Witness History: Witness Black History

58 EpisodesProduced by BBC World ServiceWebsite

Interviews with people who were there at key moments in black and civil rights history

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Racial Equality in Britain - Learie Constantine

October 1st, 2018


The former West Indies cricketer, Learie Constantine, took the Imperial Hotel in London to court in 1943. It had refused to let him and his family …

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 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 …

Notting Hill Race Riot

August 25th, 2017


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 …

Brown vs The Board of Education

May 17th, 2017


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 …

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 …

South Africa's 1985 State of Emergency

September 27th, 2016


In the dying years of the Apartheid regime, the white minority government in South Africa was desperate to keep control as people took to the streets …

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 …

Kia Ora: Maori Rights Breakthrough in New Zealand

May 20th, 2016


In 1984, Naida Glavish, a New Zealand telephone operator became famous for greeting customers in her native Maori language. Instead of "good morning" she insisted on saying "Kia Ora". The New Zealand prime minister …

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 …

Britain's First Black Woman MP

June 22nd, 2015


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. Diane Abbott has been speaking to Farhana Haider about …

Inter-racial Marriage in South Africa

June 16th, 2015


In South Africa in June 1985, the ban on marriage between people of different ethnic backgrounds was finally lifted. Suzanne Le Clerc and Protas …

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 …

Dorothy Mulkey - US Fair Housing Campaigner

May 26th, 2015


In 1967, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling which effectively outlawed discrimination in the American housing market. The case was brought by …

Black Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm

January 29th, 2015


In January 1972 Shirley Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate to make a bid for the US Presidency. She was also the first black woman …

Death of Grenada's Revolution

October 18th, 2013


On 19 October 1983, Grenada's popular left-wing prime minister, Maurice Bishop, was killed following an internal party coup. Six days later the US …

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 …

Ruby Bridges Attends an all-White School

October 11th, 2013


In November 1960, Ruby Bridges became one of the first black children in New Orleans to be educated at a white elementary school. It began the …

16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

October 11th, 2013


On September 15 1963, four young black girls were killed in a racist bomb attack against a church in Birmingham, Alabama in the US. The Baptist church at 16th Street had been a centre for civil rights activities in the …

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 …

Soweto Uprising

October 5th, 2013


The Soweto uprising shook the Apartheid regime in South Africa to its core. But it all began with a demonstration by schoolchildren against having to …

Albert Luthuli Receives the Nobel Peace Prize

October 5th, 2013


When Chief Albert Luthuli won the Nobel Peace Prize he was living under a banning order in rural South Africa. His daughter Albertina talks to …

Nelson Mandela's Autobiography

October 4th, 2013


*** This programme was first broadcast on 25 October, 2011 ***

In the mid 1970s Nelson Mandela began writing his autobiography in prison, on Robben Island.

Mac Maharaj was one of the prisoners who helped edit and conceal …

ANC Bomb

October 4th, 2013


The armed wing of the ANC party took its first violent action in 1961, when a bomb was planted at municipal offices in Durban.

Ronnie Kasrils …

The Death of Steve Biko

October 4th, 2013


The anti-Apartheid activist Steve Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, died in a police cell in 1977. The South African …

The Rivonia Trial

October 4th, 2013


*** This programme was first broadcast on 10 February, 2010 ***

Ahmed Kathrada was one of the ANC activists jailed alongside Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Treason trial in South Africa in 1964. He tells Witness the …

Surviving Robben Island

October 4th, 2013


*** This programme was first broadcast on 11 February, 2010 ***

When Nelson Mandela and his fellow ANC activists were imprisoned on Robben Island in 1964, South Africa's apartheid regime distinguished between races even …

Petula Clark Touches Harry Belafonte's Arm

October 3rd, 2013


In 1968 Harry Belafonte and Petula Clark sang together her song On the Path of Glory for a special for NBC. Not such a remarkable event in itself, …

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 …

The Los Angeles Riots

October 2nd, 2013


In May 1992 the people of South Central Los Angeles took to the streets in fury at police brutality.

They were angry that Los Angeles police …

Apartheid in the 1950s

October 2nd, 2013


A snapshot of the attitudes and emotions on both sides of the racial divide as the South Africa authorites cemented the foundations of Apartheid in 1957.

The Stolen Generation

October 1st, 2013


Debra Hocking was taken from her indigenous Australian family as a baby and was placed with a foster family. It was part of a government policy to …

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 …

Bristol Bus Boycott

October 1st, 2013


In 1963, a small group of black activists in Bristol in the UK started a pioneering protest against racism by the local bus company, which had …

The Brixton Riots

October 1st, 2013


In April 1981 the streets of Brixton, south London, erupted into violence. The fighting took part between young members of the black community and …

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. …

Australia's Aboriginal Referendum

May 1st, 2013


In May 1967 campaigning began across Australia to consolidate Aboriginal rights in the country. It took a referendum to change the constitution …

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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