998 general election when she lead the Progressive Labour Party party to victory and ended 40 years of uninterrupted rule by the historically white-dominated United Bermuda Party.
Davis is a prominent political activist, academic, and author; born in Birmingham, Alabama, Davis’ activism began in her early youth as a Girl Scout, as she protested racial segregation in her home city. Political activism continued to shape her years as she joined groups including the Black Panthers and the Che-Lumumba Club; an all-black branch of the Communist Party. Despite a campaign against her by Ronald Raegan, Davis lectured in Women’s and Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University from 1977 and remains an active teaching academic; she further campaigns for prison abolition, women's rights, and racial justice.
Wells-Barnett was a journalist, teacher, civil rights activist, and suffragette who was amongst the first to investigate and collect data on lynching in America. Whilst holding a co-ownership of the Free Speech and Headlight newspaper, she began an anti-lynching campaign, travelling to the South to investigate over 700 lynchings and publicise her findings. Confronting white suffragettes in the US on their choice to ignore lynching within their movement, Well-Barnett was ostracised and instead founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Club, and was an uncredited founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
A close advisor to Martin Luther King Jr, Rustin was a lead organiser of the 1963 March on Washington; a nonviolent protest and rally to gather support for civil rights. Following the 1964-65 passage of civil rights legislation, he sought to improve the lives of working class and unemployed black citizens through allyship to the labour movement, and as a result became the leader of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. As an openly gay man, he later publicly advocated for gay and lesbian causes until his death in 1987.
Born on a slave ship, Sancho was a British composer, writer, and actor known for being the first black Brit to vote in elections and to receive an obituary in British press following his death. Teaching himself to read and write, Sancho used his literacy to speak out against the slave trade, and wrote music and poetry. He wrote extensive letters depicting the true nature of slavery, following his death, Sancho’s letters were collated and published and used as evidence of the inhumane nature of slavery during efforts to abolish the trade.