Every year, in October, just before people celebrate Halloween or rejoice at the ‘extra’ potential hour of sleep, we settle in to recall a history standing long before us. A history entangled with the full spectrum of human emotions; including pride.
There are hundreds of distinguished, ambitious and deserving black Britons you need to know about. And here are five to get you started.
As we come to the end of this year’s Black History Month it is vital to remember acknowledging and appreciating black history should be a permanent state of awareness, not one confined to 31 days a year.
At the age of 84, Paul Stephenson has lived a life rich with experience. Fighting for his rights, Stephenson is a revered civil rights campaigner and activist for the British African-Caribbean community in Bristol.
In 1963, Stephenson led a boycott against the Bristol Omnibus Company who refused to employ Black or Asian drivers or conductors. Only after 60 days, supported by thousands of people, did the company revoke their rule.
The next year, in 1964, Stephenson refused to leave a bar after he was declined service due to the colour of his skin. He is pivotal in paving the way for the Race Relations Act (1995) - the first Legislation in the UK to address racial discrimination.
But not only was he monumental in British black history, he was a pioneer in becoming the first black social worker in Bristol.
Justin Fashanu, full name Justinus Soni Fashanu, was the first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee when he moved from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981. He was also the first professional footballer to come out as gay, nine years later, in 1990.
Fashanu was the son of a Nigerian barrister and a Guyanese nurse.
After his parents split up, he and his brother were sent to a Barnardo’s care home. From the age of six, he was raised in Norfolk and excelled in both boxing and football.
As a footballer Fashanu was spectacular, beginning his career as an apprentice in December 1978 and making a league debut one month later in January 1979. From 103 senior appearances for Norwich he scored 40 goals.
Fashanu tragically died by suicide in 1998 and was inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2020.
Michaela Ewuraba Boakye-Collinson, professionally known as Michaela Coel, is best known for her role in creating and starring in ‘Chewing Gum’ and ‘I May Destroy You’, for which she won a BAFTA Award for Best Female Comedy Performance and the British Academy Television Award for Best Actress in 2021.
Coel became the first black woman to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special.
Constantly breaking barriers, Coel was the only black pupil in her age cohort, and the first black woman in five years to enrol at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2009. Her self-written work constantly receives positive reviews.
Sir Trevor McDonald
Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Trevor McDonald, born George McDonald, is best known for his career as a news presenter with ITN. In fact, McDonald was the first black news anchor in the UK, and is one of the most respected figures in British broadcasting.
Moving to the UK in 1969, he worked for BBC radio and became a reporter for ITN in 1973, soon becoming a newscaster and “the face of The News at Ten”. By 1999, he was knighted by the Queen for his services to journalism, receiving an OBE seven years prior in 1992.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal, Patricia Scotland
Patricia Scotland, 66, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, PC QC, made history as the first woman to be the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Nations, taking office in 2016.
Born in Dominica and arriving in Britain at the age of two, Scotland attended university to study law before undertaking a political career in 1977. By 1991, at the age of 35, she was the first black female QC (Queen’s Counsel) with her political career rising.
In 1997, she earned her role as peer as Baroness Scotland of Asthal. She has won numerous awards and commendations for her work and services to law, social justice, government and International Affairs.
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