Black History Month UK 2018: Why is it important and why is it celebrated in October?

October welcomes Black History Month, an annual commemoration of the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK.

From educational talks to food festivals, this month is jam-packed with events celebrating African and Caribbean cultures and histories.

Originating in the US, the UK celebrates Black History Month in October whereas across the pond, commemorations take place throughout February.

So why do the US and the UK differ in their Black History Months, and why is having a Black History Month in the UK so important?

Here’s everything you need to know:

Who started Black History Month?

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In the US, Black History Month was created by historian Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950).​ He wanted to challenge preconceptions at the time that ‘the negro has no history’ and founded The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 which encouraged scholars and historians to research and preserve black history and culture. 

In February 1926, Woodson founded Negro History Week.

It was later decided that a week wasn’t long enough and, against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and the Black Power Movement, Black History Month was born in 1969.

Like most things that originate in the US, it wasn’t long before word about Black History Month made its way to the UK.

After visiting America in the 1970s, Ghanaian-born Akyaaba Addai Sebo, a special projects officer at the Greater London Council, founded the UK’s version of Black History Month in 1987.

Why is Black History Month celebrated in October in the UK and February in the US?

The US celebrates in February because the birthdays of former US President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass fall within this month.

There are two reasons thought to be behind why Black History Month is celebrated in October in the UK.

Traditionally, October is when African chiefs and leaders gather to settle their differences, so Akyaaba chose this month to reconnect with African roots.

Additionally, many thought that since it was the beginning of the new academic year, October would give black children a sense of pride and identity. 

Why is Black History Month important?

Black History Month means different things to everyone and pride for this month is expressed in a variety of different ways.

For many, Black History Month is a way of reflecting on the diverse histories of those from African and Caribbean descent, taking note of the achievements and contributions to the social, political, economic and cultural development of the UK.

Black History Month is not without its opponents, though. Some people argue that it’s hardly justified to teach black history in the space of one month and advocate trying to integrate it into the mainstream education system instead.

Actor Morgan Freeman has criticised Black History Month on numerous occasions, calling it “ridiculous.”

“I don’t want a black history month,” he said, “black history is American history.”

How is Black History Month celebrated in the UK?

There will be celebrations and events taking up and down the country, including in London.

Across the capital, you’ll find everything from food festivals to music workshops to educational seminars and lectures.

The popular ‘Africa on the Square’ will return on 27 October, celebrating African art and culture through live entertainment, African markets and food stalls.


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