Black Women who shaped Britain's History
To celebrate International Womens Day, it was important for me to reflect and remember that Black women have for centuries made major contributions in history.
Do you remember how proud you felt watching Hidden Figures or Harriet or even most recently Madam CJ Walker? You’ve watched all of these, right? Right! :)
That’s how my daughter felt as I was reading to her a book about Maya Angelou. She was so fascinated by this woman who had accomplished so much. She couldn’t stop asking questions (anyone with a five year old can relate I bet).
I proudly identify as a Black British woman with the dopest Nigerian heritage (Ayeee!!....Nigerians in the house!!!) which inspired me to research the contributions of Black women to British history; a part that is often overlooked.
Guurlll did I find some fascinating women! Women who broke glass ceilings, defied societal racial norms and went against the current. They were pioneers full of grit and grace.
It made me proud to be a Black Briton!! Black blackity black!
Our heroes should be celebrated so let’s shine a spot light on them tuuhdayyy!! We’ve got to tell our own stories.
Mary Seacole - Nurse
“Unless I am allowed to tell the story of my life in my own way, I cannot tell it at all.” – Mary Seacole
Hard to believe but Mary’s story had been forgotten in her death up until historians discovered it in the 1980’s.
She was born to a Jamaican mother and a Scottish father in 1805. Most Jamaicans were slaves to the British but Mary’s mother was free so she was also born free.
Her roots were embedded in her family’s history of medicine. She was also business woman with several shops and hotels in her name. Talk of a strong independent woman!
Mary took two trips to England at 16years old! – She even wrote a book during her journey; Wonderful adventures of Mrs Seacole in many lands. It was the first autobiography published by a free black woman in a British empire. It must have been fascinating travelling alone at a time when it was considered unusual for women to do so. She also went to Haiti, Cuba, Panama and Bahamas to gather spices to sell.
When Mary heard of the Crimean war, she offered to help treat British soldiers but she was rejected. But this firebrand of a woman went ahead to Crimea by herself with medical supplies. She opened a hotel to care for wounded soldiers. As if that wasn’t enough, she rode to the battlefields to nurse the soldiers.
After the war, she was honored by government for her contributions. We remember her for her bravery, independence and big beautiful heart.
Evelyn Dove – Musician
Evelyn was the first black singer to perform on BBC radio which opened doors for more black people in British mainstream entertainment.
She was a stunner full of glamour, poise and elegance; she took this with her everywhere she went – which made her successful. Evelyn overcame all racial barriers to headline on some of the world’s largest stages. She was also the first black British woman to sing in America in 1936.
I have a feeling she sits next to Ella Fitzgerald in heaven. They have so many notes to exchange!
Claudia Jones - Activist
“A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom.” – Claudia Jones
Claudia was destined for greatness from an early age. She won the Theodore Roosevelt Award for good citizenship in Junior high. She was an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago born into a very poor family. They lived in the USA where she took on several roles as a writer, editor and activist. Her advocacy focused on civil rights, gender equality and decolonization.
Sis was the epitome of feminism – always on the frontline fighting for the freedom of black women.
She was deported to the United Kingdom for her political activism. When she got to London, she continued with her mission only that it was geared towards championing for the West Indian Immigrants, fighting capitalism and male supremacy.
Jones founded the UK’s biggest black newspaper – the West Indian Gazette which aimed to unify black people against racial discrimination. Later on in 1959, she organized the UK’s first Caribbean carnival – which is still on today as the Notting Hill Carnival.
Claudia was one woman on fireeee!! (in Alicia Keys voice…certainly not mineJ)
Diane Abbott - Politician
"My forebears refused to cut sugarcane for plantation owners and I am recognizably a product of that background.” – Dianne Abbott
You probably know Dianne but did you know that she is a living hero?
She proved that it was possible for a woman, more so a black woman, to be elected to the British parliament in 1987.
She has struggled with the hate, prejudice and sexism that come with her position as a black woman in power. Dianne has continually talked about how it’s affected her mental health and how tough it has been in a predominantly white male dominated field.
Dianne is currently the longest serving MP in the House of Commons.
Her life is the epitome of the importance of representation especially for minorities.
Tessa Sanderson - Olympian
A woman of many firsts! Talk about being a trailblazer.
Tessa was the first and only British athlete to win the Javelin Olympic and the first British Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1984.
She had won three commonwealth games between 1978 and 1990 – this was after 16years of no British women winning in the competition. She has since been awarded many medals and awards.
Her heart shines through her philanthropic sports education for children and her advocacy against drug use in sports.
Tessa’s #blackgirlmagic paved the way for so many women and people of color to compete on world stages by continually portraying excellence.
Where do we go from here?
Can these be the stories we tell our sons and daughters?
Of men and women who knew no barriers when it came to giving their best.
Of black people who paved the way for us.
I hope we can pick up books and dig our histories for the truth about our heritage.
Our ancestors and living heroes have so much to teach us.