October marks Black History Month within the UK a tradition that has spanned more than two decades; But how did it come about, what does it signify, is it necessary and how can you get involved?
BHM originated as ‘Negro History Week’ and was established in the US by the African-American scholar, Dr Carter G Woodson in 1926. Having conducted extensive historical research, Woodson came to realise that African-American contributors “Were overlooked, ignored and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and of the teachers who use them”.
In order to counter this, Woodson devised an event that would educate both Americans and African-Americans about Black history, culture and heritage, as well as raising awareness on the positive contributions Black people have had in society. Over time the event was extended to become what is known today as Black History Month.
Although he had the help of others, Akyaaba Addai Sebbo is generally regarded as responsible for setting up and developing BHM within the UK. As the co-ordinator of Special Projects within the Greater London Council, Sebbo worked alongside former London mayor Ken Livingstone who declared that “In order to enrich the cultural diversity of the Greater London area, it is imperative that Londoners know more about African influences on medieval and renaissance European music so that accepted ideas about European music is changed. Despite the significant role that Africa and its Diaspora have played in the world civilization since the beginning of time, Africa’s contribution has been omitted or distorted in most history books.”
Together they organised and held the first BHM event on 1st October 1987 when the Greater London Council played host to Dr Maulana Karenga, a professor of African-American studies and prominent activist within America, in order to commemorate significant contributions by black people throughout history.
Sebbo then worked to ensure that the contributions of African, Asian and Caribbean people to the economic, cultural and political life within London and the UK were recognised and as part of the African Jubilee Year of 1987, BHM began to be established within other districts. A decade later, by 1997, BHM had gained a national profile in the UK and has continued to develop to over 6000 events being held nationwide every year.
Although there are clearly advantages to be gained from the widespread education regarding black culture that is a prominent part of BHM, the event itself is often surrounded by controversy. When questioned concerning BHM, Morgan Freeman; a prominent black actor, responded by saying “You’re gonna relegate my history to a month?”…“I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history. [In order to get rid of racism] stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.”
Scour the internet for an explanation of what Black History Month is or why it is necessary, or perhaps even reread many of the quotes within this article and you will be met with similar answers over and over again: To encourage the knowledge of Black History, Culture and Heritage; to circulate information on positive black contributions to British society and to increase the confidence and awareness of Black people to their cultural heritage.
The website ‘www.black-history-month.co.uk’ even goes so far as to explain without censor that “In an ideal world, the month would not be necessary, because educational establishments and the national curriculum would fully recognise and appreciate the contribution of Black people throughout history. Sadly, that is not the case.”
Perhaps the true solution would be that rather than, as Morgan Freeman described it “relegat[ing Black] history to a month”, it as well as the history of a number of other cultures should be integrated and represented within the national curriculum? 3rd year English Literature student Steven Bassi believes this to be the case, stating that “I think a progressive society like ours should be able to redress the way history is taught and depicted as a whole. That would negate the need for Black History Month; everyone would have a more fair, representative and complete view of history.”
Whilst 3rd year Business student, Alexander Walls believes that “For me, it’s about recognising the achievements of great individuals, regardless of race”
For many however, until changes are implemented within the education system, the needs for a BHM remain valid…So let the festivities begin!
BHM celebrations take place all over the UK and Bristol is certainly no exception, with a number of events that (according to this year’s event guide) “aim to inspire a generation to be proud of their heritage and help turn this pride into achievement”. The theme across several of Bristol’s events this year is liberation, as 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and Jamaica’s independence.
Celebrations around Bristol will include dance and theatre, music, exhibitions, talks and workshops as well as walks.
Look out for Breathing Fire at St Werburghs Centre on 13 October from 2.30-4pm, an interactive theatre piece that will recreate stories from audience members using movement, dance, voice, music and song (£6/£3 concs).
On Friday 26 September at 7.30pm, Circomedia will be hosting ‘Tavazia Dance-Sensual Africa’. Inspired by a trip to Malawi, Tavazia dance will be exploring the rituals that boys and girls go through to become men and women within the Tumbuka and Chewa tribes (£13/£9 concs).
When it comes to music, Dj Derek, a Bristol-born DJ who is widely acknowledged for his reggae mixes, will be performing at The Plantation Caribbean Bar and Restaurant on 27 October from 9.30pm (Free before 9pm £3 after).
UWE’s very own Associate Professor of History Madge Dresser will be giving a talk at the M shed on 18 October entitled ‘Samuel Gist and the Gist Slaves: Bristol and Virginia History’ which will explore the links between Bristol and colonial Virginia in relation to slave economy. The talk begins at 6pm and entry is free.
If you’d like to try something closer to campus, UWE itself will be holding a number of events throughout October.
The Scene-IT cinema on Frenchay will be presenting a BHM film festival during the month, with each screening starting at 6.15pm, all with free entry.
Additionally, the street corridor in S block, also on Frenchay Campus will be featuring an exhibition of Black Bristolians who have made a difference within a number of areas. The exhibition is free to view.
Furthermore, Louise Goux-Wirth, UWESU’s Vice President Community and Welfare has put together the Love Music Hate Racism gig which will be held in Red Bar on 24 October. The gig will feature a variety of multicultural Bristol musical talent such as Bashema Hall, Dub Mafia, Crinkle Cuts and Baila La Cumbia. The gig is open to everyone and entry costs £8 with an 8.00pm start.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the principles behind BHM, the wide variety of events this year will allow for any interest and may well either sustain or test your views.
Black History Month 2012 – Film Festival
Date: 01 October – 31 October 2012
Venue: Scene-IT cinema, Frenchay Campus
UWE is proud to present throughout the month of October a series of films celebrating the film making contributions of black writers, directors and actors/actresses.
October kicks off with a celebration of one of the most prolific directors of modern times – Mr Spike Lee. Throughout the month UWE is screening the acclaimed MARLEY documentary and two films by one of the British film makers rising stars and screen writer Noel Clarke, Kidulthood and Adulthood.
Black Bristolians: People Who Make a Difference Exhibition
Date: 01 October – 31 October 2012
Venue: S block, Frenchay Campus
Time: 09:00 – 17:00
As part of Black History Month, this exhibition focuses on the significant contributions made by black Bristolians in the fields of politics, sports, culture and education. The exhibition is open to students and staff in the Street Corridor in S Block, throughout the month of October.
Love Music Hate Racism Gig
Date: 24 October 2012
Venue: Red Bar, Frenchay Campus
Time: 20:00 – Late
UWE Students’ Union is committed to improving our work within equality and diversity. We recognise that students at UWE come from diverse backgrounds, different faiths, and different cultures. Every year, we welcome students from over 140 countries worldwide, making UWE very unique for its international and intercultural community.
Our music is living testimony to the fact that cultures can and do mix. It unites us and gives us strength, and offers a vibrant celebration of our multicultural and multiracial society.
Join us for the evening, and enjoy Bristol music talent: Bashema Hall, Dub Mafia, Crinkle Cuts, C-Froo – and loudly say that racism that no place in our city.
Jamaica and the Caribbean: Beyond the Boundary
Date: 02 November – 04 November 2012
Venue: Watershed, Bristol
This three day celebration of 50 years of independence for Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago kicks off with a one-day public conference featuring guests including Brian Meeks (University of the West Indies) and Gavin Nicholas (High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago).
Over the weekend, there will be talks by Colin Grant and Andrea Stuart, poetry, and screenings including Blood and Fire, a history of Jamaica’s struggle for independence and Omnibus: Beyond a Boundary, a reflection by the great Trinidadian intellectual CLR James on the influence of cricket on Caribbean society.
UWE in partnership with Festival of Ideas and Afrika Eye.
For a full listing of events taking place at UWE and a full list of films being shown as part of the BHM film festival, visit: http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/whatson/blackhistorymonth