Useful Black history documentaries to watch for a more detailed look at Black history that goes beyond the school curriculum.

Black and British: A Forgotten History, The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files, Wales’ Black Miners and Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain’s Hidden Art History.

These are BBC documentaries that explore the hidden side to Black history that goes beyond the school curriculum of the colonisation of Africa, the transatlantic slave trade and the US Civil Rights Movement.

I watched these programmes to develop my knowledge of Black history during Black History Month and now that Black History Month has passed, it is only natural to contemplate my learnings and try to impart this valuable knowledge to all of you.

  • Black people have been in the UK long before the Windrush generation.

 Contrary to popular belief that Black people only started recently coming to the UK since the HMT Empire Windrush ship docked in June 1948, these documentaries discuss historical records that provide evidence of Black people being in the UK long before then.

From Afro-Romans who built and guarded Hadrian’s Wall to a Black Tudor trumpeter who demanded a pay rise from Henry VIII to Queen Victoria’s Black goddaughter, these are but a few examples of Black people’s historic connection to the UK.

  • The UK government attempted to prevent the arrival of Black people aboard the HMT Empire Windrush ship in June 1948 as well as demonise their community.

 At the Economic Policy Committee in 1948, PM Clement Atlee suggested that the Windrush passengers should be diverted to East Africa to pick up peanuts. Yet, the UK government went even further than this by demonising the Black community after creating The Working Party on Coloured People Seeking Employment.

This group’s job was to try to collect facts and figures that seemingly painted Black people as a problem in the country and that therefore tighter immigration controls were needed. The image that they wanted to create for the Black community was that they were poor, idle and underemployed drug addicts and criminals who took advantage of the country’s welfare state.

  • Black people had a significant impact on the mining and creative arts industries.

 It is likely that you associate the industries of mining and creative arts with White British people more so than Black people, yet the latter have had a significant impact on these two fields that is often overlooked.

Apart from there being an estimated 200 Black miners in Wales shortly after WWII, African-American actor and activist, Paul Robeson, also helped the Welsh mining community by joining their protests in London for better pay and working conditions.

As for the creative arts industry, it was blessed with brilliant works that defined the Black Arts Movement such as Althea McNish’s colourful textiles (which Dior later bought), Lubaina Himid’s Turner Prize-winning cut-out sculptures of Black people, and Pogus Caesar’s meaningful photos of Black artists doing their work.

With these three takeaways, I hope that people will begin to realise that Black history is more nuanced than what we were taught at school.

Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash.

Original black and white negative by Warren K. Leffler. Colourised by Jordan J. Lloyd, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

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