Black History Month UK: why we celebrate people of African and Caribbean descent in October - and events and activities in 2020

The celebration has been around in some form for almost 100 years – here's how Black History Month began

Thursday, 1st October 2020, 2:40 pm
(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

As October begins, so too does Black History Month in the UK.

Observed since 1987, Black History Month aims to celebrate the important people and events in the history of people of African and Caribbean descent.

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How did Black History Month start?

It may seem as if there are multiple Black History Months, due to the fact that other areas of the globe - including the US, where events receive international coverage - observe the month in February.

In the US, Black History Month first took place in 1970, though it would be another six years before the month began being celebrated annually.

This first celebration was the spiritual successor to "Negro History Week", which took place in February 1926.

The brainchild of Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, its aim was to encourage coordinated teaching of the history of black Americans in the nation's public schools.

Only the Departments of Education of the states of North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia showed any interest at first, but despite the less than enthusiastic response from school authorities, Woodson was optimistic.

He felt the success of that first week could allow the general movement to become something annually celebrated.

By 1929 it was gaining ground, with the State Departments of Educations of "every state with considerable Negro population" making the event known to their teachers and distributing official literature.

Soon, mayors across the United States were endorsing the week as a holiday, and it prompted the creation of Black history clubs and an increase in interest.

The UK's first Black History Month took place in 1987.

It was rallied for by Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who had served as a coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council and created a collaboration to get it underway.

33 years later, every October marks Black History Month in the UK, and a number of special events and celebrations take place to mark the occasion.

What can I do to celebrate?

Due to current Covid-19 restrictions, limits are in place on what sort of events can be held, with mass gatherings banned.

Black History Month is a great opportunity for people from all backgrounds to educate themselves on black history and the often-overlooked people who have made a difference to the country.

Your local museum may be hosting special exhibitions or events or a nearby cinema may have a themed programme of relevant films and screenings.

Check the websites of your local cultural institutions to check for any special events they may be running to mark the occasion.

What national events are happening?

There are plenty of events being held to mark the occasion.

Windrush: Portrait of a Generation is a photography exhibition being held at Brixton library to celebrate the Caribbean community of South London, while The Sounds of Croydon is an online showcase of Croydon’s most successful musicians "from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to Stormzy."

Further north, the Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland will be celebrating coal miners of African Caribbean heritage with their exhibition, Digging Deep.

That's just a very small handful of some of the events taking place.

Out on the streets, Royal Mail said that four post boxes - in London, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast - have been painted black with a gold trim as part of Black History Month in October.

Each of the special-edition postboxes has a social media link and features a significant figure in the British black community.

On social media, black women, including recent Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo, are taking over the Instagram accounts of prominent white women (including Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham) on 1 October.

Laudable is also launching a new podcast that looks at black lives in the past, present and the future.

Black Lives: Past, Present and Future listeners will be hearing interesting and thought-provoking voices that describe black lives and experience across the UK.