Black History Month (BHM) has been recognised in the United Kingdom and celebrated annually since 1987, when it was marked with an event hosted at the Commonwealth Institute.

The tradition began in the United States, with its origins in the 1920s and 30s when a week in February was selected by the historian Carter G. Woodson as ‘Negro History Week’ (see: Library of Congress: African American History Month). This informal celebration of ‘Black history’ became formally recognised by the US Government in 1976, when President Gerald Ford urged all American people to, ‘seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history.’

Since then the celebration of a BHM has spread to both Canada – where it is also celebrated in February – and the UK, where the month of October was chosen as BHM.

There is no single official organisation which runs or organises BHM in the UK. A huge range of organisations including universities, local authorities, voluntary groups, museums and libraries take part in planning and running events. There is however an online and print magazine that provides a point of focus for BHM celebrations and events.

Each year that website provides a selection of BHM introductions written by parliamentarians and thought leaders. For example, this year includes introductions from the Minister of State for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch MP; Dawn Butler MP; Ed Davey MP; and Lord Boateng. 

Black History Month 2021: Early Day Motion 543

An Early Day Motion was tabled on 19 October 2021 to note BHM. The text of the motion is:

That this House notes that this month we celebrate Black History Month 2021 and welcomes the many events and initiatives across the UK that highlight the successes and contributions of Black British people to British history; gives special thanks to all teachers and education staff who are taking steps to put Black history on the curriculum this month and all-year round; notes the theme of this year’s Black History Month, Proud to Be; recognises the significance of such a theme and the importance of ensuring that Black and Brown people are made to feel proud of their ethnic heritage, cultural history and the language of their ancestors; and further notes that teaching about Black history is integral to this; and calls on the Government to take steps to ensure that Black history is acknowledged, taught and celebrated all year round and not restricted to just one month in the year.

Black British history resources

The Black British History website, operated by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, provides a selection of useful resources.

One of the sites linked to on the Black British History website (‘The Black Presence in Britain’ website) provides a timeline of key moments in Black British history.

The Parliament website also provides a timeline of ‘Parliament and the British Slave Trade’.

The Historic England website provides a timeline of the slave trade and abolition. 

Relevant Library publications

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