This history book first came to my attention when it was featured during the BBC’s Black and British season.
This was a variety of programmes on the Black British experience, and being a history buff, my favourite was the four-part documentary “Black and British: A Forgotten History” presented by historian David Olusoga.
Like the documentary, this book (that was recently long-listed for the Jhalak Prize) delves into the history of Black Britain, dispelling the myth that our history here only began during the Windrush period. The book examines various points in history, highlighting the people of African descent who were in Britain as early as the third century, black soldiers who fought in the Battle of Trafalgar, Britain’s repatriation experiment in Sierra Leone, Queen Victoria’s Black Goddaughter, and the Black soldiers whose efforts were written out of the narratives of both World Wars.
What I liked most, was Olusoga’s story telling ability. At no point in any of the 14 chapters was I bored (as I often find with non-fiction) or trying to digest an unnecessarily verbose sentence. In fact, I dedicated hours at a time to it, and believe this forgotten history is essential reading for all.
Olusoga recalls the racism he and many black people faced growing up in the 1980s, which made one feel that you could be in Britain, but not of Britain, as being Black British was an “impossible duality”. A Forgotten History thus perfectly encapsulates the importance, moreover, central role Black communities played in the socio-political and economic make up of Britain for centuries.
“Black British history can be read in the crumbling stones of the forty skate fortresses peppered along the coast of West Africa and in the old plantations and former slave markets of the lost British empire of North America. Its imprint can be read in stately homes, street names, statues and memorials across Britain and is intertwined with the cultural and economic histories of the nation.”