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Black History Month – Mary Seacole (Part 4)

This Black History Month, we’re sharing some of the figures that have inspired us. We’d like to celebrate their contributions and efforts, which have resulted in meaningful change being made. These are only a few of the figures who have inspired us, with many more continuing to pioneer progression in society. To read more on the importance of Black History Month, visit https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/  

Mary Seacole

Early Life

Mary Seacole was born in Jamaica at a time when slavery was rife. Given that her father was a white Scottish army officer, Mary was born a ‘free person’ and did not have to endure slave labour. Her mother ran a lodging house and taught Mary many of her skills using traditional Jamaican medicines. She began practicing on a doll, then on pets, and later helped her mother treat many of the injured soldiers who were guests there. In 1821 Mary visited London with relatives, giving her the opportunity to learn about European medicine.

Travelling Years

In 1836, Mary married Edwin Seacole, who unfortunately fell ill and died 8 years later. This was followed by the death of her mother, something which devastated her. Determined to continue helping those who were ill, Mary nursed victims of the cholera epidemic in Kingston, later travelling to Panama to help with an outbreak there.

Whilst on her travels, she faced some racial prejudice, in particular when travelling in America. At a leaving dinner held in her honour, she wrote that a white American saying that he wished he could bleach her skin to make her more acceptable to them. She declined the offer, instead raising a glass to ‘the general reformation of American manners.’ Mary also notes that she encountered difficulties when trying to board an American boat back to Jamaica, facing racial discrimination. She had to wait for a British boat in order to make her journey.

‘Was it possible that American prejudices against colour had some root here? Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?’

Crimean War

Hearing about the poor medical facilities for British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War, Mary travelled to Britain, asking to be posted there as a British Army Nurse. The Army refused, and undeterred, Mary funded her own trip to the Crimea to set up a station to help the soldiers. Here she opened a hotel for wounded soldiers to be treated, often travelling to the battlefields to provide soldiers with more immediate treatment.

Mary was praised by many soldiers whose lives she had saved, and in 1857 a fundraising gala was held on her behalf, where over 800,000 people were in attendance

Mary’s autobiography was published in 1857, the first autobiography to be written by a Black woman in Britain. She died in 1881 of apoplexy in her London home.

Legacy 

Although she was well known whilst she was alive, Mary’s memory faded from the minds of the British public. She has become a symbol of ‘hidden’ Black history, having done as much as Florence Nightingale in the Crimean war, without being given the same credit. In 2007, she was brought into the national curriculum, her life story to be taught alongside Florence Nightingale’s.

Mary’s statue stands outside St James’ Hospital, etched with words written by Sir William Howard Russell about her legacy.

“I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.”

 

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Black History Month – Barack Obama (Part 3)

This Black History Month, we’re sharing some of the figures that have inspired us. We’d like to celebrate their contributions and efforts, which have resulted in meaningful change being made. These are only a few of the figures who have inspired us, with many more continuing to pioneer progression in society. To read more on the importance of Black History Month, visit https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/  

Barack Obama

Early Life

Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, in 1961, to a Kenyan father and an American mother. He worked through college relying on scholarships and student loans, eventually moving to Chicago.

Obama went on to attend Harvard law school, where he became the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review. After graduating in 1991, he moved back to Chicago and took up a position at the University of Chicago teaching Constitutional Law. He was active in politics in these years, directing Illinois’ Voter Registration Campaign, aimed at registering unregistered African Americans to vote. Soon afterwards, Obama joined a law firm specialising in civil rights litigation and neighbourhood economic development.

Early Political Career

In 1996, Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate, where he gained support for laws that would reform healthcare and ethical legislation. He was re-elected for several terms, eventually becoming the chairman of the Illinois Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee. In this role, he sponsored a bipartisan policy to require police officers to record the race of drivers that they detained, in an effort to curb racial profiling. He was elected to the Senate in 2005.

Obama declared his entry in the Presidential race in 2007, with a view to ending the Iraq war, reforming the healthcare system, and increasing America’s energy independence. After battling Hillary Clinton, he became the leader of the Democratic Party, leading the Party to election victory. This was a monumental moment as Obama became the first Black President of the United States.

‘My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.’

Presidency

In his years in office, President Obama ended the Iraq war, appointed two women to serve on the Supreme Court, and expanded the Hate Crimes Act to include acts motivated by someone’s gender or sexuality. He urged the Supreme Court to rule in favour of legalising same sex marriages and relaxed the statute of limitations on equal pay lawsuits. He continued his plight to achieve more equality in relation to healthcare, passing the Affordable Care Act subsidising health insurance policies for those in poverty.

‘If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.’

Post-Presidency

Since leaving his Presidential office, President Obama has remained focused on the Obama Foundation, which he has stated that he intends to be more consequential than his time in office.

Having done so much with his power as President to improve American Healthcare and advance the rights of the LGBTQ Community and women’s rights, President Obama is an inspirational figure. Having fought the adversity to become the first Black President of the United States demonstrates his resilience and his desire to make change in the world.

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Black History Month – Nelson Mandela (Part 2)

This Black History Month, we’re sharing some of the figures that have inspired us. We’d like to celebrate their contributions and efforts, which have resulted in meaningful change being made. These are only a few of the figures who have inspired us, with many more continuing to pioneer progression in society. To read more on the importance of Black History Month, visit https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/  

Nelson Mandela

Early Life

Nelson Mandela was born in South Africa in 1918. After an eventful childhood, he moved to Johannesburg where he worked a variety of jobs, eventually enrolling to study law. It was here that he became involved in the anti-apartheid movement, joining the African National Congress in 1942.

ANC

Mandela helped the ANC by leading many peaceful, non-violent acts of defiance, taking example from the Indian Independence Movement. He also set up a law firm with a student he had met, providing low-cost and free legal support to Black people. In 1956, Mandela, along with 150 others, was charged with treason, and was arrested. He was issued several bans, preventing him from appearing in public, and newspapers were stopped from publishing his picture.

After many non-violent protests proved unsuccessful, Mandela decided that violent action would become necessary to end apartheid. In 1961, Mandela began to organise a mass strike, holding secret meetings with journalists and activists. He helped the ANC to set up an armed group in order to channel and control some of the group’s more violent members’ actions. This wing of the ANC aimed to carry out acts which would exert the maximum pressure on the government, whilst aiming not to cause large numbers of casualties.

“I had no specific belief except that our cause was just, was very strong and it was winning more and more support.”

He was arrested the following year and sentenced to 5 years in prison. He was later further arrested in 1963 for political offences, along with other leaders of the ANC. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, of which he served 27 years.

Imprisonment 

He served 18 of these years on Robben Island. The prisoners here spent their days breaking rocks, turning them into gravel. Mandela was often verbally and physically harassed, prevented from wearing sunglasses, and punished for collecting newspaper clippings. He continued to use this opportunity to learn and was able to carry out an LLB Degree from the University of London through a correspondence course whilst imprisoned. He also initiated the ‘University of Robben Island’ where prisoners gave lectures on their areas of expertise and debated socio-economic issues.

Mandela was eventually transferred to Pollsmoor Prison, following which an international campaign calling for his release was launched. This included a tribute concert at Wembley Stadium attracting 200 million viewers, and The Specials’ song ‘Free Nelson Mandela’. Due to this international pressure, the South African President Botha offered his release in return for him renouncing armed struggle, an offer Mandela rejected instantly.

“What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”

Still imprisoned, he caught tuberculosis, exacerbated by his damp cell. It wasn’t until the next president came into power, Frederik Willem de Klerk, that his release was announced, pictures of Mandela were allowed to be published and the ban on the ANC was lifted.

Presidency 

After being released from prison, Mandela was elected the leader of the ANC. He took this opportunity to convince President de Klerk to hold multi-racial elections. President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their work on dismantling apartheid. Following the implementation of democratic elections, Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa’s first Black president in 1994.

In his years as President, Mandela worked tirelessly to improve relations between the white and Black communities of South Africa, for example by encouraging the Black communities to support the national rugby team. He also signed a new constitution, establishing a government based on majority rule, ensuring freedom of expression, and guaranteeing the rights of all minorities.

Later Years

Even after his retirement, Mandela founded a group called ‘The Elders’ aimed at providing leaders such as Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter the chance to work on solutions to some of the world’s toughest issues. He remained committed to the fight against AIDS, something which he regretted not doing more about during his presidency.

Mandela passed away in 2013, after an inspiring life spent fighting for what he believed in. Mandela’s birthday was declared Mandela Day, an International celebration to promote global peace.

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Black History Month – Daisy Bates (Part 1)

This Black History Month, we’re sharing some of the figures that have inspired us. We’d like to celebrate their contributions and efforts, which have resulted in meaningful change being made. These are only a few of the figures who have inspired us, with many more continuing to pioneer progression in society. To read more on the importance of Black History Month, visit https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/  

Daisy Bates

Early Life

Daisy Bates was born in 1914, in Arkansas. When she was just 3 years old, her mother was killed by three local white men, after which her father abandoned her. She was brought up by her mother’s close friends, and after finding out about how her mother was killed, began thinking about injustice. This started as anger towards white people for the injustices committed, but on her adoptive father’s deathbed, he told her something that would change her life.

‘If you hate, make it count for something. Hate the humiliations we are living under in the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the soul of every black man and woman… —and then try to do something about it, or your hate won’t spell a thing.’

Little Rock

Daisy married Lucius Christopher Bates, moving to Little Rock where they began a new life together. As soon as they moved, Daisy joined the NAACP, focusing on reforming education, following her experiences of discrimination at school. They started a newspaper entitled The Arkansas State Press, dedicated to detailing violations of desegregation rulings. These rulings had been imposed by the Supreme Court but weren’t being followed through in practice. As a result, a lawsuit was filed against the Little Rock School District, which they won.

Nine black students were selected to attend Little Rock Central High School, who then became known as the Little Rock Nine. This angered the State Governor, Orval Faubus who ordered the National Guard to prevent their entry into the school, only allowing the white students to pass.

To deter the mob, Daisy planned for 4 ministers to escort the children into the school, for both physical protection and to make a statement against segregation. After chaos ensued and the school was dismissed on the first day of desegregation, President Eisenhower federalised the National Guard, using them to ensure that the court orders were followed through with.

When asked what she felt her most important contribution was, Daisy said that the fact that the Little Rock Nine had been able to go to school and remain there for the full year without being hurt was something which opened a lot of doors.

This was the first time that this kind of revolution had succeeded without a doubt.’

Later Years

Later in life, Daisy briefly moved to Washington, where she worked for the Democratic National Committee and served in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. In order to pay tribute, Little Rock opened The Daisy Bates Elementary School and made the third Monday of every February a national holiday to celebrate Daisy Gaton Bates Day.

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