Commentary: Black History Month in Britain- By Murphy Browne

Commentary: Black History Month in Britain

Published on October 14, 2014  – By Murphy Browne

October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom.  There has been an African presence in Britain for centuries, although we are led to believe that Africans arrived in Britain as enslaved people during the dreadful Maafa when millions were kidnapped and dragged out of the African continent. Guyanese historian Dr Ivan Van Serbia and African American historian Dr Runoko Rashidi published “African Presence in Early Europe” in 1985.

Murphy Browne

The documented African presence in Britain according to white British author Peter Fryer goes back to the year 210. In his 1984 published book “Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain” Fryer wrote: “There were Africans in Britain before the English came here. They were soldiers in the Roman imperial army that occupied the southern part of our island for three and a half centuries. Though the earliest attested date for this unit’s presence here is 253-8, an African soldier is reputed to have reached Britain by the year 210.”

African historian and anthropologist Dr Cheikh Anta Diop in his 1974 published book “The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality” wrote about the megalithic culture of Africans, which can be found replicated in Britain, proving the presence of Africans in ancient Britain. Writing of the construction of megalithic structures Diop states: “These are found only in lands inhabited by Negroes or Negroids, or in places that they have frequented, the area that Speiser calls “the great megalithic civilization,” which extends from Africa to India, Australia, South America, Spain and Brittany.

That megalithic civilization in Brittany belongs to the second millennium, the period when the Phoenicians frequented those regions. This combination of facts should leave no doubt on the southern and Negro origin of the megaliths in Brittany.”

Anthony Richard Birley, a white British historian, has written about the African presence in ancient Britain in his 1971 published book “Septimius Severus: The African Emperor.” Britain had been invaded, conquered and was part of the Roman Empire from 54 BC to AD 409. Britain was part of the Roman Empire when the African Emperor Septimius Severus was in power (AD 193 to 211) and there were Africans living in Britain.

Information from the UK National Archives states: “In Roman times, black troops were sent to the remote and barbaric province of Britannia, and some of them stayed when the Roman legions left Britain. Africans have been present in Europe from classical times. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries Roman soldiers of African origin served in Britain, and some stayed after their military service ended.”

The 2012 published book “Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships” by black British historian Dr Ray Costello is a source of information about this group: “In this fascinating work, Dr Ray Costello examines the work and experience of seamen of African descent in Britain’s navy, from impressed slaves to free Africans, British West Indians, and British-born black sailors. Seamen from the Caribbean and directly from Africa have contributed to both the British Royal Navy and Merchant Marine from at least the Tudor period and by the end of the period of the British slave trade at least three percent of all crewmen were black mariners. Black sailors signed off in British ports helped the steady growth of a black population.”

In spite of such information about the African presence in Britain most of what is acknowledged when the history of Africans in Britain is recognized is the British enslavement of Africans and the aftermath of emancipation. The most recognized, acknowledged and documented group of Africans in Britain are the descendants of enslaved Africans from the Caribbean who immigrated to Britain on the MV Windrush (June 22, 1948) known as “The Windrush Generation.”

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), “The arrival of the SS Empire Windrush in June 1948 at Tilbury Dock, Essex, in England, marked the beginning of post-war mass migration. The ship had made an 8,000 mile journey from the Caribbean to London with 492 passengers on board from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands. Most of the passengers were ex-servicemen seeking work. This marked the beginning of post-war mass migration. When they walked down the gangplank onto British soil they could not have imagined that their journey would begin an important landmark in the history of London and the rest of country. The passengers on board the Windrush were invited to come to Britain after World War Two, to assist with labour shortages. Many of the passengers had fought for Britain during the war. They later became known as the ‘Windrush Generation.’”

Jamaican poet and educator Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou) immortalized that experience in her poem Colonization in Reverse. In his poem Inglan is a Bitch UK based Jamaican dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson has addressed the plight of the Windrush Generation and those who followed. Meanwhile Jamaican dub poet Mutabaruka has a different take on the experience as expressed in his poem It no good to stay in a whiteman country too long.

Even though there has been an African presence in Britain for these many centuries there still remains a need for a British “Black History Month” because the history is not part of the curriculum and many Britons are not aware of that history.


Murphy Browne was born in Berbice, Guyana, and has lived most of her life in Toronto, Canada. She worked as an African heritage instructor with the Toronto District School Board and has been writing for more than 20 years. She has had articles published in several Caribbean newspapers and newsletters and is frequently invited to speak at African Caribbean events.

Reprinted from Caribbean News Now! –

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  • compton de castro  On October 14, 2014 at 4:40 am

    Not only Africans in Roman army conquerors stayed on in
    ‘Britain’ after Roman invasion. More than 50 % of Roman
    army were conscripts from every corner of the globe.
    US army is more than 50% green card seekers…conscripts.
    Couldn’t win in Vietnam Afghanistan WW3 …may win battles
    but not wars.
    To win wars you need minimum 51% commitment.

    Now have a lot of reading to catch up on…..blacks in Britain.
    Starting with ‘inglan is a bitch’…love bitches and witches !
    Homosapien !

  • Frederick W. A. Collins  On October 22, 2014 at 5:26 am

    Did not know about some of the facts mentioned. Thanks. It is unfortunate that the printer’s devil rendered our scholar’s name as Van Serbia instead of Van Sertima!

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