Here's why the UK celebrates Black History Month in October

As Black History Month celebrations kick off in the UK, here’s everything you need to know about this initiative.

It’s Black History Month - here's why we celebrate in October
© Claflin University / GETTYIMAGES
It’s Black History Month - here's why we celebrate in October

For the next 4 weeks, Black History Month will be celebrated all over the UK. People will learn about Black History, celebrate everything that it stands for, and raise important conversations about ethnicity and identity.

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Black History commemorations originated in the US, where they celebrate this annual tradition in February. So why have we gone for October in the UK? Here’s everything you need to know about Black History month and the history behind this initiative.

How did Black History Month start?

The idea started in the US with a historian called Carter G Woodson. He set out to disprove claims that ‘the n**ro has no history’. So, he founded the Association for the Study of N**ro Life and History in 1915, which educated people about black history and encouraged the preservation of ‘n**ro history’.

In February 1926, he founded N**ro History Week. In 1969, after the civil rights movement had had a massive impact on America, this was extended to a whole month. It’s celebrated in February because the birthdays of former president Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass fall during that month.

Why is Black History Month celebrated in October in the UK?

Black History Month was introduced to the UK by Ghanaian-born Akyaaba Addai Sebo, who was a special projects officer at the Greater London Council. He visited America and brought the tradition home with him - Black History Month was founded in the UK in 1987.

There are said to be three reasons for celebrating it in October. Firstly, October is when African chiefs and leaders come together to discuss any issues they may have with each other. Akyaaba reportedly chose this month as a nod to this, thereby linking the event to black history's roots in Africa.

Secondly, Black History Month was founded in the UK on the 150th anniversary of Caribbean emancipation. And thirdly, it was thought that placing the month at the beginning of the school year would give black children a sense of pride and encourage others to learn about black history.

Black History Month this year

This year, the UK will celebrate with a wide range of events from black culture markets and food events to dance shows and talks. In Battersea, there’s even a drop-in centre run by a family historian where you can trace your African Caribbean heritage.

The month-long celebration has faced some criticism as people find it patronising to assign just one month to awareness of this topic. The legendary actor Morgan Freeman has been vocal about this in America - he claims it is a ‘ridiculous’ idea:

I don't want a Black History Month… Black history is American history.

However, many others take it as a great opportunity to celebrate black culture and learn about black history and its impact on today’s world. This year’s theme is ‘Saluting Our Sisters’ and it ‘pays homage to black women who had contributions ignored, ideas appropriated, and voices silenced’.

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