Black History Month, which takes place in October in the UK, is a national celebration aimed at promoting and celebrating Black contributions to British society, while allowing us to foster a deeper understanding of Black History in general.
While Black culture and history should by no means be designated to just one month, it does provide an opportunity for everyone to come together and elevate the conversation further. We’ve made a commitment as a brand to keep the topic of anti-racism at the forefront all year round, but will be using October as a chance to celebrate and highlight Black history and achievements, while keeping the more difficult but important conversations going.
For those not aware of Black History Month, we thought it would be beneficial to start at the beginning and showcase how it came to be what it is today.
Black History Month originated in the US in the early 1900s and developed from National Negro History Week. Created by what was known then as the Association for the Study of Negro Life & History (ASNLH), the week was designed to inspire schools and communities nationwide to organise local celebrations, establish history clubs, and host performances and lectures.
These celebrations grew, and by the late 1960’s against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, the week developed into Black History Month. The then President, Gerald Ford, officially recognised Black History Month in 1976, asking the general public to, “seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout history”. A sentiment still very much relevant today.
Since then, every American President has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. February became the chosen month because of the birthdays of former US President, Abraham Lincoln, and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, fall within this month.
However, it wasn’t until 1987 that Black History Month was first launched in the UK by Ghananian-born Akyaaba Addai Sebo, a Special Projects Officer at the Greater London Council.
In an interview Akyaaba was asked what motivated him to bring the initiative over to the UK:
“I was stirred up in the mid-1980s by the identity crisis that Black children faced as some brazenly would not identify with Africa and shrank when called an African. A colleague came to work one morning broken hearted and in probing her why revealed to me in confidence that her seven year old son, who she had proudly and purposefully named Marcus, after Marcus Mosiah Garvey (a foremost Black nationalist leader), before going to bed, had asked her: “Mom, why can’t I be white?”
“In consoling this devastated Mother, I was prompted to go around asking questions about “identity” and to observe and talk to children more after school, in buses, parks, and in the playgrounds in the communities in some parts of London. I was awakened to the fact that even some Ghanaians tried to mimick being Afro-Caribbeans and some Afro-Caribbeans would take offense being referred to as “African”. A crisis of identity faced us squarely despite the Race Awareness campaigns of the Greater London Council (GLC) and the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).”
You can read the full interview with Akyaaba here.
October was chosen over February to celebrate Black History Month, as Akyaaba thought this would be the best time to engage children across the UK. The argument being that they are fresh from their summer holidays, don’t have exams to worry about, and the camaraderie is generally stronger.
Black History Month continues to be an important moment in the calendar, particularly as we push for better Black history education in schools, and a wider awareness and eradication of racism in the UK.
In honour of Black History Month, we have a series of themed sessions, events and content planned, aimed at both celebrating Black culture and helping to educate and build awareness amongst those around us.
While so many parts of Black history and culture impact and feature within 1Rebel, this is extremely evident when it comes to music. We rely on so many genres of Black music to bring our classes to life, and we fully admit that to date, we’ve not properly acknowledged its roots and how it came to be.
Keep your eyes peeled on our social channels throughout October, as we’ll be showcasing a different music genre every week and highlighting some of the key Black figures who played a role in its development.
We also have two panel talks coming up, designed to explore the topics around racism in more depth.
For more information and to see the incredible lineup of Black History Month Ride sessions, check out our events page here.