Black history month

What an opportunity we have to celebrate diversity in our hospital community!

Did you know we have 100 nations represented among our staff and 1 in 7 of our staff are Black Caribbean or Black African?

We look as far back as 1805 at a selection of notable Black men and women who made a significant contribution to society, their country and the world. Their impact is all the more remarkable given the times they lived.

Below we look at a range of contributions, but with an emphasis on nursing, medicine and the sciences. Hope you learn something new today. Enjoy.

Gubby Ayida
    Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
    Specialist Advisor, Diversity and Equality

As a PROUD and inclusive Trust, we are keen to mark this month.

Notable Black women and men through history

Timeline of Black history

Source: The Guardian

AD 43

Roman rule in Britain begins. The Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum, an African auxiliary unit, takes its position on Hadrian’s Wall (c100–c400) as part of the Roman army and helps guard the outermost reaches of the empire.


Kingdom of Ghana. A large sub-Saharan state established. Archaeological evidence suggests that Ghana had achieved a high level of civilisation (advanced metalworking, an indigenous trading network) before Arab travellers arrived around AD750. Its capital, Koumbi Saleh, had a population of 30,000. A 12th-century Muslim, al-Idrisi, told a Norman King Roger II in Sicily that the Ghanaian nobility gave sumptuous banquets with thousands of guests.


African-born scholar Hadrian of Canterbury, having rejected a papal request to become Archbishop of Canterbury, travels to Britain with Theodore, who took up the post instead. Hadrian becomes an abbot in Canterbury.


General Tariq ibn-Ziyad conquers the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal). The rock of Gibraltar is named after this Moorish general (the Arabic Jabal Tariq means Mount Tariq). He led an eight-year campaign to conquer modern Spain and Portugal in AD 711.


Around this time Kanem-Bornu is established by Dougu, the first king of the Zaghawa dynasty. It occupied much of present day Chad. According to an Arab geographer writing in the 10th century, the kingdom was 15 days’ journey wide.


Religion of Islam starts to slowly spread across sub-Saharan Africa.


Massive stone structures in Zimbabwe show that a civilisation flourished around this time. Although these ruins are very impressive, with a great wall measuring 246m long, this ancient city is just one of many in the region. More than 600 stone ruins have been identifed in modern-day Zimbabwe and nearly 7,500 have been found in northern South Africa.


This earliest image of a black Briton was discovered in an abbreviated version of the Domesday Book used to collect taxes.


The highly centralised Kingdom of Kongo is established during this period and is surrounded by the kingdoms of Teke, Tio, Dembo and Ndongo. One of its kings, Mani Kongo Diogo I, tried unsuccessfully to stop the Atlantic slave trade.


A poem by William Dunbar called Of Ane Blak-Moir suggests that there were black people in Britain during this period.


John Hawkins is the first Englishman to lead a slave trading voyage from the west coast of Africa. Later Britain would become one of the biggest players in the Atlantic slave trade which led to the enforced transportation of 13 million Africans (according to recent estimates). There are now a number of exhibitions across the UK that detail the close connection between the growth of cities—such as London, Bristol and Liverpool—and the Atlantic slave trade.


After the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Moroccan ambassador, Mushac Reyz, visits the court of Elizabeth I seeking a military alliance against Spain. In the years of war with Spain that follow, a growing number of Africans arrive in England. Historical records suggest that Queen Elizabeth I was involved in a plan to remove Africans from her realm. Recent evidence suggests a more nuanced picture, but whatever the truth it shows there was a black presence in Britain.


A play featuring a fully rounded black leading character, Othello, is performed for the first time. In some ways Shakespeare’s portrayal of a black character was far superior to the often dehumanising representations of black people that were to follow in much European literature.


More than 20 enslaved Africans are kidnapped and taken to the English colony of Virginia, opening a new chapter of slavery in North America.


Abomey, capital of the kingdom of Dahomey, is founded around this time in modern-day Benin, west Africa. This was to become a powerful state with a strong connection to the Atlantic slave trade. It survived until 1904.


The annexing of the island of St Kitts signals the beginning of British domination of much of the Caribbean. Many islands in the Caribbean changed hands during this period as European colonisers from France, England, Spain and elsewhere fought to control the islands.


The Royal African Company granted a charter giving it the exclusive right to carry slaves to the Americas.


During the period that a constitutional monarchy is established in Britain, Aphra Behn publishes her novel Oroonoko about an African of royal blood. Apart from being one of the first known female writers in the English language, Aphra Behn is credited with producing one of the first attacks on the Atlantic slave trade.


After a long-running war, the Maroons (runaway enslaved Africans who formed their own communities) force Edward Trelawny, the British governor of Jamaica, to sign a peace agreement. Part of the agreement stipulates that the Maroons will return other runaway enslaved Africans who try to join them.


Phillis Wheatley, an African American, comes to London where her poetry had gained a following. She has a book of poems published.


Sugar and slavery become synonymous. From North America to South America to the Caribbean to Australia, this commodity is grown using slavery or other forms of coerced labour. Sugar becomes England’s dominant import from the mid-18th century to the 19th century. This, in turn, fuels the Atlantic slave trade which helps to build the international trade system with its complex web of insurance and credit.


Captain Collingwood throws 132 sick Africans off the slave ship Zong in order to collect insurance money for them. This incident helps galvanise support for the movement against the Atlantic slave trade.


The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade introduces the political poster, the consumer boycott, the petition, the flyer, the political book tour, and investigative reporting designed to stir people to political action. This movement was to immortalise characters such Olaudah Equiano, Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce. It was a three-pronged movement: its parliamentary face, its agitational face on the streets of Britain, but, above all, the resistance of the enslaved Africans themselves.


The Haitian Revolution. After a 12-year struggle in which thousands of formerly enslaved Africans overcame the British, Spanish, and Napoleonic French armies, the first independent black republic in the Americas was established. Motivated by ideas of the French revolution and led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Alexandre Pétion, this revolution destroyed slavery in the most profitable French colony. William Wordsworth later dedicated a poem to L’Ouverture, including the lines: “There's not a breathing of the common wind / That will forget thee; thou hast great allies; / Thy friends are exultations, agonies, / And love, and Man’s unconquerable mind.”


The British slave trade is abolished in parliament on 25 March by the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. However, many slave traders discover ways to circumvent the new law. And slavery itself remains legal.


The Zulu army conquers great areas of southern Africa under the leadership of Shaka Zulu. During 10 years of warfare, Shaka Zulu quadruples the size of his army and the number of his subjects, absorbing them into the Zulu nation.


Having observed attempts by the British abolition movement to repatriate formerly enslaved Africans to Sierra Leone, the American Colonisation Society pays for 80 African Americans to be repatriated back to Africa. They set sail on the Elizabeth to west Africa, and though their attempt to establish a colony almost fails, they are later followed by others and go on to establish Liberia.


The slave rebellion in Jamaica movement initially starts off as passive resistance becomes an open rebellion against slavery. This uprising is credited with speeding up the full abolition a few years later.


Though the law now bans slavery, formerly enslaved Africans have to serve an ‘apprenticeship’ of up to six years on low or no pay, until this system is scrapped in 1838. The slaveowners receive £20m in compensation, equivalent to 40% of the Treasury’s annual income at the time. The freed receive nothing.


Indians are moved to the British Caribbean as indentured labourers (who work for five years on plantations in exchange for wages and passage fares). Indentured labourers experience terrible conditions as they have few rights.


The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is published to great acclaim. Dumas’s father was a Haitian-born general in Napoleon’s army. Dumas also authors The Three Musketeers.


The Great Exhibition is held in Hyde Park in London. More than six million visitors view goods from Africa, India and the West Indies. It was here that jewels taken from an Indian protectorate are ‘donated’ to Queen Victoria. They become part of the crown jewels.


Publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is an instant bestseller and polarises opinion on the issue of slavery in the United States and Britain.


Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation. Many free African Americans and runaway slaves join the Union armies in the ongoing American civil war. Slavery is formally abolished after the war ends, in 1865.


Samuel Ajayi Crowther (from Nigeria) is the first African to be ordained a bishop by the Anglican church.


The Morant Bay rebellion in Jamaica leads to reprisals from the colonial governor, Edward John Eyre, in which hundreds are flogged and up to a thousand homes burned down. A Jamaica Committee is set up in Britain which condemns Eyre’s actions. This committee has large working-class support and such luminaries as Charles Darwin supporting it.

After the American civil war, black people in the United States fight for and gain the right to vote and participate in political life. But over the next few years, after a sustained backlash including intimidation by the Ku Klux Klan, most African Americans lose the right to vote.

Francis Galton tries to use his newly minted science of biostatistics to prove that Africans are intellectually inferior. This theory profoundly affects issues of intelligence and education as well as founding eugenics. A book called Superior, by Angela Saini, outlines how Galton's ideas have persisted into the
21st century.

The role of black cowboys, previously ignored, is now coming to be recognised as an important part of the ‘cowboy story’ in the American west. At least two black cowboys have been inducted into the cowboy hall of fame.


The Zulus inflict temporary defeat on the British army at Isandlwana.


The European powers gather together in Berlin to divide Africa among themselves at a meeting called by the German chancellor, Bismarck. Great Britain, France, Germany and Belgium lay claim to African territory and agree how further disagreements on territorial claims will be settled. Many of the decisions at this conference have significant consequences (fuelling long-running ethnic tensions and, in many cases, civil wars), as the national boundaries—some of them crudely drawn using a ruler—take little account of the needs, history and languages of different African peoples. 


Slavery is abolished in Brazil. There are many earlier instances of enslaved Africans resisting slavery, most notably the ‘Negro Republic’ at Palmares in Pernambuco. In events very similar to Haiti in 1804, enslaved Africans in Brazil manage to escape and form a community that persists throughout the 17th century. From 1672 to 1694 the Portuguese send an expedition every 15 months to crush this long-running slave revolt until it finally succumbs. Brazil to this day contains one of the largest populations of African descendants in the world. 


Booker T Washington publishes his landmark work Up from Slavery. His central idea is that black people have to improve their lives through their own efforts.


The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is formed and becomes a major force in the fight to gain the vote for African Americans. The ideas of one of its founders, W E B Du Bois, were to influence black activists throughout the world.


During his two-year stay in London, Marcus Garvey writes for a monthly journal called the African Times and Orient Review. He later says that his stay was crucial to the formation of his ideas of black pride. Garvey goes on to lead the first black nationalist mass movement in the US in the 1920s, which called on black people to return to Africa. 


John Richard Archer is elected as London’s first black mayor, in Battersea. Allan Glaisyer Minns is thought to be Britain’s first black mayor, elected in Thetford, Norfolk, in 1904.


The First World War. A great number of soldiers from the West Indies, India and across the British Empire join the war effort and many are killed. In France, Italy and Mesopotamia (of which modern day Iraq is a part), more than 15,000 soldiers serve in the British West Indies Regiment. Walter Tull, one of the first black men to command white soldiers in action, is killed in battle. 

During the war, Garrett Morgan, an African American, invents a prototype gas mask. In 1922 he patents a forerunner to the modern automatic traffic light. 


Race riots break out across the British Isles, sparked in part by housing shortages. Black sailors and black-owned businesses are targeted and attacked by white crowds in cities including Glasgow and London.

Gandhi starts his passive resistance movement for Indian self-rule.
He later becomes a profound infuence on Martin Luther King.


The Tulsa race massacre. In one of the most serious episodes of racial violence against African Americans in the history of the United States. A thriving black area, Greenwood—dubbed ‘Black Wall Street’—endured two days of attacks by white mobs resulting in the deaths of up to 300 people, a further 10,000 left homeless, and 1,400 business premises destroyed by fire.


C L R James’ play about the Haitian revolution, Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History, is first performed in London. Paul Robeson plays the title role. 

African American Jesse Owens wins the 100 metres, 200 metres, long jump and 4x100 metre relay at the Berlin Olympics. Germany’s Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had hoped the event would demonstrate Aryan supremacy.


Troops from the British empire play a crucial role. Around 2,600,000 men and 100,000 women actively serve in the war. There are 1,200 in the Caribbean regiment, 5,500 in the RAF as ground crew, 300 Africans and Caribbeans in the RAF as air crew, 13 Victoria Crosses are awarded to ‘colonial soldiers’, and the UK imports huge quantities of grain, tea, fish and other commodities from the British empire.


Trinidadian-born George Padmore organises a Pan-African Conference in Manchester. Padmore becomes one of the most powerful ambassadors for Pan-Africanism, which advocates the linking in solidarity of black people across the world. In attendance at the conference are many future leaders including Jomo Kenyatta (first president of Kenya), and Kwame Nkrumah (first president of Ghana). 


The Afrikaner nationalists take power in South Africa and legalise white domination under what is known as apartheid (derived from the Afrikaans word for separateness). South Africans are divided into different racial categories: whites, coloureds (mixed race people), Indians and Pakistanis, and Bantus (black Africans). From its very inception the system sparks opposition. 


Ghana gains independence, becoming one of the first African states free of colonialism, led by Kwame Nkrumah. 

Althea Gibson becomes the first black Wimbledon champion. In 1975, Arthur Ashe becomes the first black man to win the title. 


Mauritania, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria and Gabon are among more than a dozen African states that gain their independence. British prime minister Harold Macmillan acknowledges that the British Empire is crumbling, declaring that a ‘wind of change’ is blowing through Africa.


In South Africa, 69 peaceful anti-apartheid demonstrators are killed by police in the Sharpeville massacre.


Patrice Lumumba, first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is murdered. His death sparks outrage and demonstrations across the world.


The March on Washington, where Martin Luther King makes his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.


Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders are sent to prison by the apartheid regime. The struggle for their release spawns a mass movement across the world. Many South African exiles, both black and white, move to the UK.


After the governor of the Eastern region of Nigeria declares Biafra an independent state, a civil war ensues that costs almost a million lives. TV images of malnourished children with bloated stomachs shock the world.


Tommie Smith and John Carlos give the black power salute during a medal ceremony at the Mexico Olympics. The effect at the time is electrifying, as a defiant image of black power is beamed around the world. 


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is published.


Idi Amin overthrows Milton Obote of Uganda. During Amin’s brutal reign some 300,000 Ugandans are killed and 80,000 Ugandan Asians deported. Many of them come to live in Britain, adding to the growing racial tension in the wake of Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech.


The Portuguese colonies Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique gain their independence after a long struggle.


Demonstrations begin in South Africa against the teaching in schools of Afrikaans (the language of the country’s white rulers). In Soweto the police fire on unarmed crowds, killing hundreds. One of the first children killed is 12-year-old Hector Pieterson. 


Steve Biko, a South African black consciousness leader, is killed in police custody.


White rule ends in Rhodesia after
a bloody struggle, and the state of Zimbabwe is declared. Robert Mugabe becomes prime minister and stays in power until 2017.


Cape Town’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu wins the Nobel peace prize for his outspoken criticism of the apartheid regime. Meanwhile, an international boycott of cultural and trade links with South Africa grows.


Nelson Mandela, released from prison in 1990, is elected president of a multiracial South Africa.

Mass genocide in Rwanda. As many as half a million Rwandans die as the Hutu-dominated army, militias and others massacre the Tutsi population.


Kofi Annan is the first sub-Saharan African to be elected to the top position within the United Nations as he takes on the role of secretary general.

After 32 years in power, the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko is deposed. In the ensuing civil war, lasting several years, an estimated five million people are killed.


Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai becomes the first African woman to receive the Nobel peace prize.


A flood in New Orleans throws into bold relief the problems
of class, race and the persistent legacy of slavery in the US. The black urban poor are seen to get little assistance from the government, in the full glare of the international media. 

The death of two young men of North African origin while running away from the police in north-eastern Paris leads to rioting across France. The government imposes a range of emergency measures including curfews.


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf takes office as president of Liberia, becoming African’s first elected female head of state. Joyce Banda becomes the second, in Malawi in 2014. 


Barack Obama is elected as the first African American president of the United States.


South Africa hosts the football World Cup finals, the first time the tournament has been held in Africa.


South Sudan separates from Sudan and becomes Africa’s 54th independent nation.

Mark Duggan is shot dead by the police in Tottenham, north London. His killing sparks riots which quickly spread across the UK. A Guardian investigation, Reading the Riots, shows mistrust of the police is a major factor in the unrest.


Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, is shot dead by George Zimmerman. A year later, after Zimmerman is acquitted of Martin’s murder, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter is used for the first time. 


Malorie Blackman, author of Noughts and Crosses, becomes the UK’s children’s laureate.

Britain expresses regret and agrees to pay compensation to those it had tortured during the Mau Mau’s 1950s uprising against colonial rule in Kenya. Veterans of the insurgency had won a legal action in the High Court.


12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen, takes the Best Picture award at the Oscars. Over the following years, black movie-making reaches new heights—hits include Get Out, Hidden Figures and Moonlight (this story of a black gay man wins the Best Picture Oscar in 2017). Biggest hit of all is the Marvel superhero movie, Black Panther, one of the most-watched movies of all time.

The contagious disease Ebola spreads quickly across Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, killing 11,000 people.

Boko Haram kidnaps over 200 girls from a school in Chibok, north-east Nigeria. An international campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, is launched. Some girls are eventually released but 100 remain missing.

Eric Garner dies after being put in a chokehold by arresting officers in Staten Island, New York. In the video later released, he is heard pleading “I can’t breathe” 11 times. 

Michael Brown, 18, is shot six times by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Large scale protests take place. Demonstrators, who believe he was surrendering to the police when shot, chant, “Hands up, Don’t shoot.” Black Lives Matter becomes an internationally known campaign. 

Tamir Rice, 12, is shot dead by a police officer while holding a toy gun.


Chineke!, an orchestra for black and minority-ethnic musicians, is founded. In 2017 the orchestra performs at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms.

The Rhodes Must Fall campaign begins to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Rhodes, a 19th-century mining magnate and politician, was seen as an ardent British imperialist and white supremacist. A month later the statue is removed. But the campaign moves to Oxford university, where another statue of him sits within Oriel college. The college refuses to take down the statue but, years later, it reconsiders its decision. 

A database is established at University College London, aiming to record every individual compensated by Britain at the abolition of slavery in 1833, and to show how widespread slave ownership was. Also in 2015, Britain’s bill to pay those slaveowners is finally paid off—after 182 years. 

Poverty and instability across Africa and the Middle East spark a huge increase in migration to Europe. Hundreds drown while crossing the Mediterranean. Those who survive arrive mainly in Italy, provoking a political crisis across the European Union over border controls. Immigration fears fuel the UK’s Brexit debate.

Nine African-Americans are shot dead by a white supremacist during a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. 


Sarah Reed dies in Holloway prison, London. Reed, who had suffered from mental illness following the death of her baby daughter in 2003, had in a separate incident been violently assaulted by a police officer.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is opened in Washington DC. The biggest museum of its kind, it demonstrates the significance of African Americans in US and world history. President Obama leads the opening ceremony.

Colin Kaepernick, an African-American footballer, chooses not to stand during the national anthem during a pre-season game. He explains: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” He is vilified, but ‘taking a knee’ becomes a symbol of resistance to racial oppression across the world. 


Barack Obama ends his term as US president.

Edward Enninful becomes editor-in-chief of British Vogue magazine. His multi-ethnic first edition features mixed-race model Adwoa Aboah on the cover. Vanessa Kingori becomes the magazine’s publishing director.

In August, white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. They march shouting racist and antisemitic slogans. On the second day of the protests, a neo-Nazi deliberately drives into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing Heather Heyer.


Thousands of Caribbean migrants who had the right to settle in the UK have been denied NHS treatment and legal rights, wrongly detained, or in some cases deported. A public outcry ensues because these people and their families had been invited to Britain to help it rebuild after the second world war.

Hollywood actor Meghan Markle wows the nation as she weds Prince Harry. Invited performers include cellist prodigy Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and London gospel singers the Kingdom Choir.

DNA analysis of a 10,000-year-old skeleton found in Cheddar Gorge suggests that the first modern Britons had dark brown skin. 

Somali-born Ilhan Omar and African-American Ayanna Pressley are elected to the US Congress. Together with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib they form “The Squad”, four women of colour pushing for progressive change. 


COVID-19 spreads across the planet, killing thousands, and disproportionately impacting on Black, Asian and minority-ethnic people. Health workers and those in frontline jobs face the biggest risks from the coronavirus. 

Ahmaud Arbery, while out jogging near Brunswick in Georgia, is confronted by two white residents and shot dead. Initially police take no action, but when the video of the incident is made public and goes viral, charges are brought.

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old medical worker, is shot dead by plainclothes police officers while asleep in her home in Louisville, Kentucky.

George Floyd, arrested in Minneapolis on suspicion of using a fake banknote, is filmed being held down by the neck, under the knee of a white police officer, Derek Chauvin. Passers-by protest, but another officer prevents them intervening. After four minutes Floyd loses consciousness, but in total Chauvin holds his knee down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Protests immediately spring up—people take to the streets across America. As public anger grows, Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder. The protests grow globally, as the sense of injustice over Floyd’s death resonates with racial minorities elsewhere. The Black Lives Matter movement for change sweeps the world.

In June, after the killing of Rem'mie Fells and Riah Milton, two black trans women, in the US within 24 hours, a campaign grows declaring that Black Trans Lives Matter.


Kamala Harris becomes the first female vice president and highest-ranking female official in US history, and the first vice president of colour.

amyco George Vasilopoulos