On Monday 7 October, members of the main school Head Girl team as well as the Head Boy and Head Girl from Sixth Form presented the Black History Month Assembly. This year the assembly focused on individuals and groups who played a role in fighting against racism and injustice in the UK. Most people are aware of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, but few people are aware of Harold Moody, Paul Stephenson and Olive Morris.
As early as 1931, organisations like the League of Coloured Peoples were fighting for black equality. Frustrated by the discrimination that led to him being unable to work as a doctor or even find somewhere to live, Dr. Harold Moody set up this organisation. Its primary aim was the fight to remove the ‘colour bar’ which meant that many employers barred black people from working for them.
However, over thirty years later, black people were still experiencing discrimination in the form of the ‘colour bar’. In 1963 a man called Paul Stephenson decided to take action against a colour bar in the Bristol bus company, which said that they would not employ blacks or Asians. Organised by Stephenson and the West Indian Development Council, the boycott lasted for 60 days, with thousands of people refusing to take the bus in solidarity against this injustice. The boycott was successful due to its large media coverage and the black community rejoiced when the bus company lifted the colour ban on August 28th 1963.
This was the same day that Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I have a dream’ speech.
Stephenson’s efforts have been hailed by historians as fundamental in the passing of the Race Relations Act and other legislation which outlawed discrimination based on race in work places and public places.
The tripling of Britain’s black population from 300,000 to 1 million from 1961 to 1964 led to increased racial and class tensions. In response, organisations and individuals, like Olive Morris and the Black Panthers, continued to fight for civil rights into the 70s and 80s, inspired by the likes of Stephenson. In 1975 Morris founded the Manchester Black Women’s Co-operative, which led to the founding of other women’s groups for Asian and black women in the UK. She died tragically at 27 from cancer, but her memory has inspired a generation of activists and advancements in civil rights.
Since these events, the position of black Britons has improved greatly. This is due to the fact that there are black people and communities who continue to fight against discrimination, just like Stephenson and Morris taught them. This celebration of black history is being done through education, through speaking out against injustices, and reclaiming British history as a history of all cultures. Think about what you can do this month, this week, or even today, which preserves equality and justice, and upholds the history of these individuals.
This week there was a range of events celebrating Black History Month in school, including an exhibition, Plaintain Day and a talent show.