HLN explores: Black History Month in the North East
In honour of Black History Month, we take a look at some of the North East’s contributions to Black history and culture over the centuries.
By Faith Richardson
To acknowledge Black History Month HLN has taken a journey through the North East’s regional history and the ways that it has impacted on Black history and culture, from the abolishment of the Slave Trade through to the more recent impact it’s had.
This year’s Black History Month theme is ‘Dig Deeper, Look Closer and Think Deeper’ – encouraging us all to reflect further on Black history, and on the huge Black Lives Matter movement that reached a head worldwide earlier in the year. Racism is, unfortunately, still prevalent in every country and culture, with Black people dying from Covid at a disproportionate rate, police brutality affecting Black people far more severely – and fatally – compared to many of their white counterparts, and modern slavery, to name just a few issues.
It’s important to always look at both the good and the bad that came from our city (and worldwide), and to remember that the North East wasn’t free from guilt when it came to slavery and the Slave Trade – the region still benefitted from it and participated when they used the produce created and procured by the Slave Trade, such as sugar, ginger and rum, and had many figures who encouraged and participated in it. However, the North East also has had a rich history of anti-slavery movements. The region has long been associated with the civil rights movement, with many civil rights figures passing through our city to help abolish slavery and create a more equal world.
The North East was known for pushing harder than almost any other region when it came to the abolishment the Slave Trade, both in the British Empire and across the seas in America too, and it even saw visits from famous activists and speakers like Martin Luther King. When the Black Lives Matter protests marched through the UK, many statues of Slave Traders were ripped down in protest of celebrating someone who caused so much harm. In Newcastle, extremists sought to protect Grey’s Monument, despite the fact the monument actually celebrates Earl Grey, who was a pivotal part of the fight against slavery. The North East does, in fact, have many famed streets and statues named after lobbyists for the abolishment of slavery, which solidify the North East’s position against racism.
Whether you were born and raised here in the North East, or relocated here from further afield, it’s hard to walk through Newcastle without spotting Grey’s Monument. Earl Grey was commemorated by the monument, thanks in no small part to the impact he had on slavery abolition. During his time as Foreign Secretary he abolished the Slave Trade in 1807, and between 1830-1834, whilst he served as Prime Minister of the UK, he put an end to the Slave Trade throughout the British Colonies in 1833.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Blackett Street, named after John Erasumus Blackett, who benefitted from being the Mayor of Newcastle four times over, and served as an apprentice for one of Liverpool’s leading slave traders, George Cuncliffe, helping import rum produced by slaves. Thankfully, we can always count on the women of the North East to come through; the now-defunct Assembly Rooms were the site of female abolitionists’ boycott of slave-imported goods (such as tea and coffee), whilst the Lit and Phil hosted many anti-slavery meetings and campaigns.
In more recent times, 1967 saw arguably one of the most prolific civil rights activists, Dr. Martin Luther King, arrive in the city, after Newcastle University gave him an honorary degree, becoming the only city in the UK to do so during his lifetime. Following this honour, King gave an impromptu and passionate speech – his last outside of America before his assassination. There is now a statue found outside the university to commemorate King and his incredible work, erected to mark the 50th anniversary of his visit.
Image credit to NCL University
Having a Modern Impact
Newcastle itself is a beautifully diverse city, and we’re often known as some of the friendliest people in the UK. With so many cultures and races calling the North East home, it’s important that we continue to do everything we can to ensure our city is safe and welcoming for everyone, whilst celebrating and supporting every community.
Woodhorn Museum ‘Digging Deep’ Exhibition
On display 3rd Oct – 1st Nov
Woodhorn Museum has recently launched a brand-new exhibition celebrating the Black and African-Caribbean coal miners that contributed to the success of the mining industry, both across the North East and nationally. With 27 different accounts of life in the mining industry on display, this is a beautiful insight into the often-overlooked contributions of Black culture to the UK’s industries.
Find out more here: blackhistorymonth.org.uk
The Angelou Centre
This charity is one of the North East’s few remaining black-led organisations, designed to offer support and safety for Black and minoritised women, including accommodation, employment training and physical and emotional wellbeing support. Keeping charities like this running and funded is so important to continually ensure the women in our communities have the resources and backing needed to thrive.
Find out more here: angelou-centre.org.uk
Blogger Salha Kaitesi began her blog, Teakisi, as a way of empowering and connecting the voices of African women in the North East communities and providing them with the space to unite and support each other. Wanting to create conversations amongst the community to highlight their shared, and individual, experiences with discrimination, she always wishes to highlight the intersection of sexism and racism that black women reside in and open up the conversation to incite greater change. Kaitesi also hosts regular workshops with guest speakers which are open to everyone to attend. We’ve just missed her most recent one, but keep an eye out on her blog or Eventbrite profile to catch the next one.