“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou. This is a poignant quote that can be reflected in Black History Month. Take this time to cultivate your understanding of our diverse history and let it shape your understanding of our past and present, writes Charlotte in Year 12.
Black History Month is celebrated in October and highlights the key achievements of historical black figures. It’s more relevant this year than it has been in the past due to the racial tensions around the world and current protests for the Black Lives Matter movement. This year we have decided to celebrate Black History Month as a school, which we have never done before.
Carter G. Woodson founded the Negro History Week in 1926 in the USA and spent his life trying to preserve the week. The week fell in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass who were both deeply committed to the abolitionist movement. Woodson is referred to as the ‘Father of Black History’, but he didn’t live to see the first Black History Month in 1969.
In the UK, Black History Month was first celebrated in 1987 with the intent of appreciating a more diverse history instead of the one which has been whitewashed. It was founded by Ghanaian-born Akyaaba Addai Sebo as a response to the riots in Brixton, Tottenham and Toxteth against marginalisation and racism. It’s celebrated in October because this is the month that African chiefs and leaders traditionally gather to settle their differences and encouraging people to reconnect with African roots. Also, this is the beginning of the academic year and it was hoped that this would instil pride into black children.
We think it’s important as a school and a nation to recognise all aspects of history, so the History Department and Embley History Society are doing a range of things to help educate students. Here are a few examples: assemblies, discussions in lessons and tutor time, posters, and pages on the Digital Learning Space so people can learn more about black historical figures.
Here are a few key historical figures you might have heard of:
- Mary Seacole is another important historical figure who is often overlooked in history curriculums. She was a British-Jamaican nurse, healer and businesswoman. She set up the ‘British Hotel’ behind the lines of the Crimean War, and her reputation rivals that of Florence Nightingale. She has a memorial in Westminster.
- Ignatius Sancho was a composer, actor and writer from the 18th century known for his influence over abolitionists and his published correspondence. In addition, he is the first known person of African descent to vote in a British General Election, eligible through property qualifications and casting his ballot in the 1774 and 1780 elections.
- Maya Angelou was an American poet, actress, dancer and civil rights activist. She is most notably known for her 1969 memoir ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ as it made literary history as the first non-fiction bestseller by an African American woman.
- Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer/songwriter who is considered to be one of the pioneers of reggae. He had a strong stance on racism, freedom and love which made him a hero and idol to many.
Morgan Freeman said “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history” which is a very strong argument that there should be more of a blended history in the USA, the UK and other areas of the world. There shouldn’t have to be a Black History Month; instead, there should be more diversity in education, culture and other aspects of life.
The History Department at Embley, and at schools around the country, try to weave diverse topics such as the Civil Rights Movement into school curriculums so that we have a broader view of history. We are celebrating black history this month to further raise awareness.
We encourage everyone in the Embley school community – pupils, staff and parents – to reflect on the reasons for Black History Month and to do some personal research to gain a better understanding of our diverse history. This will not only make you a more informed person but also more compassionate to others.
“In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”
Thurmond Marshall, the first African American US Supreme Court member