October is Black History Month and I want to honour those people in the black and ethnic minority community who have layed the early building blocks that have helped to shape modern society as we know today. Rather than talk about public figures, who were in the mainstream media, instead, I'd like to commemorate the ordinary men and women who has helped to make a difference for so many in this country.
As you may already know, I grew up in South Africa and as a result of the apartheid regime, racism is something that has shaped the world I grew up in during the 80’s & 90’s, something I’ve talked about previously.
While racism and the struggle for equality weren’t as extreme in the UK, it was prevalent. There are so many stories, for example, the many people of the Windrush generation that have endured suffering for years and some of them, still fighting for justice today. Many of whom were wrongly detained and denied legal rights, even though the British government had seemingly granted them citizenship and permanent residence in exchange for helping to restore the British economy after the war by working in public sector jobs. If you want to learn more, here’s a useful site with more information.
For countless generations people of African and Caribbean descent have been shaping Britain’s story, making a huge difference to the national and cultural life. One of those people is Asquith Xavier. Back in 1966 he applied for a job as a station guard at London Euston station and was refused the role on the basis that black people weren't allowed to work in customer facing jobs. Unsatisfied with the decision, he protested to end racial discrimination and after a hard fought battle, he was the first non white person to work as a train guard. He’s fight for justice made it illegal to be refused a job based on one’s race ever since. To celebrate his contribution to help improve black lives, a plaque commemorating Asquith was unveiled at Chatham Station, where he lived.
Arthur Wharton, a Ghana born goalkeeper is widely considered to be the world’s first black professional, contracted footballer and sportsman. He started his career at Darlington FC and was also part of Preston North End’s so-called ‘Invincibles’ during the 1880s. Any guesses who the other invincible football team is? Let us know in the comments 🙂. To mark the achievement and legacy of Arthur, Darlington FC commissioned a statue to be built in his honour.
More so, he was such an incredibly talented sportsman he was also exceptionally gifted in rugby, cricket, cycling and he even set the world record at the time for running 100m in 10 secs flat!
It seems a fitting tribute for this list, given that there's been so much adulation for the incredible job NHS workers have done for this country over the pandemic, it’s only right that I pay homage to the first ever black nursing director and trailblazer, Professor Nola Ishmael OBE. She came to Britain from Barbados in 1963 as a young NHS trainee nurse and rose up the ranks. She committed herself to the role and more than anything, wanted to provide the best level of care to those who needed it. She was appointed OBE in the 2000 honours list and a portrait of her is held at the National Portrait Gallery.
Why Black History Should Be Celebrated
Black History means different things to everyone. For some it’s a way of reflecting on the diverse histories of those from African and Caribbean descent, taking note of the achievements and contributions they've made to society. It is also a great opportunity for people from all backgrounds to educate themselves on black history and celebrate the often-overlooked people who have made a difference to this country.
Here's another useful link to BLM UK.
Is there anyone you'd like to commemorate? Please comment.