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Witness History: Black history

69 EpisodesProduced by BBC World ServiceWebsite

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Una Marson and the BBC Caribbean Service

December 19th, 2022


To mark the 90th anniversary of the BBC World Service, we trace the development of the Caribbean Service.

Its beginnings go back to the early 1940s when the BBC’s first black producer, Una Marson was employed.

She …

The Little Black Book survival guide

October 31st, 2022


In 1985, Carol Taylor wrote a survival guide for young black men in the Unites Stated who were stopped by the police.

Her son, Laurence Legall, tells …

The beginnings of Notting Hill Carnival

October 7th, 2022


On 30 January 1959, the late Trinidadian activist Claudia Jones held a Caribbean party in St Pancras Town Hall in London, planting the seeds for the famous carnival.

She wanted to bring Caribbeans across the capital …

The Harder They Come

October 6th, 2022


In 1972, a low-budget Jamaican film and its legendary soundtrack helped popularise reggae music in the world. Ben Henderson spoke to one of the most …

The funk and soul club that changed Manchester

October 3rd, 2022


In 1962, Nigerian man Phil Magbotiwan opened a brand new nightclub in Manchester, England.

In part because of his own personal experiences of racism, …

Civil Rights activist Ida B Wells

May 31st, 2022


In March 2022 a law was passed in the United States making lynching a federal crime - nearly 120 years after the first attempts to introduce legislation. The pioneering African-American journalist Ida B Wells first …

The death of Trayvon Martin

February 24th, 2022


In February 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot dead by a member of a Neighbourhood Watch group who claimed he was acting suspiciously. The …

Black Jesus

April 2nd, 2021


On Easter Sunday 1967 the Reverend Albert Cleage renamed his church in Detroit the Shrine of the Black Madonna. He preached that if man was made in God's image there was little chance that Jesus was white as most of the …

'I just wanted to be white'

November 3rd, 2020


In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, thousands of children were born to white German women and black American soldiers who were stationed in …

Nasa's pioneering black women

October 23rd, 2020


Usually it is the names of astronauts that people remember about the space race. But less celebrated are the teams of people working on how to put a rocket into orbit. Only in recent years have stories come to light of …

Viv Anderson - first black England footballer

October 22nd, 2020


In November 1978, Viv Anderson became the first black footballer to play a full England international. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Anderson had …

The Battle of Lewisham

October 9th, 2020


In August 1977, the racist National Front organisation planned to stage a march into Lewisham in South London at a time of high racial tension in the area. The National Front activists were met by a huge …

When Nelson Mandela went to Detroit

September 23rd, 2020


Just months after his release from prison in 1990 the South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela toured the USA. One of the eight cities he went to visit was Detroit. Benita Barden has been speaking to Reverend …

The unlawful death of Christopher Alder

July 7th, 2020


The black former soldier choked to death in handcuffs on the floor of a British police station in 1998. CCTV footage taken from the police station …

Three Strikes Law

June 12th, 2020


One man's experience of the controversial US law that saw thousands locked up for life. Under the law in California, a third conviction for a felony …

Rodney King and the LA riots

June 11th, 2020


People took to the streets of Los Angeles in fury after police, who had assaulted a black driver called Rodney King, were acquitted in 1992. His …

Black basketball pioneers - Texas Western

June 10th, 2020


In 1966, an all-black team went head-to-head with an all-white team for the National College Basketball championship - one of the biggest prizes in …

The 16th Street church bombing

June 9th, 2020


Four young black girls were killed in a racist attack on a church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. The 16th Street Baptist Church was a centre for civil rights activists in the city. One of the girls who died was Addie …

Brown v the Board of Education

June 8th, 2020


In 1954 the US Supreme Court ruled that the segregation of public schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional. The case was a turning point in …

Ann Lowe - African American fashion designer

May 29th, 2020


Ann Cole Lowe designed Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress in the 1950s. As a black woman working in high fashion she was a groundbreaking figurein New …

The Miami riots

May 18th, 2020


After four white policemen were acquitted of killing a black man - Miami rioted. Citizens took to the streets on the night of May 17th 1980. The …

The last survivor of the transatlantic slave trade

April 21st, 2020


The last surviving person to be captured in Africa in the 19th century and brought to United States on a slave ship, has been identified as a woman called Matilda McCrear, who died in Alabama in 1940. Sean Coughlan has …

London's first black policeman

February 3rd, 2020


Norwell Roberts joined the Metropolitan police in 1967. He was put forward as a symbol of progressive policing amid ongoing tensions between the …

The first self-made female millionaire

January 30th, 2020


Madam C. J. Walker was the first ever self-made female millionaire. She was born to former slaves in the USA and was orphaned at seven but against all the odds she went on to create her own business selling black …

The story of George Stinney Jr

January 16th, 2020


How a 14-year-old boy became the youngest person to be executed in the USA during the 20th century. George Stinney Jr was sent to the electric chair …

Desmond's: A sitcom that changed Britain

January 2nd, 2020


Desmond's was the most successful black sitcom in British TV history. It ran on Channel 4 for over five years, attracting millions of viewers. Trix …

Black GIs during World War Two

December 16th, 2019


For much of World War Two African-American soldiers were relegated to support roles and kept away from the fighting. But after the Allies suffered …

The killing of Amadou Diallo

December 12th, 2019


When police in New York shot a young immigrant 41 times in 1999, thousands of people took to the streets to protest. But Amadou Diallo's mother …

Britain's World War Two 'Brown Babies'

October 11th, 2019


The US first began sending troops to the UK in 1942 to help in the war effort. It is estimated that at least two million American servicemen passed through the UK during World War Two and tens of thousands of them were …

The Bristol bus boycott

October 10th, 2019


In 1963 a small group of British black activists started a pioneering protest against racism within the local bus company in Bristol. It had …

The Notting Hill riots

October 9th, 2019


In August 1958 Britain was shocked by nearly a week of race riots in the west London district of Notting Hill. The clashes between West Indian immigrants and aggressive white youths known as Teddy Boys led to the first …

The first black woman MP in Britain

October 8th, 2019


In 1987 Diane Abbott became the first black woman elected to the British Parliament. The daughter of first generation immigrants she was one of only four black MPs elected that day. In 2015 Diane Abbott spoke to Farhana …

Learie Constantine - fighting racism in the UK

October 7th, 2019


The great West Indian cricketer, lawyer and member of the House of Lords took a London hotel to court when it refused to let him and his family stay …

Free breakfast with the Black Panthers

September 18th, 2019


The Black Panther Party hit the headlines in the late 1960s with their call for revolution. But they also ran a number of "survival programmes" to …

Nina Simone moves to Liberia

August 29th, 2019


The great African-American jazz singer Nina Simone moved to the Liberian capital Monrovia in September 1974. Simone was famous for her vocal support for the civil rights movement in the USA as well as for songs like I'm …

Britain's first female black headteacher

March 8th, 2019


Yvonne Conolly was appointed head of Ringcross Primary school in North London in 1969. She had moved to the UK from Jamaica just a few years earlier …

Photographing Martin Luther King and His Family

August 14th, 2018


In 1969 photo journalist Moneta Sleet became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. He won for the black and white image …

The "Godfather of Gospel Music"

January 29th, 2018


Thomas A Dorsey is credited with developing Gospel music into a global phenomenon. He started his own musical career in jazz clubs and blues bars, but personal tragedy led him back to church, and inspired hundreds of …

The First Kwanzaa

December 26th, 2017


In December 1966, a group of Black activists in Los Angeles created the winter holiday Kwanzaa to try to reclaim their African heritage. It's now …

The Unsung Hero of Heart Surgery

December 13th, 2017


The African-American lab technician, Vivien Thomas, whose surgery helped save the lives of millions of babies but whose work went unrecognised for years. Claire Bowes has been listening to archive recordings of Vivien …

The Immortal Cells of Henrietta Lacks

March 2nd, 2017


In 1951 cells taken from an African American woman suffering from cancer were found to be unique because they carried on reproducing endlessly in the laboratory. Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951. …

Roots - The TV Series

January 19th, 2017


The epic mini-series about slavery in the USA hit TV screens in January 1977. Based on a novel by Alex Haley it imagined the lives of his ancestors who had been brought to the US from Africa on slave ships. It …

Bob Marley Survives Assassination Attempt

December 2nd, 2016


In December 1976 unidentified gunmen tried to kill Bob Marley at his home in Kingston, Jamaica. The legendary reggae singer miraculously survived …

A Black GI in China

November 1st, 2016


In November 1950, Clarence Adams, an African-American soldier fighting in the Korean war, was captured by the Chinese Red Army. He was held in a …

Voting Against the War on Terror

September 20th, 2016


Just three days after the 9/11 attacks on America, Congress gave the President the power to order military action against any person, organisation or …

The Dance Theatre of Harlem

August 24th, 2016


In August 1969, Arthur Mitchell founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem - the first classical ballet company to focus on black dancers. Virginia Johnson, now the organisation's director, was a founder member.

(Photo: The …

Race Riots in Liverpool

July 25th, 2016


In July 1981 race riots broke out on the streets of Liverpool. It was the first time that British police used CS gas to control civil unrest in …

Black in the USSR

June 20th, 2016


Robert Robinson, a Jamaican born engineer, was recruited to work in the USSR from a factory in Detroit in 1930. Having had his US citizenship revoked, he spent 43 years unable to leave the Soviet Union. Dina Newman …

Marcus Garvey

May 17th, 2016


In 1916 Marcus Garvey arrived in the US and began a movement for black pride. His dream was that black people would live independently of whites in a …

Haile Selassie In Jamaica

April 18th, 2016


In April 1966, Ethiopia's emperor Haile Selassie made a spectacular arrival in Jamaica. It was his first and only visit to the birthplace of the …

The Back to Africa Movement

February 23rd, 2016


At the end of the 19th Century, African-Americans in the southern states of the US faced a wave of political and racial violence. Lynchings reached a …

The Death of Walter Rodney

June 11th, 2015


In June 1980, the Guyanese opposition leader and academic, Dr Walter Rodney, was killed in a bomb explosion. He was one of the leaders of a movement …

The Scottsboro Boys: A Miscarriage of Justice in the US

October 17th, 2013


In 1931, nine black teenagers were convicted of raping two white girls in the southern US state of Alabama.

Eight were sentenced to death by an all-white jury; but after years of campaigning, all eventually went free.

We …

Josephine Baker - Black American Superstar

October 10th, 2013


In 1925 a young black American dancer became an overnight sensation in Paris. Her overtly sexual act soon made her one of the most famous women in Europe. Her name was Josephine Baker - hear from her adopted son …

The Children's Crusade

October 9th, 2013


Birmingham in Alabama was one of the most segregated cities in the USA in 1963. In May that year thousands of black schoolchildren responded to a …

Mixed race marriage victory in US

October 8th, 2013


In 1958, a mixed-race couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, were arrested and then banished from the US state of Virginia for breaking its laws against inter-racial marriage.

Nine years later, Mildred and Richard Loving …

Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-ins

October 7th, 2013


On 1 February 1960, four young black men began a protest in Greensboro, North Carolina against the racial segregation of shops and restaurants in the …

The Freedom Riders

October 7th, 2013


The Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode on buses, testing out whether bus stations were complying with the Supreme Court ruling that …

The Mississippi Burning Case

October 5th, 2013


Andrew Goodman was one of the three civil rights workers killed by the Klu Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1964. He and the other two victims, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, had been working on a project to register …

John Howard Griffin: Black Like Me

October 3rd, 2013


John Howard Griffin, a white journalist, dyed his skin black to experience segregation in America's Deep South. John Howard Griffin wrote a book …

Beverly Johnson - Vogue's First Black Covergirl

October 2nd, 2013


In 1974 American Vogue put a black model on its cover for the first time. We hear how Beverly Johnson made it to the front of the world's most famous fashion magazine.

Black Golfer at the US Masters

October 2nd, 2013


In 1975, Lee Elder braved death threats to become the first African-American golfer to play at the prestigious US Masters in Augusta.

It was one of …

Jamaica Slave Rebellion

October 1st, 2013


*** Contains descriptions that some listeners may find upsetting ***

Enslaved Africans are forced to work in sugar cane fields - the hours are long and there are frequent, brutal punishments. They have endured these …

The Voyage of the Empire Windrush

October 1st, 2013


In 1948 nearly 500 pioneers travelled from the Caribbean on the Empire Windrush. The passage cost £28, 10 shillings.

Passenger Sam King describes the conditions on board and the concerns people had about finding a job …

The Attica Prison Riot

September 9th, 2013


In September 1971 prisoners in a high security jail in the US rose up against their guards taking 42 people hostage. After 4 days of negotiations, …

I Have a Dream

August 28th, 2013


On August 28th 1963, the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, made his historic plea for an end to racial discrimination in the USA. …

Muhammad Ali and the Draft

April 25th, 2013


In 1967, the world heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali, refused to be indicted into the American military. His decision to follow his conscience and …

James Brown Concert at the Boston Garden

April 5th, 2013


The soul singer's April 1968 concert was held amid rioting and violence provoked by the assassination of Martin Luther King. But despite the fears of …

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study

January 14th, 2013


For nearly 40 years, the US government conducted an experiment on a group of African-American men without their knowledge - to see what would happen …

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