Black History Month: Did You Know?

Foster with Bucks, 16 September 2022 - Events

Black History Month is a great time to stop and take stock of some of the contributions made by black people throughout history. With that in mind, we look at twelve milestones along the way, including astronauts, Grammy winners and BAFTA nominations.

Did you know that Henry VIII employed a Black trumpeter called John Blanke? The first time Blanke appeared on record was when he wrote directly to King Henry VIII to request a pay rise, when he found out the other trumpeters in court were earning more than him. Not only did the king approve his request, but his pay was backdated to compensate for lost wages, the musician also received a promotion.

Did you know that in n 1913, John Archer became the first Black mayor in London? John was a medical student for a time and a prizewinning photographer. A life-long socialist, John travelled at least three times around the world in his youth, living for a while in the West Indies and North America. He met his wife, Bertha, in Canada and returned to Britain, settling in Battersea in the 1890s near Battersea Park at 55 Brymaer Road. Politically, Battersea was at the time dominated by the Labour, Liberal and radical internationalist movements. John was soon involved in the Battersea Labour League, but had originally begun his political life speaking against spiritualism. Well-known for his practical approach to social welfare, John was elected to the Wandsworth Union Board.

Did you know Jack London was the first Black athlete to win a medal for Great Britain in the Olympic Games? London competed for Great Britain in the 1928 Summer Olympics held in Amsterdam, Netherlands. After equalling the Olympic 100 metres record of 10.6 seconds in the semi-final, he won the silver medal in the 100 metres final, behind Canadian Percy Williams. He then won the bronze medal in the 4×100 metres relay with his teammates Cyril Gill, Edward Smouha and Walter Rangeley, behind the teams of the US and Germany. He was the first to use starting blocks at the Olympic Games. He was awarded the Polytechnic Harriers's S. A. Mussabini memorial medal (Mussabini having died in 1927) and the Studd Trophy in 1928.

Jack London, Olympic medallist

Did you know that CBBC has a free game for children called “Horrible Histories Wonderful Windrush” which introduces some important figures from that era?

Did you know that CBBC has created a series of videos available on BBC iPlayer called “Our Black History Heroes” to celebrate inspirational and history making figures from the past 200 years?

Did you know that in 1987, Diane Abbott made history by becoming the first black woman ever to be elected to Parliament. Abbott made history by becoming the first black woman ever elected to the British Parliament and she has since built a distinguished career as a parliamentarian, broadcaster and commentator.

Diane Abbott, Labour Politician

Did you know that Hattie McDaniel was the first black woman to be awarded an Oscar for her role in Gone with the Wind (1939) Unfortunately, she was not allowed to attend the premiere because it was shown in a “white’s only theatre”. In an attempt to control the narrative of the 19th century black minstrel shows, Hattie and her sister Etta, developed their own all-female show in 1914, The McDaniel Sisters Company, that challenged stereotypes and criticized racism, making them the first recorded black female producers at the turn of the 20th century.

Did you know that Mary Seacole (1805-1881) was a Black nurse who tended to soldiers in the Crimean War. The soldiers called her ‘Mother Seacole’, as she comforted them, nursed them back to health and provided supplies of clothes and blankets.

Did you know that Robert Lawrence was the first African-American astronaut, although he did not make it into space, as he died in a training exercise? The first person of African Heritage to fly in space was Tamayo Mendez from Cuba, who was part of a Soviet Union program. The first African American in space was Guion Bluford. To date, there have been no Black British astronauts in Space.

Robert Lawrence before his doomed NASA test flight

Gloria Gaynor won the first and only Grammy for Best Disco Recording with "I Will Survive".

Although many credit Viv Anderson as being the first Black footballer to play for England in 1978, John William Charles was the first Black player to represent England, playing in the under-18s team in 1962 and scoring against Israel.

Chiwetel Ejiofor broke BAFTA history for being the first ever Black British man to win Best Actor. Before Ejiofor, only 3 Black men have won Best Actor – Forest Whittaker in 2006 for his role in Last King of Scotland; Jamie Foxx in 2004 for his role in Ray and Sidney Poitier in 1958 for his role in Defiant Ones. Before Ejiofor, no other Black British man has ever been nominated.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, starring in 'Infinite'

If you found this article insightful and are celebrating Black History Month, why not get in touch with us and tell us what you're doing? We're available at [email protected].