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Friday 1st October was the start of Black History Month, an important time of year to look back at inspiring figures that shook communities, nations and even the world with the values they believed in. This article will be talking about some of the most influential people in black history: what they did and how they changed the communities around them.


To start off this month let's take a look at a woman that said "NO!" to injustice as she was on her way home, that person being...

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 by Raymond Parks (Husband) to go back to school and earn her diploma. Soon after she worked as a seamstress once going through school. It did not take long before she became a member of the Montgomery chapters of the National Associations for the Advancement of Coloured People in the 1943; she was the NAACP's secretary until 1956

On 1st December 1955, Rose Parks was arrested for ignoring the Bus Driver's demands to give up her seat in the 'coloured section' to a white passengers, as the 'whites-only section' was full. This was when Rose Parks confidently said "No!". 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 action was honoured, she was fired from her job and received many death threats, even years afterwards in fact.

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

Because of her willingness, act of defiance and the bus boycott - Rosa Parks was seen as a very influential figure in the Civil Rights Movement. From there she would work with E.D Nixon and Martin Luther King Jr.

After her death in 2005, she was able to rest in honour at the Capitol Rotunda (becoming the first woman to do so). From that point onwards, communities would start to celebrate Rosa Parks Day for her history defining actions.


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

Known for his negotiations with F.W. de Klerk, helping to end South Africa's apartheid system and peacefully moved 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 his father died, it was naturally Mandela's role to step up and claim his chieftainship. However, he did not and sought a different path. As soon as Mandela was old enough he chose to go down the path of law and education to become a lawyer, going on to study at the University of Witwatersrand.

In 1944, Mandela would join the African National Congress (ANC) a black liberation group where initially he would become the leader of the youth group but as the years went by he would go on to hold various leadership titles throughout the ANC. It was through Mandela's work the revitalised the ANC and opposed 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 from issues 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 due to the government banning Mandela from giving speeches, travelling and teaching his values. Moving onto 1960 many events occurred in South Africa, for example with police violence and ultimately the banning of the ANC.

Due to these motion of events, Mandela was forced to abandon his nonviolent approach for change deciding to establish the Umkhonto we Size (Spear of the Nation), 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, when he was trying to pass through a roadblock later in the year, Mandela was arrested.

The initial sentence was for 5 years - but Mandela was tried for treason, violent conspiracy and sabotage instead during the infamous Rivonia Trial Eventually in 1964, Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment just narrowly escaping the death penalty.

It was not until 1990 where the president de Klerk release Mandela from prison. Shortly after his release, Mandela became the deputy president of the ANC - the following year Mandela would rise to be the president of the ANC. Along with de Klerk, Mandela had negotiations to end the apartheid system and brought about a peaceful transition to a non-racial democracy in South Africa. In 1994, South Africa held its first election vote Nelson Mandela to become South Africa's first black president.

Though Mandela did not stay for a second term and retired from politics, Mandela became a symbol of peace, reconciliation and social justice. On 5th December 2013, Nelson Mandela passed away, his funeral was attended by world leaders to pay respects to this inspirational human being.

Bonus fact!

Did you know the term 'Mandela effect' was named that because a large number of people actually believed he died in prison - which was not true. This phenomena itself is when a large group of people remember something that is not true.


Another influential person in US history, becoming the first black woman to run for presidency and congresswoman...

Shirley Chisholm

Chisholm is known for becoming the first black congresswoman in 1968 as well as being a member of the House of Representative. She represented New York State serving a long seven terms.

 In 1972, she ran for presidency whilst becoming well known for fighting for educational opportunities and social justice. Upon joining the House of Representative she was initially put onto the forestry committee, moving onto the Veteran's Committee (after demanding reassignment) and finally going onto the Education and Labour committee. From then she became one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus, promoting minority education and employment opportunities throughout her time in congress.

When Chisholm 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.

-Shirley Chisholm. 

Although she was not successful in winning her campaign, she did inspire many people to come after her time.


Moving on from Chisholm and onto one of the most prominent human right's 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 a high rank within the U.S. Government...

Frederick Douglas

Douglas was born in 1818 and had an interesting early life, At a young age, Douglas was separated from his parents, a slave mother and a white father, and lived with his grandmother until Douglas was taken from her and sent to Baltimore to be a house servant of the Hugh Auld household.

During Frederick's time there he was, though against state law, taught how to read by Auld's wife. Upon the master of the house, discovering Douglas's passion to read was talk that learning would not make him a suitable slave. From then he took to the streets to get an education from the help of other schoolchildren. Auld passing away meant Douglas was forced to work back onto the plantation and then moved from job to job.

Deciding he had enough of the slave life, Douglas finally fled in 1838, managing to avoid the slave hunters by changing his name from Frederick Bailey to the now know Frederick Douglas and began working as a labourer.

It was not until 1841 where Douglas was asked to share his feelings and experiences at an antislavery convention, this was was a turning point for him as many people were surprised by Frederick's exquisite remarks that were poignant and eloquent. This gave him a new change as a speaker/agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery society.

His new role was not without consequences; Douglas frequently was bombarded with mockery, insults and attacks. However, through all of this he stuck to his beliefs and not once turned away. As Douglas's reputation grew, he had his fair share of sceptics that did not believe that he was once a slave. Mostly due to his education and articulate way of speaking.

This inspired Douglas to write an autobiography (Life and Times of Frederick Douglas - becoming a famous piece of American literature.) using his real name, his writings also a great insight to slavery from a bondman's stand point. Because Douglas's book included his real name, he had to flee to England and Ireland where he would go on a speaking tour - assisting him in making more allies towards the abolition movement.

After some time, Douglas had built up many funds to buy his freedom and 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 Douglas became a consultant to President Abraham Lincoln, advising him former slaves should not 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.

-Douglas on Abraham Lincoln

Douglas fought for full civil rights throughout the Reconstruction (a 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, Douglas became the secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, in the district. There he was a marshal, then 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 belief that black people are to be treated the same as everyone else as skin colour does not matter.


This person is considered the first professional black footballer in the world...

Arthur Wharton

Though not the first black player, Wharton was the first to play football at a professional level in the Football league - making a name for himself as Darlington's goalkeeper.

It would be no surprise if you have not heard of Arthur Wharton, but his career was remarkable. Wharton was born in 1865 in Jamestown, Gold Coast. At 19 years old, Wharton had 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 at 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. Originally, he joined them as an amateur goal keeping, he quickly was a main part of the team and one of the main reasons for them reaching the FA Cup semi-finals.

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

Many fans loved watching him play, but unfortunately, due to the time he was undermined constantly due to the colour of his skin. That never kept Wharton back though; he kept playing, proving to everyone that he was just as good, if not better, footballer then 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 has 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.


Moving on we will be looking into 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

Garvey was born in Jamaica and despite going to school there, most of his early education was self-taught until he 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 an 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 Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), 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 scape by. It was in St. Mark's Church in New York where Garvey made his first speech, before going on a speaking tour in 38 different cities. In 1920, he even got himself elected as Africa's "Provisional President".

Over the course of his life Garvey has made many speeches to a vast number of people, this is a quote from one:

We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, no one 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

His speeches inspired many; Bob Marley even used this in his 'redemption song'. Though many understood the message, black people being equal to any white persons and that (using Garvey's coined phrase) "Black is Beautiful".


This person was a popular figure during the civil rights movement known for being a human rights activist and a spokes person for the Nation of Islam. That person was...

Malcolm X

Malcolm's original name was Malcolm Little. He had a hard youth growing up; Malcolm's father was killed after being hit by a car. Because his family was poor, his mother was using dandelion greens to feed Malcolm and his siblings. That was until his mother was taken into an insane asylum. This resulted in Malcom and his family being split up between foster homes and family members. Despite this Malcom 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 become a carpenter and not his original goal to be a lawyer.

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

However, Malcolm was arrested and thrown into prison for robbery for 6 years. While inside prison Malcolm converted to is Islam 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 at the time along side Malcolm.

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 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 learn even further, Malcolm would attend debate classes to expand upon his knowledge, putting into practise the necessary skills needed for the future.

Going forward, Malcolm would do away with his surname "Little" after joining the Nation. This was because the nation considered family names to have come from white slaveholders, as a replacement Malcolm would replace "Little" with an "X". Bringing to life the well-known name "Malcolm X". Once Malcolm had been released from prison, he met with the leader of the Nation of Islam known as Elijah Muhammad and began setting up temples throughout a few cities in America, some of which included New York and Philadelphia. Malcolm created the Nation's newspaper, known as "Muhammad speaks". As per Malcolm's request, he wanted the male members to focus on selling the newspapers in an effort to recruit and fundraise.

Malcolm X was known to criticise Martin Luther King Jr. because of his mainstream civil rights movement that encouraged nonviolence and peaceful protests. Malcolm believed that black identity and independence was at stake. It was easy to see that Malcolm had radical views on acting on his beliefs as compared  to the more peaceful actions of MLK Jr. Malcolm even encouraged his followers to "defend themselves by any means necessary". Malcolm was one of the major people to get the population to refer to African-Americans to "black" and "Afro-American". In addition, Malcolm is also one of the minds behind the Black Power movement.

As time passed Malcolm and Muhammed did not see eye to eye, as Malcom's views were extremely different from the Nation of Islam's beliefs, along with controversial statements, Malcolm was put on a 90-day silence, forever ruining their friendship. In the end, having Malcolm leave the Nation of Islam.

From then, he would found various organisations and fight for the rights of African-Americans; all his work however increased tensions with the Nation of Islam. To the point 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 movement.


In 1963, civil rights campaigner led the famous Bristol Bus Boycott  in response to the discrimination from the Bristol Omnibus Company. The campaigner was...

Paul Stephenson OBE.

Stephenson was an activist and 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 Regulation Act, his work was primarily in the Bristol Area.

Stephenson's early education was good, even though throughout secondary school he was the only black student. He went on to serving in 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, the 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 of the Council.

Due to the recent actions of Rosa Parks, Stephenson organised a huge bus boycott throughout Bristol and the following day, it was planned that no West Indians (including many of the white community that supported the cause) would use the buses. Even after this however, the TGWU was still adamant with the colour bar (despite their previous statements saying they were opposed to the apartheid system - apparently).

This, in turn, eventually led many protesters (both black and white) to stand outside of the Bristol Omnibus Company and boycott the 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 Martin Luther King Jr. made his "I have a dream" speech. In September of the same year a Sikh, Raghibir Singh, became Bristol's first non-white bus conductor.

The following year Stephenson would go on to face more prejudice at a Bristol Pub where the bar manager had reportedly been told, "We don't want you black people in here - you are a nuisance" by the pubs manager. This lead to Stephenson to be arrested because his refusal to leave. The case was later dropped and the pub's manager dismissed.

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.


Being in the Olympics is an amazing opportunity and winning medals is even better, this time we will take a look at England's first black Olympic medallist, winning 2 medals during the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.

John 'Jack' London

Jack was born in the now named  Guyana (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.

London would go on to compete against France at Stamford Bridge; He ran the 100 metres in 10.7 seconds, which was phenomenal for the time. Jack would continue to win competitions in Paris in the 100m and 200m sprints, gaining himself plenty of recognition. In 1928, Jack found himself apart of the English athletics team competing in the 100m sprint and the 4x100m sprint relay.

From these events, Jack received a Silver Medal for the 100m sprint with a record of 10. 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 medallist 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 Athletics 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 shortened, which meant he had to retire, especially since he wasn't 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 in the River. In his later life, Jack worked as a porter in St. Pancras Hospital.



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

This person was of course...

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) in his early life was born into a middle-class, college educated family that had tradition of both his grandfather and father being a Baptist minister. MLK 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 other, MLK 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 when MLK 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 MLK's anger towards racial segregation. Despite MLK studying medicine and law he decided to give it up to join the ministry, this was partly because his father has urged him to do so. MLK learned from Morehouse College President, Benjamin Mays who was dedicated to fighting racial inequality - MLK learned a great deal under him until he graduated in 1948.

Throughout the years, MLK became increasingly interested in Gandhi's teachings of nonviolence and was 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, MLK lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott that 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 figure to rely on. After the successful Montgomery protests MLK realised that there needs to be more mass movements if there was going to be any substantial change.

This is when MLK created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Through the SCLC, MLK went around the country lecturing about racial issues with religion along with other civil rights leaders. MLK would even talk about Gandhi's teachings with peaceful noncompliance.

MLK 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, MLK was arrested for protesting segregation at a lunch counter with 33 other people. Despite the charges being dropped, MLK was still sent to prison gaining nationwide concern for his safety, even would be President, John F. Kennedy fought to get him out - and it was successful.

Through the early 60s, MLK's popularity skyrocketed and caught the attention of many news outlets. MLK knew this was a great opportunity because of the new social interest; that being the television. With this opportunity MLJ would 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, MLK was arrested again along with many followers - that included of schoolchildren. This did not slow MLK down however; he sent many letters from prison, enforcing his non-violent stance, stating he wants negotiation but it was constantly refused and it is the protests that are paving the way for that to happen.

Towards the end of the campaign, MLK, along with other civil rights leaders organised the  historic march in 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 the full speech Credit: npr.org)

Because of MLK'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 Martin Luther King Jr. winning the Noble Peace Prize. MLK would then go on to lead another protest, which resulted in the Voting Rights Act allowing African Americans to vote.

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

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, according to the old treasury records).

Sources/ Credit to;

Biography/Shirley Chisholm | Britannica/Rosa Parks | Wikipedia/Rosa Parks | Wikipedia/Montgomery Bus Bouycott | NAACP | Wikipedia/Arthur Wharton | Livingnorth/Arthur Wharton | Britannica/Nelson Mandela | TheTopTens | Wikipedia/Nelson Mandela | Britannica/Frederick Douglass | Wikipedia/Frederick Douglass | Britannica/Malcom X | Wikipedia/Malcom X | Britannica/Marcus Garvey | History/Marcus Garvey | Redemption Song | Wikipedia/Paul Stephenson | Wikipedia/Bus Boycott | Wikipedia/Jack London | Sam Mussabini | Britannica/Martin Luther King Jr. | I Have a Dream