History of the black community in London

Photo by Glodi Messi, on Unsplash

As a black individual, I feel the urge to talk about how there is a lack of awareness for the black communities that were in London. Many people may ignore their contribution to society by only looking at their history as slaves. However, with this article, I hope to open your minds and educate you all on how the black community lived and got by. 

From the Roman period, there was an African presence which was prominent in the fact that DNA analysis was able to identify one Mediterranean woman that may have had African ancestry. 

As we move into the 16th century, you will be surprised that Africans were indeed present in the majority of the noble courts of this century. For example, Catherine of Aragon’s most trusted Lady-in-waiting was Ethiopian and married to an African bow-maker named Oviedo. Also, there were African trumpeters working for Henry VII & Henry VIII. It could even be said that a black person embodied the role of the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets; Elizabeth employed an African court dancer named Lucy Negro who later became famous for her brothel in Clerkenwell, North East London, hence why she became considered one of the candidates who inspired the great Shakespeare. In conclusion, parish documentation suggests that African presence was scattered in all areas of London society such as those who travelled from African countries and became merchants, seamstresses and silk weavers.

By the middle of the 18th century, that is when black people comprised between 1-3% of the London populace due to British merchants becoming involved in the infamous slave trade between Europe/Africa & America. However, a miniscule amount of freed slaves & seamen from West Africa & South Asia were forced into beggary due to the lack of jobs and their low social status alas. Around the 1750s, London became the home of many black people – even ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ reported that there was “near 20,000 Negroe servants”. However, by 1787, 4000 black people were transported from London to the colony of Sierra Leone for resettlement (with help from the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor).

Coming into the early 19th century, more groups of black soldiers and seamen were discharged after the Napoleonic Wars & some settled in London. Although the slave trade was abolished by 1833, the emigrants for example suffered and faced many challenges as well as many black people in London. Despite this, some black people were still able to achieve exceptional success in the 19th century. For example, Pablo Fanque rose from being born poor to running one of Britain’s most successful circuses during the Victorian era.

Finally, we have now reached the 20th century where there was a mass migration of workers from all over the African region. For example, the first group of post-war Caribbean immigrants started to emigrate and settle in London. Then, there were even more people who arrived from all over the African provinces such as Caribbean & Jamaica – who settled in the UK. By then, a significant amount of change was able to happen by 1975 due to there being a new voice rising for the Black population called David Pitt. He was able to speak out against racism & pledge for equality in regards to all residents of Britain. This inevitably impacted hugely on the 1987 general election due to the first-ever Black British MPs being elected to the House of Commons:- Diane Abbott for Hackney North & Stoke Newington; Bernie Grant for Tottenham; Paul Boateng for Brent South.

So after analysing the journey of the Black population’s role in society I can safely confirm that despite their bumpy journey they were able to see London as the place to be to celebrate one’s culture and diversity!

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