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Black Britons Civil Rights Struggle – Should it be taught in schools?

 

Claudia Jones - Civil Rights Activist
Claudia Jones - Civil Rights Activist

History classes in the National Curriculum will often gloss over slavery, idolize the efforts of William Wilberforce and study the methods of Martin Luther King’s struggle for civil rights. For many young Black people in Britain, one would argue that it is very easy for them to recall the names of US Civil Rights icons, better than not knowing any at all right? Well, it begs the question as to whether there are any standout Black UK Civil Rights activists who fought the struggle and why, if not, is it not taught in schools?

Towards the end of 2010 Mississipi became the first US State to introduce a Civil Rights Curriculum for all student grades. Currently, in most States, Black history is said to be taught more so at particular times of the year such as during Black History Month in February and near to the time of Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King’s birthday. Much of the history classes in general center around subjects such as the American Revolution and President George Washington.

In comparison to Britain, the history classes focus primarily on the Russian Revolution; the Nazi era; the British Empire’s rule over India and British History during the World War, in particular World War II. You will then find at least one class dedicated to slavery and the US Civil Rights movement.

The curriculum currently evades the contributions that Black Britons made towards the Civil Rights movement in Britain. Perhaps it is seen as not as prolific to that of Martin Luther King’s efforts. The question price to ask is would the new generation of young leaders in Britain feel more empowered if they were aware of those who fought the struggle for equality in the UK.

For example, not many people know that in 1963 Paul Stephenson led a successful boycott against a racist public bus company in Bristol. He also went to trial for refusing to leave a pub until he was served beer, knowing that it was common practice for some pubs to show signs stating “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”.

So, what are your thoughts? Do we need to see and learn of those who struggled for civil rights in Britain? And more importantly should it be taught in schools?

 

14 thoughts on “Black Britons Civil Rights Struggle – Should it be taught in schools?

  • 26th March 2011 at 12:24 pm
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    I remember during my secondary school years, the history we learnt was as you rightly stated WW2 and on civil rights movement; we learnt about the civil rights movement in the US. I even wrote my History project on the differences between Martin L. King and Malcolm X.
    Recently when i had a discuss with work colleagues on discrimination in general, it struck me that i was completely unaware of any contributions torwards the civil rights movement by blacks in Britain.
    I think its essential that children in British secondary schools should have knowledge of the history upon which the soceity the live in now was built. The contributions of people of different races and ethnicities, not only to the British economy but to laws and societal norms.
    This would be empowering to young people and also disperse the negative attitudes and misunderstanding of how Afrian’s and West Indian’s migrated to Britain during the times of slavery and later on around the 60’s.

    I dont understand why during black history month, we celebrate and learn African-American history.

    Reply
    • 12th February 2012 at 4:18 am
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      This is because the British treatment of the africans was appalling and is that of their decedents and they are ashamed, as well the benefits to them keeping our heritage from us or feeding us what they choose it keeps us confused and disconnected.

      They still omit important black health information, many of us die while they poison us by using the wrong treatments for those with melanated skin, Genetic dominant genes.

      They best way they control us is just like the slave, mentally. Forcing us into assimilation, by denial. Just watch the channel 4 the event how racist are you, this was in 2009, I defy you not to be left sickened and saddened by the attitudes and behaviour of some of the participants Not represented positively if at all in the media (Black Brits, esp women). Constantly, undermined by the representations that do appear.

      The fact that there is a separate black actor award ceremony as is the existence of BHM says that we still remain somewhat powerless.

      They beat the identities out of the African and they continued to revolt and then used those it had broken and brainwashed to turn against their own. That is why you get those Jamaicans and Africans with a fake posh accent because somewhere along the line they have been taught this should act.

      The windrush was just another slave ship, filled with naive cultivated (slave) jamaicans. The reality of their experience is almost whitewashed with a few bits here and there, unlike the US history.

      We also had a Black power and Black panther movement, check out Olive Morris and this was the first such branch outside of the US. Olive has building in Brixton but I asked around and no-one I knew had a bloody clue who she was or how important a mark she made.

      I harbour a discontent that is drawn out by the fact that even now in trying to find out my history pre windrush, I am being charged for what was stolen from me.

      If this continues I will take it to court, the black identity should be out there for the children to find, who were the Brit eqv to Rosa Parks, sojourner truth, Malcom x, Angela Davis, Fredrick Douglas and Martin Luther King? I have not read one book about these people but I could tell at least 30% of the story for everyone. I am British, I live within a British infra structure, I am exposed to British Values and institutions therefore I feel it also does more harm than good in some cases, but like I said keeping us ignorant is their weapon.

      Reply
  • 28th March 2011 at 1:09 pm
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    Yes it should be taught. Anything else is dishonest. How can priamry and secondary pupils in England soent weeks studying Rosa Parks Bus Boycott in 1955 but now nothing about the one that took place in their own country in 1963 ? While they watch american movies highlighting Ms Parks , Paul Stephenson still active in Bristol is lost to history. It is not sensible that students studying politics at university will know chapter and verse about the March on Washington also in 1963 but have never heard of the Black Peoples Day of Action when up 20,000 people marched from New Cross to Central London in protest at the burning to death of 13 black teenagers and the total indifference of the state ?

    Reply
  • 28th March 2011 at 1:17 pm
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    I believe this (black British civil rights) should be taught as part of the national curriculum, certainly I taught it in my subject areas of film and media according to the texts studied, but this was through my own choice. The amount of students of ANY colour who knew nothing about this subject matter was really disheartening for me and it’s no wonder Black History Month, in this country at least, has little credence presently. What LITTLE students did know was about civil rights in the USA. Whilst this is important, there equally needs to be a redress in the acknowledgement of the involvement of black Britons in the assertion of their own equality.

    Reply
  • 28th March 2011 at 9:09 pm
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    I had the a simular experience to Amo Dinka when going to school but it was even more limited. As we were mostly taught about the kings and queens, romans and vikings. After 2 years of this i become very frustrated with history and refused to do the subject.I just sat in every history lesson arms folded at the back of the class in protest i guess. At the time i just felt this has nothing to do with me where do black people come into it. After a while of non-confronational and very quite protest. I was taken out of history lessons for good and given general office tasks to complete as that is what i wanted to learn instead. I’m now in my 40’s and still know very little about black british history. Alot of black history seems to revolve aound american and african history, why isn’t black british history as readily available.

    Reply
  • 29th March 2011 at 8:50 pm
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    Our children, whatever their colour, should definitely learn about the outstanding champions of black equality. Olaudah Equiano, Toussaint L’Ouverture, William Cuffey, returning Jewish British troops demolishing the Extreme Right after WW2 to Paul Stephenson all of whose biographies should be known to everyone. Black parents have a responsibility to ensure their children know this (almost) alternative history. However I feel the problem in Britain and the topic of Britons Civil Rights Struggle is that the people controlling the curriculum are Establishmentarians. Part of the subtle system of social structure maintained and refined since what is called the Great Revolution. They believe the current system is the best of all possible alternatives and so bitterly resist change. Hence schools do not really educate children in political awareness, active democracy or even active involvement. Look at the very small number of free schools run by democratic councils of pupils and teachers and the attitude of educational professionals to them. Hence the history of the emancipation of men who owned no land, black slaves, women, indentured Indian and Irish labourers, or for that matter the winning (and loosing) of trade union rights or the activism that led to environmental, housing and health / safety regulations are all only taught to a very small minority of under 16s.
    See:- http://www.blacknetworkinggroup.org/tag/black-history/

    Reply
    • 12th February 2012 at 4:27 am
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      yup the people controlling the info have omitted much for their own purpose and those that profess to want to educate are not activists so do it all on the downlow, almost afraid that if they rock the boat they won’t be allowed to do it anymore.

      My mum didn’t have this information to give, raised by the cultivated in a white community being proud of ones cultural differences was not a thing.

      Reply
      • 26th April 2013 at 3:46 pm
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        Wonderful site you have here but I was wanting

        to know if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics talked about in this article?
        I’d really like to

        be a part of community where I can get

        feedback from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any

        recommendations, please let me know. Appreciate

        it!

        Reply
  • 3rd April 2011 at 3:45 pm
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    as a history teacher, I am very interested in this post, especially as I am about to revamp our Civil Rights across time module (which is already remarkably different from what most students experience in British schools) to start teaching after Easter.
    Working in a multicultural school I am conscientious to provide as much of the wider story as possible (women/ruled/different ethnicities) rather than just the white-male history that is put forward by the curriculum to challenge my students to not just accept what the media and government spoonfeed us to accept as ‘the story’, although I hope that is seen as honest intent to include and inspire as many as possible rather than apologism
    If anyone is willing to give me routes to investigate into British black civil rights heroes I would be willing to teach this as part of the module- I would like to make civil rights relevant to my students as part of their nation’s history as well as humanity’s history, I just don’t know where to start as I was never taught it myself.
    Maybe we should compare MLK with a British hero to see who is most relevant to British students today?
    Best wishes.

    Reply
  • 5th April 2011 at 3:20 am
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    I totally agree that its high time everything has to be put into place. Black history should be taught in class as well, as we are now leaving in a multi racial and multi cultural society. From my own experience with Afro caribean friends who were born here, some of them have no clue that their great great ancestors came from Africa. I admire Afro Americans who are so proud to have African roots. They are not afraid of their identity, because to me is a sign of reality. Even the queen can tracy back her ancestor to the 12th century, why cant Afro caribeans do that? It is so sad when in Britain, they are classied as Black British, which to me is amockery. Im from Africa,and lm not classified by colour in my country in Zimbabwe. A white or a black person is classiefied as Zimbabwean. There is too much problems which needs to be addressed especially in Britain.

    Reply
  • 23rd April 2011 at 12:55 am
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    I’m a Black American and while it’s flattering that you are taught American Black history in school (we did Rock it though;) I am absolutely shocked and apalled that you don’t learn about your own ancestors. That’s how i found this site and i’m glad i did, I have so many questions. Like, is there such a thing as a Black history or Africana studies Major in your colleges? I wondered whether you were slaves? Was there anything like the kkk or jim crow? Did you have a Movement like ours? It looks like i’m gonna be reading all night = ) P.S. most of what i know about Black History i learned from my mother and she from her grandfather etc. Eyewitness and participants in the struggle. And Oh, the stories! Amazing things, i am glad not to have had to live thru. We have to teach our children. They have reason to be ashamed and it’s that shame and their collective EGO that is so reticent about telling the whole truth about us because in doing so they would have to tell the whole truth about themselves.

    Reply
  • 5th July 2011 at 7:02 pm
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    Great question and definately one I think most UK residents of African desent would want included in the primary to sencondary cirriculum. My initial question is “what elements of black civil rights contributions have been suggested?”, “who or what organisation put forward suggestions to the governing body?” and has a recognised representative body for the African community been appointed to oversee the standard & progress of cirriculum material?

    Reply
  • 18th September 2011 at 10:40 am
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    It’s great to see this topic given space here. Actually, if one looks at the framework for History within the national curriculum, it’s broad enough to tackle at the subject at hand. But it would seem either teachers aren’t imaginative, enquiring, or do not have easily available resources for them to consider this topic.

    We recently published a small book – NARM (Naming And Role Model) Highlighting African British Male Role Models 1907 -2007, which is available from http://www.btwsc.com/NARM.

    For BHM 2011, I’m using this resource to highlight British civil rights campaigns and activists in a number of events across London under the banner NARM Africa British Civil Rights History.

    Whilst we wait for schools to be more inclusive in teaching African British history, we can learn within informal learning events such as the NARM events. For more details: http://www.btwsc.com/newsdetail.php?newsId=22.

    Reply
  • 1st June 2015 at 6:39 pm
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    I think the schools should expand the lessons on slavery and discuss the Arab Muslim invasions of Africa and the mass slavery that ensued. We need to blow the lid off ALL the historical liars and white washers!

    Reply

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