October is Black History Month. This national celebration aims to promote and celebrate Black contributions to British society, and to foster an understanding of Black history in general. Its origins go back to the 1920s and the establishment of Negro History Week in the United States.
This evolved into Black History Month and was marked every February, the month being chosen because of the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass, the African American social reformer and Abraham Lincoln, the president who ‘freed the slaves'. In the UK it was launched in the 1980s in London and was largely the result of local community activism challenging racism in general in British society and the Eurocentric version of history that dominated the state school system.
Today Black History Month has become an important date in the cultural calendar of many of the UK’s museums, galleries and local authorities.
Over the years the focus of Black History Month has expanded its coverage to include the history of African, Asian and Caribbean peoples and their contribution to Britain’s ‘island story’. This shift has received some criticism as an exercise in promoting multiculturalism rather than promoting an awareness and understanding of the history of the African Diaspora.
Black History Month itself has also regularly attracted critical comment about it being condescending, an excuse to ignore Black history for the rest of the year and a mechanism for separating Black history from British history. Whatever the strength and weakness of these debates, they all point to the continuing importance of engaging with history as a way to understand the present and possible futures.
As part of this engagement the University's Collections have put together a series of Black History Month talks, exhibitions and activities across several venues on campus. Look at the programme and come and join in the debates.