As I mentioned in my blog post ‘Why has Black British History been Americanised?’ our current curriculum is heavily US based. It’s meant that most of us have had to seek out information about Black British history elsewhere. Here’s a list of books that I’ve put together to learn about Black British history.
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire – Akala
From the first time, he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mum was white, to his first encounters with racist teachers – race and class have shaped Akala’s life and outlook. In this unique book, he takes his own experiences and widens them out to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left us where we are today.
Covering everything from the police, education and identity to politics, sexual objectification and the far right, Natives speaks directly to British denial and squeamishness when it comes to confronting issues of race and class that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain’s racialised empire.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
‘Every voice raised against racism chips away at its power. We can’t afford to stay silent. This book is an attempt to speak’
The book that sparked a national conversation. Exploring everything from eradicated black history to the inextricable link between class and race, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the essential handbook for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today
Black and British: A Forgotten History – David Olusoga
Drawing on new genealogical research, original records, and expert testimony, Black and British reaches back to Roman Britain, the medieval imagination, Elizabethan ‘blackamoors’ and the global slave-trading empire. It shows that the great industrial boom of the nineteenth century was built on American slavery, and that black Britons fought at Trafalgar and in the trenches of both World Wars. Black British history is woven into the cultural and economic histories of the nation. It is not a singular history, but one that belongs to us all.
Unflinching, confronting taboos and revealing hitherto unknown scandals, Olusoga describes how the lives of black and white Britons have been entwined for centuries.
Black and British: A Short, Essential History – David Olusoga
When did Africans first come to Britain? Who are the well-dressed black children in Georgian paintings? Why did the American Civil War disrupt the Industrial Revolution?
These and many other questions are answered in this essential introduction to 1800 years of the Black British history: from the Roman Africans who guarded Hadrian’s Wall right up to the present day. This new children’s version of the bestseller Black and British: A Forgotten History is illustrated with maps, photos and portraits.
Macmillan Children’s Books will donate 50p from every copy sold to The Black Curriculum.
Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging – Afua Hirsch
Your parents are British.
Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British.
So why do people keep asking where you’re from?
We are a nation in denial about our imperial past and the racism that plagues our present. Brit(ish) is Afua Hirsch’s personal and provocative exploration of how this came to be – and an urgent call for change.
Black Tudors: The Untold Story – Miranda Kaufmann
A black porter publicly whips a white Englishman in the hall of a Gloucestershire manor house. A Moroccan woman is baptised in a London church. Henry VIII dispatches a Mauritanian diver to salvage lost treasures from the Mary Rose. From long-forgotten records emerge the remarkable stories of Africans who lived free in Tudor England…
They were present at some of the defining moments of the age. They were christened, married and buried by the Church. They were paid wages like any other Tudors. The untold stories of the Black Tudors, dazzlingly brought to life by Kaufmann, will transform how we see this most intriguing period of history.
Black Londoners 1880-1990 – Susan Okokon
Susan Okokon provides a testimony and visual record of London’s Black population and their contribution to the British capital during this time.
Her book chronicles the working lives of ordinary members of the Black community – hairdressers and barbers, cafe owners, business men and women, technicians and so much more. She shows what it means to be raised a Londoner and gives glimpses into the lives of ordinary families.
She also celebrates the success of famous members of the Black population
Black People in The British Empire: An Introduction – Peter Fryer
‘A grim yet inspiring account of brutal repression and resistance … Fryer throws the darker side of the empire into graphic and harrowing relief.’
New Statesman Acclaimed historian Peter Fryer exposes the exploitation and oppression of Britain’s colonies, and restores black people to their rightful place in Britain’s history.
Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-45 – Stephen Bourne
Very little attention has been given to black British and West African and Caribbean citizens who lived and worked on the ‘front line’ during the Second World War. Yet black people were under fire in cities like Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, London and Manchester, and many volunteered as civilian defence workers, such as air-raid wardens, fire-fighters, stretcher-bearers, first-aid workers and mobile canteen personnel.
Many helped unite people when their communities faced devastation. Black children were evacuated and entertainers risked death when they took to the stage during air raids. Despite some evidence of racism, black people contributed to the war effort where they could.
100 Great Black Britons – Patrick Vernon & Angelina Osborne
Patrick Vernon’s landmark 100 Great Black Britons campaign of 2003 was one of the most successful movements to focus on the role of people of African and Caribbean descent in British history. Frustrated by the widespread and continuing exclusion of the Black British community from the mainstream popular conception of ‘Britishness’, despite Black people having lived in Britain for over a thousand years, Vernon set up a public poll in which anyone could vote for the Black Briton they most admired.
The response to this campaign was incredible. As a result, a number of Black historical figures were included on the national school curriculum and had statues and memorials erected and blue plaques put up in their honour. Mary Seacole was adopted by the Royal College of Nursing and was given the same status as Florence Nightingale. Children and young people were finally being encouraged to feel pride in their history and a sense of belonging in Britain.
Now, with this book, Vernon and Osborne have relaunched the campaign with an updated list of names and accompanying portraits – including new role models and previously little-known historical figures. Each entry explores in depth the individual’s contribution to British history – a contribution that too often has been either overlooked or dismissed.
The Louder I Will Sing – Lee Lawrence
On 28th September 1985, Lee Lawrence’s mother Cherry Groce was wrongly shot by police during a raid on her Brixton home. The bullet shattered her spine and she never walked again. In the chaos that followed, 11-year-old Lee watched in horror as the News falsely pronounced his mother dead. In Brixton, already a powder keg because of the deep racism that the community was experiencing, it was the spark needed to trigger two days of rioting that saw buildings brought down by petrol bombs, cars torched and shops looted.
But for Lee, it was a spark that lit a flame that would burn for the next 30 years as he fought to get the police to recognise their wrongdoing. His life had changed forever: he was now his mother’s carer, he had seen first-hand the prejudice that existed in his country, and he was at the mercy of a society that was working against him. And yet that flame – for justice, for peace, for change – kept him going.
And Still I Rise: A Mother’s Search for Justice – Doreen Lawrence
In April 1993, Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a group of young white men on a street in south-east London. From the first police investigation onwards, the case was badly mishandled. In the end, long after the case against the five suspects had been dropped, the government had to give in to mounting pressure and hold a public inquiry, which became the most explosive in British legal history.
These facts leave the reader unprepared for Doreen Lawrence’s own story of her son’s murder. In this raw, honest book, she writes frankly about her childhood, about her struggle for a decent life for herself and her children and her hopes for her bright, motivated son. Her account of the murder and the botched and insensitive investigation by the Metropolitan Police is deeply moving. She recreates the pain, frustration and bafflement she experienced as she realised that there might never be a moment when she could say to herself that justice had been done.
A cold case review led to the discovery of DNA evidence in 2009. In November 2011, two of the alleged members of the gang that killed Stephen were finally brought to trial at the Old Bailey. A guilty verdict was pronounced on 3 January 2012.
Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo
This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.
From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .
The Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon
At Waterloo Station, hopeful new arrivals from the West Indies step off the boat train, ready to start afresh in 1950s London. There, homesick Moses Aloetta, who has already lived in the city for years, meets Henry ‘Sir Galahad’ Oliver and shows him the ropes. In this strange, cold and foggy city where the natives can be less than friendly at the sight of a black face, has Galahad met his Waterloo? But the irrepressible newcomer cannot be cast down. He and all the other lonely new Londoners – from shiftless Cap to Tolroy, whose family has descended on him from Jamaica – must try to create a new life for themselves. As pessimistic ‘old veteran’ Moses watches their attempts, they gradually learn to survive and come to love the heady excitements of London.
This Lovely City – Louise Hare
With the Blitz over and London reeling from war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Fresh off the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London lodgings, and has fallen in love with the girl next door.
Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home – and it’s alive with possibility. Until, one morning, he makes a terrible discovery.
As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And, before long, the newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart.
Small Island – Andrea Levy
It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do?
Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door.
Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was…
Surge – Jay Bernard
Paperback Social wrote an incredible review on this – here
Jay Bernard’s extraordinary debut is a fearless exploration of the New Cross Fire of 1981, a house fire at a birthday party in which thirteen young black people were killed.
Dubbed the ‘New Cross Massacre’, the fire was initially believed to be a racist attack, and the indifference with which the tragedy was met by the state triggered a new era of race relations in Britain.
Tracing a line from New Cross to the ‘towers of blood’ of the Grenfell fire, this urgent collection speaks with, in and of the voices of the past, brought back by the incantation of dancehall rhythms and the music of Jamaican patois, to form a living presence in the absence of justice.
A ground-breaking work of excavation, memory and activism – both political and personal, witness and documentary – Surge shines a much-needed light on an unacknowledged chapter in British history, one that powerfully resonates in our present moment.
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