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Every year Black History Month (BHM) is there to teach people more about black history, cultures, heritage as well as promoting information about positive contributions to society from black communities. In this article, however we will be looking at inspirational black people that made history with their beliefs and what impact they had on the world. Throughout the month more influential people will be added. So without further ado;

Let's start with the first US African-American congresswoman;

Shirley Chisholm...

...Who was she? Shirley Chisholm is known for becoming the first black congresswoman in 1968 and was in the House of Representatives. She represented New York State serving a long seven terms. In 1972, she ran for presidency whilst being the first African-American to do so. She was well known for fighting for educational opportunities and social justice. When she joined the House of Representatives she was initially put onto the forestry committee, moving onto the Veteran's Committee (after demanding reassignment) and eventually going onto the Education and Labour committee.

From then she became one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus (1969) and promoted minority education and employment opportunities throughout her time in congress. When she announced her bid for presidency, she said these inspirational words:

I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman and I am equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people, and my presence before you now symbolises a new era in American political history.

Although she was unfortunately not successful in winning her presidential campaign, she did inspire many people!

The next person we will be talking about is one woman that said no to injustice as she was going home one day;

Rosa Parks...

...Who was she? Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist that refused to give up her seat in 1955. This action was seen as the catalyst that ignited the civil rights movement in the United States. Prior to the history-making event that began the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks was  encouraged to Raymond Parks (her husband) to go back to school and earn her diploma. Soon after she worked as a tailor (seamstress at the time). She became a member of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People in 1943; she was the NAACP's secretary until 1956.

Rosa Parks was arrested on 1st December 1955 for ignoring the bus driver's demands (James F. Blake) to give up her seat in the 'coloured section' to a white passenger, as the 'whites-only section' was full. At the time, this was in violation of the racial segregation laws in the U.S. The NAACP believed Rosa Parks was the best person to challenge her court case for civil disobedience in Alabama. Rosa Parks was not the first person to resist bus segregation, but she made the biggest impact! Even though this act was honoured, she was fired from her job and received many death threats, even years afterwards.

Through her status in the community and her determination, she became a controversial figure in the black community. Her actions was the driving force that inspired the black community of Alabama to start the 'Montgomery bus boycott' (a political/social campaign against the racial segregation policy of public transport).

Because of here willingness, act of defiance and the bus boycott she was seen as a very influential figure in the Civil Rights Movement where she began to work with E.D Nixon (president of the local NAACP chapter) and Martin Luther King Jr.

After her death in 2005 she was able to lie in honour in the Capitol Rotunda (becoming the first woman to do so). From then people celebrate Rosa Parks Day for her hard work making history. 

The person we are talking about today is considered to be the first professional black footballer in the world.

Arthur Wharton...

...Who was he? Arthur Wharton, though not the first black player (think Robert Walker of Queen's Park) he was the first to play football at the professional level in the Football League. He made his name known playing for Darlington as a goalkeeper.

Many people have not heard of Arthur Wharton, but his career was remarkable. Wharton was born in 1865 in Jamestown, Gold Coast (you may know this Accra, Ghana now). At 19 years old, in 1882 Wharton moved to England, originally to train as a Methodist missionary but he quickly abandoned that to become an athlete instead. He proved to be exceptional in many sports including cricket, cycling, football and sprinting - of which he hit the world record of 10 seconds during the 100-yard sprint.

During his early football career, he started as an amateur goalkeeper for Darlington. It did not take long for his talents to be noticed as Preston North End spotted Wharton after playing against them. Though originally he joined them as an amateur goalkeeper he was the main part of the team in reaching the FA Cup semi-finals.

Reading this you may find it strange that he was a goalkeeper as his pace was amazing (because of his athletic background) but at the time it was allowed for the goalkeeper to plat anywhere in his half of the field. Arthur was regarded as a great footballer because of his fast and aggressive play. He has played for a number of teams throughout his life including Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham Town, Stalybridge Rovers, Ashton North End and finally Stockport County. Rotherham Town was the first team to sign him playing football at a professional level. 

Many fans loved watching him play, but unfortunately, due to the period he was constantly undermined due to the colour of his skin. That never kept him back though; he kept playing, proving to everyone he was just as good if not better footballer than most. When he died in 1930 at the age of 65 he was buried in an unmarked grave (it now has been replaced with a proper headstone) but because of all his sports connections there was a large turnout.

In 2003, Wharton was inducted into the English Hall of Fame because of the impact he had on the game. He has since had three statues dedicated to him, in Darlington, Rotherham and a small statue on permanent display at the FIFA Headquarters.

Wharton had a great legacy, because of the history he made on football, and opened the way for many other black people to shine through and make themselves known in the game.

Next, we are talking about a black nationalist leading the resistance to South Africa's policy of apartheid and the first black president of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela...

...Who was he? Nelson Mandela was known for his negotiations with F.W. de Klerk, helping to end South Africa's apartheid system and helped peacefully move the country to a non-racial democracy.

In his early life, he was born into the Madiba clan of the Tembu people in which his father was the Chief. When Mandela's father died he was raised by a regent of the Tembu. However when Mandela was old enough he went down the path of law and education to become a lawyer instead of following his claim to chieftainship. Mandela studied law at the University of Witwatersrand. Later on in 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress (aka the ANC), a black liberation group. Initially he became the leader of the youth group but as the years went by he held various leadership titles. Through his work, he helped revitalise the ANC and oppose the apartheid policies.

7 years after joining the ANC, Mandela established the first black law practise along with his fellow ANC leader Oliver Tambo where they specialised in cases resulting from the apartheid system. It was then when Mandela launched a campaign against South Africa's Pass laws, During this campaign, he travelled around the country providing support for nonviolent means of protest against the apartheid system. At the time it was required for "non-whites" to carry a pass in 'restricted' areas (places reserved for the white population) in order to justify their presence in those areas.

Throughout the years authorities became an increasing problem for Mandela. This was because the government started banning Mandela from giving speeches, travelling and teaching people his views. Moving into 1960 many events occurred in South Africa, for example with police violence and ultimately the banning of  the ANC. Due to these events Mandela abandoned his nonviolent approach for change and decided to create the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), this was the name of the military wing of the ANC.

After a few years of training (guerrilla warfare & sabotage) to fight the South African government in Algeria, Mandela made his return. However, later in the year he was arrested at a road block. The sentence was initially for 5 years, but he was tried for treason, violent conspiracy and sabotage instead at the infamous Rivonia Trial. In 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and only just narrowly escaping the death penalty.

It was not until 1990 where the president de Klerk released Mandela from prison. Shortly after his release Mandela became deputy president of the ANC, a year afterwards he became the president of the party. Along with negotiations with de Klerk, Mandela managed to end the apartheid system and brought about a peaceful transition to a non-racial democracy in South Africa. From then in 1994 South Africa's first election vote for Nelson Mandela to be south Africa's President.

Though Mandela did not stay for a second term and retired from politics, Mandela became a symbol of peace, reconciliation and social justice.

Today we will be talking about one of the most prominent human rights leaders of the 19th Century; he was at the forefront of the abolition movement within the U.S., as well as the first black citizen to hold high rank within the U.S. Government.

Frederick Douglas...

...Who was he? Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 and has an interesting early life. At a young age he was separated from his parents (his mother was a slave and he did not know his white father) and lived with his grandmother until her was separated from her as well as sent to Baltimore to be a house servant of the Hugh Auld household. During his time there, Auld's wife taught him to read (against state law) and when the owner of the household found out he told Douglass learning would not make him a suitable slave. From then her took to the streets to get an education from the help of other schoolboys.

 When Auld died he was forced to work back onto the plantation. Throughout the years he was moved from job to job until her finally fled in 1838 and avoided the slave hunters by changing his name to Douglass (the name he was born under was Frederick Bailey) then worked as a labourer.

It was not until 1941 where Douglass was asked to share his feelings and experiences at an antislavery convention that he surprised many people there. This was due to his exquisite remarks that were poignant and eloquent, that it gave him a new change at as a speaker/agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery society. His new role came with lots of consequences in the form of mockery, insults and attacks. However, Douglass stuck to his beliefs and not once turned away.

As Douglass' reputation grew, he had his fair share of sceptics that did not believe in him being a slave because of his education and articulate way of speaking. This inspired Douglass to write an autobiography (Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, now a famous piece of American literature) using his real name, his writings was also a great inside to slavery for a bondman's stand point. Because of using his real name in the book, he had to flee to do a speaking tour in England and Ireland. This helped him make many new allies towards the abolition movement.

After some time Douglass had built up many funds to buy his freedom. He even managed to start his own newspaper publication called, the North Star, its motto was "Right is of no sex - Truth is of no colour - God is the father of us all, and we are brethren". Going forward Douglass sought even more allies in William Lloyd Garrison and James G. Birney. During the Civil war Douglass was a consultant to President Abraham Lincoln, advising him former slaves should be armed and ready for fighting against slavery, it would send a powerful message.

In all my interviews with Mr. Lincoln, I was impressed with his entire freedom from prejudice against the coloured face.

                                                                                                                                        - Douglass on Abraham Lincoln.

Douglass fought for full civil rights throughout the Reconstruction (Period after the civil war when they readdressed laws on slavery etc.) and he showed full support for the women's rights movement also. After Reconstruction Douglass became the secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, in the District of Columbia he was a marshal, then a recorder of deeds then finally he became the first black U.S. minister and consul general to Haiti.

From slavery to U.S. minister, he never gave up his beliefs belong the way and shown through education that black people was to be treated the same as everyone else as skin colour does not matter.

This time we will be talking about a popular figure during the civil rights movement who was known for being a human rights activist and for being a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam (an African-American political and new religious group).

Malcolm X...

...Who was he? Before he was known as Malcolm X he was known as Malcolm Little. He had a hard youth growing up; Malcolm's  father was killed after being hit by a car. Because his family was so poor, his mother was using dandelion greens to feed Malcolm and his siblings, soon after his mother was taken to an insane asylum. This resulted in Malcolm and his family being split up between foster homes and family members. Despite this Malcolm was exceptional in school, but that was up until 8th grade (or Year 9 for comparison in the UK) when teachers told him that he should be a carpenter and not his original goal to be a lawyer.

From then he dropped his education and began having a more rebellious streak, constantly in and out of juvenile homes and getting involved in criminal activities. He gained an infamous reputation with his life of crime, becoming known as "Detroit Red" and was a leader of his own gang.

However, he was arrested and thrown into prison for robbery for 6 years, while inside prison he converted and eventually lead him to join the Nation of Islam. He was also influenced to join the cause after having discussions with his brother Reginald who was incarcerated with Malcolm at the time. In keeping with the Nation's beliefs, Malcolm quit smoking and decided not to eat pork as was required of him. From then he had a fierce determination for an education, he would spend most of his time reading books in the prison library - and even going as far as memorising the dictionary to expand his repertoire of vocabulary. To even further learn Malcolm would attend debate classes.

Going forward, after joining the Nation he did away with his surname "Little" as the Nation considered family names to have come from white slaveholders, as a replacement his last name became an "X". Thus the well-known name "Malcolm X" was born. Once he was released from prison he met with the leader of the Nation of Islam known as Elijah Muhammad and began setting up then organising temples throughout a few cities in America, some of which included New York and Philadelphia. It was Malcolm that created the Nation's newspaper, known as "Muhammad speaks". Malcolm wanted male members of the Nation to sell newspapers to recruit and fundraise.

Malcolm X also criticised Martin Luther King Jr himself because of his mainstream civil rights movement that encouraged nonviolence and peaceful protests. Malcolm believes black identity and independence was at stake. His beliefs differed from MLK's as king was less radical. Malcolm even encourages his followers to "defend themselves by any means necessary". Malcolm was one of the major people to get people to refer to African-Americans to "black" and "Afro-American". In addition to this he was also one of the minds behind the Black Power movement.

As time passed Malcolm and Muhammed did not see eye to eye as Malcolm's views were extremely different from the Nation's beliefs, along with  some controversial statements, he was put on a 90 day silence, forever ruining their friendship. In the end having Malcolm leave the Nation. From then on he would found various organisations and fight for the rights of African-Americans, all his work however increased tensions with the Nation, to the point that Malcolm was assassinated by three of its members.

Through all of his work and ideas, Malcolm X popularised the values of independence among the African-American community during the civil rights movements.

Today we will be talking about a Black Nationalist who was among the leaders of the Pan-Africanism movement as well as created some of the first important Black Nationalist movements.

Marcus Garvey...

...Who was he? Garvey was born in Jamaica and despite going to school there most of his early education was self-taught until her was 14 years old. It was in school where Garvey experienced racism, as most of his teachers were white. He left school when he turned 14 and became and apprentice in a print shop, later joined the labour union for the printing tradesmen. This helped him learn skills and would eventually lay the groundwork for his activism days.

He moved to Central America but was not there long before moving to London. It was in England where he had studied law and philosophy. During this time, Garvey began working for a Pan-Africanism newspaper that also led debates. After spending 2 years in England, building his education, Garvey decided to create the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) an organisation to work for the advancement for the people of African ancestry around the world as well as building a black-governed nation in Africa. 

Over the years, Garvey travelled to America where he ended up living in New York, once again working in a print shop to scrap by. It was in St. Mark's Church in New York where Garvey made his first speech, before going on a speaking tour to 38 different cities. In 1920, he even got himself elected as Africa's "Provisional President". 

Garvey has said many great speeches over his life time for example:

We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind.

                             - Marcus Garvey at Menelik Hall in Sydney. 

This quote in particular inspired people like Bob Marley to use it in his "Redemption Song".

Though many people did not follow Garvey's Legacy, many understood his message of black people being equal to any white persons and that (using the phrase Garvey coined) "Black is Beautiful".

We will be learning about a major movement in England 1963 known as the Bristol Bus Boycott led by this civil rights campaigner due to the discrimination from the Bristol Omnibus Company.

Paul Stephenson OBE...

...Who was he? Stephenson was an activist and a campaigner for the civil rights of the British African-Caribbean community. Though his campaign for civil rights inspired and paved the way for the very first Race Regulations Act, his work was primarily focused in the Bristol area. His early education was good even though throughout secondary school he was the only black student. He went on to serving the RAF for 7 years before earning a diploma and moving to Bristol, becoming the city's first black social worker.

It was in 1955 where the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWI) had passed the "people of colour should not be employed as bus crews" by the British Omnibus Company. In response to this members of the West Indian community created the West Indian Development Council (WIDC) against discrimination. Due to Stephenson being well educated and quite articulate, he became the spokesperson for the Council.

Due to the recent actions of Rose Parks, Stephenson organised a huge bus boycott throughout Bristol and the day after it was planned no West Indians and the many of the white community that supported them used the buses. Even after this, the TGWU was still adamant with the "colour bar" (despite apparently opposing the apartheid system), so this led to many protesters, both black and white, to stand outside of the Bristol Omnibus Company and boycott their service.

After many months of back and forth with Stephenson (along with other members of the West Indian Development Council), the bus company announced there will be no more discrimination within the bus company. Coincidently this amazing news landed on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech. In September of the same year a Sikh known as Raghibir Singh became Bristol's first non-white bus conductor.

For his part in organising the Bristol Bus Boycott Movement, Paul Stephenson was awarded an OBE along with a few other members of the WIDC.

This time we will be talking about England's first black Olympic star athlete that won two medals during the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.

John 'Jack' London...

...Who was he? Jack London was a man of many talents, from winning two medals in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics to becoming an entertainer and movie star in his later years, even being recognised as a professional pianist.

Jack was born in Guyana (known as British Guiana back then) 1905, but very early into his childhood he was moved to London. That was where Jack joined a club called Polytechnic Harriers and was trained under the legendary coach, Sam Mussabini known for training athletes that would go on to bring back 11 medals for England. Jack would go on to be the captain of the club in 1922.

Jack London would go on to compete against France at Stamford Bridge; He ran the 100 metres in 10.7 seconds, that was phenomenal for the time. Jack would continue to win competitions in Paris for the 100m and 200m sprints, gaining himself plenty of recognition. In 1928, Jack found himself apart of the English athletics team competing in the 100-metre sprint and the 4x100 metre sprint relay. From these events, Jack received a Silver Medal for the 100m sprint with a record of 10.6 seconds, just behind Canada. For the Relay, Jack and his team won themselves a Bronze medal being beat out by USA and Germany. This achievement noted Jack to be the very first black Olympic star for England. On top of that he was an early adopter for the starting blocks (as opposed to digging holes in the ground).

Jack was the first British sprinter to win the Amateur Athletic Association's 100-yard title since 1924. During this period, he was one of the best High Jumpers in England at the time. Due to a leg injury, Jack's career was cut short which meant he had to retire, especially after he was not selected for the Summer Olympics.

Jack London went on to be an entertainer, as a professional pianist and even was in the musical Cavalcade. He appeared in an old comedy movie called Old Bones of the River. In his later life, Jack worked as a porter in St Pancras Hospital.

Bonus fact!

Did you know that the earliest recorded black person in England after the roman period was a man called John Blanke? He was a trumpeter for both King Henry VII and Henry VIII (the latter of which he managed to get a pay increase from according to old treasure records).

From the Westminster Tournament Roll, depicting John Blanke amongst the images

To finish off the month we will be talking about one of the most iconic black civil rights activists, known for his famous speech's and ending legal segregation of African Americans in the South. His life had many inspiring moments and we will be covering many of them!

Martin Luther King Jr....

...Who was he? Martin Luther King Jr. in his early life was born into a middle-class, college educated family that had a tradition of both his grandfather and father being Baptist ministers, King would go on to follow that tradition. The area he was raised in has some of the most prosperous black businesses and churches within the country. Despite having a good education and had a secure upbringing compared to others, King still received prejudice, which was extremely common in the South. This was massively due to the legal segregation laws the South had.

When King was in his teens, he enrolled into a college for a special wartime program in 1944 but before starting, he went up North for the summer to Connecticut. It was here where King first experienced how the races peacefully mixed and lived amongst one another. In a letter to his parents he noted that he was surprised how both races could go to the same church and that he could eat anywhere, despite his colour. This kick started Kings anger towards racial segregation. Despite King studying medicine and law he decided to give it up to join the ministry, this was partly because his father had urged him to do so. King learned from the Morehouse college president Benjamin Mays that was dedicated to fighting racial inequality - King learned a great deal under him until he graduated in 1948.

Throughout the years after King became interested in Gandhi's teachings of nonviolence and became quite skilled in his oratorical skills, even more so that he became the president of the Crozer Theological Seminary. This was no mean feat, as it was primarily white students in a Southern college.

In 1955, King was chosen to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was kick started by Rosa Parks (See our piece on her). His first speech to the bus boycott group inspired them and his great personality introduced the country to a new person they could rely on. After the successful Montgomery protests King realised that there needs to be more mass movements. That is when he created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Through the SCLC King went around the country lecturing about racial issues with religion along with other civil rights leaders. King even spread Gandhi's teachings with peaceful noncompliance.

King and his family would move back to Atlanta where he would support sit in demonstrations with the local black college students. Later on in the year he was arrested for protesting segregation at a lunch counter along with 33 other people. Despite charges being dropped King was still sent to prison, this gained nationwide concern for his safety, even the would be President, John F. Kennedy fought to get him out - and was successful.

Through the early 60s, Kings popularity skyrocketed and caught the attention of many news media outlets, King knew this was a great opportunity because of the new social interest, and that would be television. King could get his views across the whole country, encouraging others to take part in nonviolent protests gaining both black and white followers alike. Through his campaign to end segregation  King was once again arrested along with many followers, including hundreds of school children. It did not slow him down however; King sent many letters from prison, enforcing his non-violent stance, stating he wants negotiation but it is constantly refused so the protests are paving the way for that to happen. 

Towards the end of the campaign, King, along with other civil rights leaders organised the historic March on Washington to get equal rights and justice for all. This was when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic speech 'I have a dream':

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation."

- Martin Luther King Jr. (Click here for full speech)

Because of King's work, along with other supporters in 1964 the Civil Rights Act was created outlawing discrimination in public facilities and in employment. The year finished off with another big celebration with King winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

King would then go on to lead another protest, which resulted in the Voting Rights Act allowing for African Americans to vote.

King brought about many social changes for America, getting rid of segregation and inspiring others to fight for their beliefs through nonviolence.

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