Black History Month

October is Black History Month for the UK, so this week we are taking a look at the importance of this month.

Black History Month is perhaps at its most prevalent since the 1960s. With a real breakdown in relations between African American communities and Police in the US and an increase in hate crimes here in the UK, it is important to reflect on meaning behind Black History Month.


So what is Black History Month?

Black History Month is a dedicated time which focuses on the people and events associated to Black History, in particular the communities around the world that have descended from the movement of African and Caribbean people during the transatlantic slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries.

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Most people will have heard the stories of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou, who are but a few of millions of Blacks who have suffered and endured discrimination. Indeed this month celebrates the bravery, talent and achievements of these individuals but also reminds us that racism and subsequent discrimination continues to be in our societies.

With a Scottish population that is 96% White according to government statistics, some may wonder what role Scotland plays in Black History Month.

It is perhaps often forgotten Scotland had a role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade with cotton and tobacco arriving on the West Coast to be manufactured and sold throughout the world boosting the Scottish economy. Ordinary Scots benefitted from employment in industries such as textiles and maritime. Skilled tradesmen such as carpenters were in high demand. The prosperity of the Slave Trade allowed former ordinary people to become wealthy powerful individuals.

In Glasgow alone we only have to look at street names such as Jamaica Street and Virginia Place to see the role Scotland played in the Slave Trade.  All this was achieved on the backs and lives of individuals who were kidnapped and forced to work in horrid conditions thousands of miles away.

With tobacco shipments coming into places like Port Glasgow many wealthy Ayrshire families even employed black servants that were brought over by slave owning companies. Ayrshire Archives hold records of correspondence with Ship Captains and wealthy families such as the Hamilton’s (1754) who owned 3 estates in Jamaica.

Throughout this period the ordinary person in Scotland had no concept of what life was like for Africans on plantations.  They did not think about where the tobacco in their pipe or the sugar in their tea came from. Only when Abolitionists brought back evidence and spoke about the cruelty endured by Africans, did people really begin to understand man’s inhumanity to man.  It is for this reason that we must commemorate Black History Month – while we may not see discrimination or racism in our daily lives for many it is their daily life.

In more recent history alongside the American Civil Rights movement, the UK also saw a movement for Black civil rights. This has continued even throughout 2016 with the Black Lives Matter Movement protesting earlier this year.

It is important to acknowledge and remember that the horrific and racist way in which many Black people throughout the world have been treated is not that far from our door step. In doing so, we learn to recognise and put a stop to discrimination, racism and general inequalities that people are facing.

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This year our HNC and NC Social Science students encouraged by lecturers Una Connell and Alison Gallagher, are sharing their investigations of key moments in and figures of Black History across the College in the form of posters and podcasts.  Thank you to all the students involved in this important work as by educating us of the past, we can work together for a better future where acceptance, tolerance and celebration of difference is the norm.

In the current social, political and economic time, it has become ever more important to raise awareness about attitudes and behaviours which are unacceptable.

Inequalities, discrimination, racism and any other forms of intolerance are not accepted or condoned here at Ayrshire College. Shortly we will be introducing our Respect Campaign to ensure all students and staff fully understand the policies of the College and to know who to speak to if they need help and support.

If you are a staff member or student you can visit the Equality and Inclusion Moodle page to view the ways in which Ayrshire College staff and students have marked Black History Month.

If you would like to learn more about Black History in relation to Ayrshire you can access information on Ayrshire Archives online.

The University College London website has a Legacy of British Slave Ownership database in which you can search locations and names to find out how much British families were paid to release their slaves during the 19th Century, when slavery was finally abolished (1833).

His story: growing up in Ayrshire

Watch Dougie Barnes, Employability and Engagement Officer at Ayrshire College, speak about his unique experiences of growing up in Ayrshire.

Black History Month – guest post

Kim Steele, History teacher at Doon Academy, has kindly written a guest blog to help the College mark Black History Month.

Kim has been working with the College’s Equality and Inclusion Team on ways to support the mainstreaming of equality in her school.

She advocates the rights of all, and champions’ equality, diversity and inclusion.

Her blog reflects on key figures and points in U.S. Black History and asks us to challenge any of our own prejudices in regards to race and ethnicity.


Black lives matter’ (2016) / ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ (1787).

The words may differ but the meaning is still the same.

It has been over 200 years since the abolition of the Slave Trade in Britain and 150 years since Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S., yet many black people are still fighting to be treated equally. Throughout these years there have been many key figures who have driven forward the Civil Rights cause in the U.S. despite vast differences on how to achieve this.

‘We shall overcome’ (1962)

In one corner we had the peaceful movement. Civil disobedience was the order of the day, the media was peppered with images of unarmed protesters male, female and child alike being attacked by police dogs, cattle prods and water cannons. At the forefront of this was Martin Luther King Jr.

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From the March on Washington where he delivered his ‘I had a dream speech’ to those in Birmingham and Selma, Martin Luther King Jr. campaigned passionately for Black Civil Rights. He encouraged black people in the Southern States to ignore the Jim Crow laws that segregated them from white people. He understood the needs of this community and used the media to highlight this to the rest of the nation.

For the first time, people in the North became aware of how dangerous life was for black people in the South. All for the price of being treated as an equal human being – a privilege which white people were born into but black people had to fight for.

‘Black Power’ (1966)

 In the other corner we had the more extreme groups who encouraged black people to fend for themselves – the very opposite of the turn the other cheek approach. Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and Stokely Carmichael, each encouraged black people to take what was seen as rightfully theirs.

“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality and justice or anything.

If you’re a man, take it.”

                                                                                                                                    Malcolm X

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While the media was a great tool for Martin Luther King Jr., the opposite could be said for these individuals and groups – no one wanted to print stories of how black communities were healing the wounds white people had inflicted upon them. The Black Panthers set up Breakfast Clubs for children, provided free medical clinics and addiction rehabilitation. These were the prevalent issues of the 1960s and are still, arguably, the case today.

‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM)

The Black Lives Matter movement brings us back to the modern day – with the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a Neighbourhood Watch Captain, in 2012.

BLM is a movement created in response when Zimmerman was found Not Guilty of killing Trayvon. The movement really picked up pace in 2014 when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white Police Officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Riots erupted in Ferguson and sparked renewed racial concerns echoing those in Detroit, Watts and Birmingham almost 60 years ago – tensions between black communities and the Police Force stretched to breaking point with senseless deaths on all sides.

So the questions are obvious – despite changes in the law to promote equality on all fronts, why are people still trying to supress each other on the basis of race? How can a persons’ skin colour determine the quality of life they will lead or the chances they will have in life?

This is why Black History Month is important. We cannot ignore the struggles and sacrifices individuals have endured for the sake of equality. Centuries have passed and black people are still suffering because they were not, ultimately, born white. We must continue to tackle racism and prejudice at every level.

While Martin Luther Jr. had a dream, I have a wish that one day we will no longer have a cause to fight for equality on any level. We all will simply just be. Sadly, we are not there.

Yet.

I would like to add a closing thought – remember that day you wore your top outside in and nobody noticed because it looked the same? Imagine we were to do the same with our skin, would we still have the very same racial issues as we do now?

Visit the Equality and Inclusion Moodle page for several student podcasts on key figures of Black History.