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Remembrance Day – Black & Asian Soldiers in WW1

It is often thought that World War One was a European War, fought exclusively by Europeans. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Despite the fact that the mainstream media makes precious little effort to acknowledge the contributions of Non Europeans.  There were lots of Black and Asian soldiers in WW1.


Colonial Troops

Black & Asian Soldiers in WW1

Some simple facts to remember is that Prior to WW1 Britain & France had colonies in the Caribbean, Africa & Asia, as well as many other places around the world.  Germany also had colonies in Africa.  Turkey was involved in WW1 and the Turkish troops contained an African & a Muslim contingent.

The British Caribbean

After centuries of slavery and servitude. People in the British Caribbean were relishing their freedom. Though many had a lot of loyalty to the the “Mother Country”. When WW1 began. West Indians donated large sums of money to aid the war effort and also volunteered to fight for Britain, joining The British West India Regiment.

British West Indies Regiment

British West India Regiment

By the end of the war over 15,500 West Indians had joined the BWIR and had experienced military service in England, Italy, Egypt, India, France, Belgium, Palestine, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and East Africa.


Like Britain, France was a major colonial power. France drew troops from all over “Francophone Africa”. France also had Colonies in South-East Asia. Some of the most decorated African soldiers serving in the French Army were the Tirailleurs Senegalais.

Africans in the French Army WW1

Africans in the French Army WW1

The German troops nicknamed the Tirailleurs Senegalais ‘Black devils’, when, fighting like demons, they had forced the Kaiser’s shock troops to retreat before them.”

Tirailleurs Senegalais attack the German lines.

Tirailleurs Senegalais attack the German lines.


America was a racially segregated society. Yet African Americans were serving in the U.S armed forces.
When the United States declared war against Germany in April 1917, The U.S War Department realised that they desperately needed more men to ensure victory. The decision was made to allow African Americans to sign up. In some states African Americans were forced to sign up and even fraudulently arrested as draft dodgers.

By the end of World War I, African Americans served in cavalry, infantry, signal, medical, engineer, and artillery units, as well as serving as chaplains, surveyors, truck drivers, chemists, and intelligence officers.

African Americans also served in French units

The 369th Infantry – “THE HARLEM HELL FIGHTERS”,  became one of the most decorated units in WW1 W. Eugene Bullard was a highly decorated African american Pilot in the French Flying corps. He was one of only two black combat pilots in the first world war.

African Americans in WW1

African Americans in WW1


Although little is known of Black Britons in the British army. We do have some evidence to show that Black Britons served in WW1 in the Army and Navy.

Walter Tull - British Army

Walter Tull

Former Spurs Player Walter Tull is the most celebrated Black British soldier who achieved the rank of Lieutenant.

Black & Mixed Race Soldiers in the British Army

Black & Mixed Race Soldiers in the British Army

These photos show several black and Mixed race soldiers serving in the British Army in WW1.


Asians in the British Army

Asians in the British Army

As well as Africans and Caribbean soldiers there were also Asian soldiers fighting in WW1. India sent over 1 million men to aid the War effort. At that time India included Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh & Sri Lanka. Soldiers were from many ethnic backgrounds such as Pathans, Sikhs, Muslims & Hindus. The photo here shows Gurkhas from Nepal.

Ghurkas WW1



Little is known about how many of Germany’s Pre WW1 war black population served in the armed forces. Some certainly did serve in WW1.

Black Germans in WW1

Black German Soldier in WW1

agroup1qaa1 agroup2qaa1 BenAissa black-german-sambo-Postcard 1903
farbiger Garde Trommler kl

Remember that WW1 was not just fought in Europe. There were theatres of war in Africa and Asia. In East Africa, The Germans used Askari troops called “Schutztruppe“. They fought bravely and were never defeated even after Armistice.


Deutsch-Ostafrika, Longido, Reittiere für Askari

Askari -Schutztruppe

African Schutztruppe Serving in East African Campaign WW1

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Claudia Jones Lecture 2013

If you would like to attend the lecture, please email Lena Calvert, NUJ equality officerat

When: Monday 28th October 2013, 7pm

Where: Thomson Reuters HQ, Auditorium, 1st Floor, 30 South Colonnade, Thomson Reuters, Canary Wharf, London E14 5EP

Race and racism in a post-racial age: 20 years on since the murder of Stephen Lawrence is the subject of this year’s Claudia Jones Lecture.

Speaker: Dr Nicola Rollock FRSA


Dr Nicola Rollock

Dr Nicola Rollock

Nicola Rollock is deputy director of the Centre for Research in Race & Education. Her interests lie in examining race inequity in British society and in understanding how minoritised groups navigate and survive racism.

She is best known for her recent research The educational strategies of the black middle classes, which received widespread coverage in the press, and the seminal report The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry 10 Years On, the conclusions of which were debated in parliament.


Dr Rollock was head of education of the race equality charity The Runnymede Trust, where she led the design of a national training programme and resources for teachers. She has been an adviser to a number of government and non-government organisations – recently giving evidence to the Liberal Democrats Race Equality Taskforce – and writes widely for academic and mainstream audiences with articles in The Guardian, The Voice Newspaper and The Evening Standard.

She is writing a book about the Black Middle Classes (to be published by Routledge in 2014) and has started a two year project, funded by the Society for Educational Studies, examining how issues of race and racism have been incorporated into educational policy in the 20 year period since the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Further details and contact information

Lena Calvert, NUJ equality officer

Posted in BHM UK 2013, Black History, EventsComments (0)

Portrait of a Black Gardener Launch Event: Tuesday 29 October 2013

Portrait of a Black Gardener Launch Event
Tuesday 29 October 2013, 18.00-21.00
Admission free

Portrait of a Black Gardener by Harold Gilman

Portrait of a Black Gardener

Portrait of a Black Gardener

The Garden Museum and the Black Environment Network is pleased to invite you to a launch event to mark the acquisition of a painting by Harold Gilman, Portrait of a Black Gardener. The painting has been acquired in partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society and the two organisations will share in exhibiting it.
This painting is a rare example of a portrait of a gardener, yet the pose also suggests that he might actually be an artist’s model. Painted by Harold Gilman in 1905, the identity of the sitter for this portrait is unknown.

The evening will begin with the opportunity to view the painting, and an introduction from Christopher Woodward, Director of the Garden Museum and Wesley Kerr, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund London Committee. Dr Jan Marsh of the National Portrait Gallery will discuss her work looking at the representation of black people in British art and Jeffrey Green will talk about the history of Victorian and Edwardian gardeners of African descent, based on research for his book Black Edwardians. Judy Ling Wong of the Black Environment Network will conclude the event talking about the potential for telling more diverse stories using the collections of the Garden Museum.

Jeffrey Green

Independent historian Jeffrey Green has written on the pre-1940s black presence in Britain for thirty years. His books include “Black Edwardians” (1998) and “Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, A Musical Life” (2011). He has participated in international conferences and contributed to reference books, television and radio programmes including “Swinging Into the Blitz” (BBC TV, 2013).

Dr Jan Marsh

After studying English literature at Cambridge, Jan Marsh undertook postgraduate studies in social studies at LSE, and a PhD exploring poetry and culture 1900-1914 at the University of Sussex. Her first book was a critical biography of Edward Thomas, followed by the cultural history of the late Victorian Back-to-the-Land movement, and then Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, a keynote inquiry into gender relations in the nineteenth-century art world. In 2003-4 she held a Leverhulme Research Fellowship at the National Portrait Gallery, researching the representation of men and women of African ancestry in the 19th century, in preparation for the exhibition Black Victorians (Manchester 2005, Birmingham 2006). Currently president of the William Morris Society, a trustee of the William Morris Gallery and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, her latest project involved co-editing the Collected Letters of Jane Morris.
This painting was bought in partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society and with the kind assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Monument Trust and the Art Fund.

We would be delighted if you should like to attend this free event. Please RSVP to Faiza Mahmood:

Kind regards

Emily Fuggle
Collections and Project Curator

Garden Museum
Lambeth Palace Road

T: 020 7401 8865 *825

Posted in BHM UK 2013, Black History Month UK, EventsComments (0)

The History of A Black History Website

Over the years, The Black Presence in Britain Website has been through quite a few changes, and as it’s Black History Month, I thought I’d share some of the many different looks the site has gone through, with you, the loyal readers.

The Black Presence in Britain Website was first created back in 1998. I was at University, studying Politics. Part of my course was a history module called The Black & Asian Presence in Britain 1780-1945, Origins, Experiences and Changing Identities. My Tutor Was Dr Barbara Bush, of Staffordshire University.

Early Black Internet Pioneer

Being a penniless student, some of the textbooks on Black British History that I needed to excel at my studies were rather pricey.  I needed to hit the library.  Of course though, there were a limited amount of books available on this topic.  My thoughts turned to the Internet, and whilst the internet was still young in those days, I felt sure that I’d find a wealth of information there.  However, the truth of the matter, was that most of the black history online at that time was coming from the United States.

“I decided that I’d make my own website”

I decided that I’d make my own website dedicated to Black British history.  The aim was to make something that might be of some use to other students studying similar courses.  I never dreamed that fifteen years later, I’d still be writing the site.

Black Presence in Britain website 1998-2000

Built in Netscape Composer, Graphics edited in PaintShop Pro (ouch, those colours)

Back then, I didn’t really know anything about how to host a website. I didn’t even understand the importance of having a proper Domain names or url.

So I found a website that offered free hosting, it was called Geocities. Geocities allowed anyone to create a homepage and host it on the Geocities servers. You could add in extra snippets of code to extend your website’s functionality. Some people added counters and Guest Books. I think the original url of the site was something crazy like

An Age of Black Website Collaboration

In the 90’s a lot of the black owned sites had a better network than exists today. It was the Pre Facebook era and we all collaborated and shared content.  I allowed my site content to be shared on the popular site Blacknet. The pages are still there today, although somewhat tucked away.

By the turn of the Millenium,  the site had taken on a different style. I wanted a three column look to try to emulate the newspaper websites.

Black Presence Website 2000

HTML coding with three columns.


Black Presence 2001

Black Presence 2001


The Black Presence in Britain 2003

The Black Presence in Britain 2003


Black Presence 2004

Black Presence 2004

Black Presence goes Dynamic

Around 2006, the site had about 60 pages. I was beginning to find it almost impossible to maintain the site using just html. I was aware that I could improve the management of the website by using a database and a dynamic website language such as ASP or PHP.

In the end I chose PHP due to the type of web hosting I had. That was quite a learning curve as I’d already learned some ASP and making websites with it at work, but PHP it was. It made building the Black Presence site so much easier, and I quickly increased the number of biographies on the site.

Black Presence in Britain PHP

Black Presence upgraded to PHP. 2006

I also thought we’d have a brief departure from red and run with blue for a while.

Black British Forums

It was at this time when The forums were really busy. We had some really great contributors back in those days, We also had our fair share of Forum trolls too, but they all helped to make the a community pretty vibrant place to be.

Black British Forums

Black British Forums

Sadly though, the spammers got the better of the system that used PHPBB2 they relentlessly spammed the forum, slowly driving the regular users away. In the end I decided to close the Forums, and despite trying to revive them several times the spammers kept getting in. It was time to find a better platform.  I’d been hearing a lot about a platform called WordPress.

Moving Black Presence to WordPress

After playing around with Drupal for a few months, and hating it. I settled on WordPress. I thought I’d download a copy first, and build a test website on my home server. WordPress really was so easy to understand from an admin point of view, and very easy for users to work with I knew that it was the right platform for the Black Presence in Britain. I played around with a couple of themes and looks before I got it to the present look.

First WordPress version

2009 WordPress

Second WordPress version

Second WordPress version

The Penultimate WordPress build

The Penultimate WordPress build 2011 / 2012

The Future for Black Presence?

I work in Web Marketing and I have noticed that lot of the web has come full circle. We are going back to simpler layouts, better text, less flashy stuff, and simple navigation structures. That’s almost certainly going to be the way this site goes. Right now though, that’s taking some serious planning. There are a lot of articles that need to be migrated properly or I risk losing traffic and alienating old visitors.

Ultimately I want to harness the power of our social media following where Black Presence has literally thousands of followers and fans. I always try to put a timescale on these things and life keeps getting in the way. Remember this site is run without external funding or sponsorship.

Whatever happens, I do hope that you have enjoyed the site over the years and that you will continue to enjoy it and contribute to it in the future. Thanks you all, you made this site great.

Please leave a message below if you have been a member in the past or have found the content on this site useful.

Posted in Black History Month UK, Editors BlogComments (2)

From the Magi to Miss LaLa

From the Magi to Miss LaLa

Individuals of African Ancestry in Western Art

Jan Marsh
29 October 2013, 1.00-1.45
Lunchtime Talk, Sainsbury Wing Lecture Theatre, National Gallery
Admission free

Figures portrayed in Western art- whether mythical or historical – are predominantly fair-skinned. Yet people of African ancestry have lived in Europe for centuries and appear in paintings. This talk looks at depictions of Black figures in art from the Renaissance to the Modern period, inquiring into their roles as artists’ models and portrait sitters.
Please come along – the Lecture Theatre is vast.

Posted in BHM UK 2013, EventsComments (1)

Publications on Slavery

Publications on slavery:

A4 Monographs: Cost between £1 & £6: Courtesy of Marika Sherwood & Nigel Pocock

 Vol. I English Slavers in the Caribbean and Africa: An

historical and psychosocial approach

 Vol. II Slavery, Africa, and Reparations

 Vol. III A Resource Book for the History of Slavery in London

 Vol. IV Where the Money Went: People and places connected with slavery in Bath and Bristol.

 Vol. V The Liverpool boom: People and places connected with slavery in Liverpool

 Vol. VI A Lasting Legacy: The effects of slavery on character and male-female relationships

 Vol. VII Unless Two agree Together: Justice, forgiveness and prosocial behaviour in the context of Caribbean slavery

 Vol. XI Slavery & Trauma: How can the memories be healed?

 Vol. XII Slavery and Evil: Were the planters and slavers responsible, or couldn’t they help themselves?

 Vol. XIII Slavery Factsheet: Essential Statistics of the Caribbean Slave Trade

Hardback : For a Few Guineas More – handmade and bound, with hand-done illustrationsa, signed copies, limited edition £20.00 (one sold at an auction for £95.00!). this volume summaries much f what appears in the various monographs.

 Power and Greed: A database of all the Governors of the Bank of England, Merchant Venturers, Aldermen, MPs in Bristol (1660-1838) and many others in Liverpool and London, showing ssociations with slavery. Available as CD/DVD or diskette.

 Laminated visuals of all aspects of slavery in A3 size are available for sale or free hire.

 A limited supply of original (1843) manillas – currency used to purchase slaves in West Africa, £7.00

Enquiries welcomed.

Vision Training & Research
14/31 Westwood Hill, Sydenham,
London SE26 6NU
( 020 8778 4407 :

Posted in SlaveryComments (0)

Mary Prince A Slave

Mary Prince (1788-1833) was a Bermudian woman, born into slavery in Bermuda. The published story of her slavery was the first account of the life of a black woman to be published in England and the book had a galvanizing effect on the anti-slavery movement.Mary Prince (1788-1833) was a Bermudian woman, born into slavery in Brackish Pond, which is now known as Devonshire Marsh, in Devonshire Parish, Bermuda. The published story of her slavery was the first account of the life of a black woman to be published in England and the book had a galvanizing effect on the anti-slavery movement.

The parents of Mary Prince were both slaves: her father was a sawyer owned by David Trimmingham, and her mother a house-servant of Charles Myners. When Myners died in 1788, Prince and her mother were sold as household servants to Captain Darrell, who gave Prince to his granddaughter, Betsey Williams.

When she was 12, Prince was sold again to Captain John Ingham, of Spanish Point, but never took easily to the indignities of her enslavement and she was often flogged. As a punishment, Prince was sold to another Bermudian, probably Robert Darrell, who sent her in 1806 to Grand Turks, which Bermudians had used seasonally for a century for the extraction of salt from the ocean.

Salt was a pillar of the Bermudian economy, but could not easily be produced in Bermuda, where the only natural resource were the Bermuda cedars used for building ships. The industry was a cruel one, however, with the salt rakers forced to endure exposure not only to the sun and heat, but also to the salt in the pans, which ate away at their uncovered legs.

Mary returned to Bermuda in 1810, but was sold to John Wood in 1818, and sent to Antigua to be a domestic slave. She joined the Moravian Church and, in December 1826, she married Daniel James, a former slave who had bought his freedom and worked as a carpenter and cooper. For this impudence, she was severely beaten by her master.

Mary Price in London

In 1828, Wood took her as a servant to London. Although slavery was illegal in Britain, she had no means to support herself, and could not have returned to her husband without being re-enslaved. She remained with Wood until they threw her out. She took shelter with the Moravian church in Hatton Garden. Within a few weeks, she had taken employment with Thomas Pringle, an abolitionist writer, and Secretary to the Anti-Slavery Society.

Pringle arranged for her narrative to be copied down by Susanna Strickland and it was published in 1831 as the “The History of Mary Prince”, the first account of the life of a black woman to be published in England.

The book had a galvanizing effect on the anti-slavery movement. Scandalised by its account, John Wood sued the publishers for libel, but his case failed. Subsequent attempts were made to tarnish Mary Prince’s reputation, particularly by James MacQueen and James Curtin, both supporters of slavery. In turn, she and her publisher sued for libel, which suit they won.

Prince remained in England until about 1833.

Related Websites

The History of Mary Prince A West Indian Slave Related By Herself. – eBook


Posted in Black History Month UK, Black Women, Caribbean History, SlaveryComments (0)

Books about Black British History

A reading list of books related to the ongoing Black presence in Britain, Slavery, colonialism and black Settlement in the U.K
The list is by no means exhaustive!

Books about Black British History

  • Staying Power-The History of Black people in Britain by Peter Fryer
    (Pluto Press 1984)
  • Black England-Life before Emancipation by Gretchen Gerzina
    (John Murray,1995)
  • Black Settlers in Britain 1555-1958 by Nigel File and chris Power
    (Heinemann,1981; reprinted 1995)
  • Black Edwardians-Black people in Britain 1901-1914 by Jeffrey Green
    (Frank Cass 1998)
  • Wonderful adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands by Mary seacole
    (1857; reprinted by Falling Wall Press,edited by Ziggy Alexander and Audrey Dewjee,1984).
  • Black Londoners 1880-1990by susan Okokon
    (Sutton Publishing Limited, 1998)
  • The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave
    (1831; reprinted by the University of Michigan Press, edited by Moira Ferguson,1993).
  • The first Black footballer-Arthur Wharton 1865-1930 An Absence of Memory by Phil Vasili
    (frank Cass,1998, reprinted 1999)
  • Colouring over the white Line- The History of Black footballers in Britain by Phil Vasili
    (Mainstream Publishing,2000)
  • Breaking Stereotypes-Perspectives of Selected Black and Asian Leaders Edited by Clinton A.Valley,EdD.
    (Minerva Press, 2000)
  • West Indian Women at War-British Racism in World War II by Ben Bousquet and Colin Douglas
    (Lawrence and Wishhart, 1991)
  • Roots of the Future-Ethnic Diversity in the making of Britain
    By Commission for Racial Equality, 1997
  • England Affric-An Ethnological Survey by Ahmed ali and Abrahim Ali
    (Punite Books, 1995) ISBN 0 9518924 4 4
  • A History of the Black Presence in London (Greater London Council, 1986)
    ISBN 0 7168 1679 2
  • Black and white- the Negro and English Society 1555-1945 By James Walvin
    (Allen Lane, 1973)

For a more exhaustive list of useful Books on Black History, you can download a copy of the the Black & Asian Resources available at the British Library.

Posted in African History, Black Britain, Black History, Black History Month UK, Black People in Europe, Caribbean History, SlaveryComments (2)

Caribbean Women in WW2

West Indian ATS

West Indian ATS

Caribbean Women in WW2 Britain

There were plenty Caribbean Women serving in WW2. When we think of the British Armed Forces, there is often a tendency to think exclusively of men.  In the past this has been largely due to the majority of Armed forces being made of almost entirely of men.

However, WW2 saw plenty of Women sign up to the British Armed Forces.  The exact numbers of Caribbean women serving in the BritishArmed forces can be difficult to pin down to an exact number.  However, Richard Smith, writing in the Oxford Companion to Black British History. 


About 600 West Indian Women were recruited for the Auxiliary Territorial Service, arriving in Britain in the Autumn of 1943.  The enlistment of these volunteers was accomplished despite official misgivings and obstruction.

Around 80- Caribbean women joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and 30 joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service.(ATS)


Caribbean Women in WW2

Caribbean Women in WW2 © IWM

Lilian Bader

Lilian Bader

Lilian Bader

Liverpool Born, Lilian Bader is one of three generations of her Family who Served in the British Armed Forces. Her Father had been a Merchant Seaman in the first world war.  She and her brothers were separated after they were orphaned. Stephen Bourne recounts in his book ‘The Motherland Calls’, that Lillian was popular in school but found it difficult to secure fulltime work. After securing a job in the NAAFI at Catterick camp, she was ‘let go’ due to a colour bar that existed in the British Services at the start of the war. Not deterred by the initial knock back, Lillian determined to join the RAF after hearing a groups of West Indian soldiers on the Radio, say how they had been rejected from the Army, but they had better luck with the RAF.

In March 1940 Lillian was accepted into the WAAF, but found herself the only coloured person. Despite the obvious differences Lillian worked hard and soon became an ‘acting corporal’. Whilst in the Services she met her future husband, Ramsay Bader, who was of mixed race, having a White English mother and a Sierra Leoneon father.

Constance Goodridge Mark (Connie Mark)

Constance Goodridge Mark, nee Mcdonald, was another example of  displayed loyalty typical of Caribbean women in WW2, wanting to serve Britain in it’s hour of need.

Born in Kingston Jamaica. She joined the British Army in 1943, serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, The Womens royal Army Corps working She later became the Senior Medical Secretary in the Royal Army Medical corps, Where she served for 10 years, working in the North Caribbean.

Many years later she took part in the “Their Past your Future” Campaign run by the Imperial War Museum.

Connie had felt that the contribution of ‘West Indians’ in WW2 was being ignored.She decided to do something to try to educate people about the contributions of Black people in the Second World War. Recounting a story about an Age Concern Meeting, she had taken some photographs of West Indian ex-servicewomen.

quoteThat caused such a stir, people said, “We never knew there were black ex-servicewomen”, and that we even came to England”.

After that she applied to the ‘Greater London Arts for a Grant. She searche ,for photographs in the Imperial War Museum and obtained others from West Indian Ex-Servicemen and Women.  She put together an exhibition for the 5oth Anniversary of the end of WW2.

Listen to a clip of Constance talk

West Indian A.T.S Girls Abused

Whilst the vast majority of reported stories have a lot of positivity, There were of course negative reports to be found. In an Article Called ‘These Coloured “Intruders” ‘ The weekly magazine ‘John Bull’ reported some of the racism that Caribbean service personel had to endure whilst billeted in Britain.

quoteRudeness to colonial Service girls in this country is surprisingly common…
A West Indian girl in the A.T.S. was refused a new issue of shoes by her officer, who added:’At home you don’t wear shoes anyway.’ An Army Officer to a West Indian A.T.S.: ‘If I can’t get white women, i’ll something well do without.’


Related Links

Recommended Reading

Note: This website is not run for profit: Buying the books below by clicking the links DIRECTLY assists this website, contributing to running costs.



Posted in Black History, Black Soldiers, Black Women, Caribbean HistoryComments (3)

Black British History Must Feature throughout the School Curriculum

Black British History Began before the Empire Windrush

When the Government of the day start to role out their ministers, in defence of a topic that they have already managed to largely keep out of the mainstream agenda, you know something’s afoot.  Perhaps they sense that restless educators and equality campaigners see right through their piecemeal offerings on black British history.

In recent weeks much has been made of the forthcoming changes to the National Curriculum, particularly regarding history.  There was a small but significant outcry from organisations such as Operation Black Vote who organised a petition against the changes.

What were these changes to the curriculum and why were some people to opposed to them?  Simon Wooley  of Operation Black Vote and other Interested parties such as Labour councillor, Patrick Vernon,  such as this website, B.A.S.A and many other groups and individuals beleived that the proposed changes amounted to a whitewashing of History.  The changes amount to what is described as the systematic removal of positive reference to the contributions of Black and Asian people to British history. Not only that, but that the proposed history also belittled the revolutionary movements of the working classes as well as denigrating the achievements of women in history.

In the past fortnight, the whole saga played out under the radar of most Britons. The Government managed to keep a pretty tight lid on the whole affair.  I don’t remember once seeing an article about the opposition to the changes on the television news.  Some newspapers picked up on the affair, with articles appearing in the Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Mirror  and Daily Mail.

I believe some national and regional Radio stations also carried the story or ran features about it.  By and large though, the nation slept on the whole affair.  Believing as I do that Black British history must Feature throughout the School Curriculum, I wrote a brief call to arms on the matter (Hey, Gove, leave Seacole Alone), but wasn’t hopeful that anything could be done.  After living under Eighteen years of Conservative rule,  I was sceptical about the possibility of a Conservative Minister responding to the will of the people.

Yet, on the 7th of February, I was surprised to receive a newsletter email proclaiming Victory.  The headline read:

Seacole and Equiano to Feature in Curriculum

Whilst being naturally pleased at the news, I doubted that the Government would have climbed down completely and felt that the inclusion of Black history in the British Schools curriculum would doubtless have come at a heavy price.  London Teacher Dan Lydon summed it up best when he wrote in response to the article:

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 21.42.00

A Pyrrhic victory

Although the inclusion of Seacole and Equiano is welcomed, the new NC proposals are a disgrace. They represent the complete reversal of all the progress that has been made over the last decade in ensuring Britain’s diverse history is recognised and taught in schools. The tokenistic reference to Seacole and Equiano ignores the significant contributions that have been made to this country by people of Black and Asian heritage and wipes out a presence that has been recorded since Roman times. The first time any student will even know of this presence, under the new proposals, will be after studying history for 7 years! and the first thing they will be taught is that Black people were slaves. Gone is the awareness of African civilizations, the Blackmoors in Tudor Britain, radicals such as Cuffay, Davidson and Wedderburn. Where will students learn of the writings of Ignatius Sancho, the performances of Ira Aldridge or Samuel Coleridge Taylor? How can they be inspired by the pioneering efforts of Walter Tull or Claudia Jones? This misguided, amateurish attempt to impose a narrow, Little Englander interpretation of history must be challenged with the same vigour and passion as the campaign to support Seacole.

Since then, more and more people have spoken out against this “pyrrhic victory”.  Pointing to the facts that British history has always been more complex than portrayed by the Schools curriculum, and emphasising that steps should be taken to ensure that the teaching of history becomes more culturally inclusive, from primary school to University. Rather than the current government policy of  narrowing what is already an homogenous soup of vague omissions.

Author, Broadcaster and journalist; Yasmin Alibhai Brown highlighted the very nature of Britain’s longstanding interwoven Black Presence in her article in the Independent on February 10th 2013.  Whilst her article Pay attention Michael Gove, this is the British history we really need to learn about doesn’t reveal any Earth shattering contributions by Black or Asian people, it does highlight the normality of everyday interactions between people of different ethnic backgrounds. Interactions that have been going on for centuries, unnoticed and obscured by indifference.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, Liz Truss hit back this week stating that the Gove led revolution of the curriculum:

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 21.42.00
captures British history in all its multi-layered, omni-racial glory

The thrust of Truss’s argument is that the new curriculum should be interesting and relevant. I have to ask, To whom is it relevant and interesting? Britain’s Schools, have in their populations today, the sons and daughters of migrants both recent and from the more distant past.  The future population of Britain needs to understand a history that is relevant to them, not a history that is more relevant to their grandparents of just some of the class.

Truss and Gove et al, say that to teach such history is pandering to the left or special interest groups and playing the P.C game. I disagree.

Michael Gove is out of Touch

History can be painful when you tell the truth.  It isn’t enough to say that Britain ended the Slave trade, without admitting that Britain was a major slaving power who grew fabulously wealthy from the profits of trading in human lives.  It isn’t enough to say that Britain brought medicine and technology and granted independence to commonwealth countries, without highlighting the brutal subjugation techniques deployed in acquiring those territories in the first place.

The Government should build an inclusive Curriculum

The government of today, or indeed any government would do far better by seeking to build a curriculum that portrays  a rich and detailed, chronological history of the world, that brings into focus, the ongoing interactivity of peoples who contributed to the country we live in today.  The days when Black and Asian kids are made to feel like immigrants in Britain should be in the past.  We are British through valour and trial, and that has to be recognised. Yet before we became British, we were Africans and Asians, and we had our own vibrant histories and traditions and cultures, that deserves much more than denigration and belittlement and relegation to the footnotes.

What do you think about the changes to the curriculum?  Is Michael Gove correct?  Or, should the history curriculum be far more inclusive?  I’m keen to read your thoughts. Please Leave a comment in the box below.

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