Underrated Matriarchs of Change: Black Women Who Shaped History
This year’s Black History Month in the UK has been themed: Celebrating our Sisters, Saluting our Sisters, and Honoring Matriarchs of Movements.
We want to shine a light on some of the remarkable yet underappreciated black women who have helped shape British history and society.
As the theme this year emphasizes, black women have been at the forefront of movements demanding equality, justice, and social change. Their stories deserve to be told.
The Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) was founded in 1978 by a group of black British women activists including Stella Dadzie, Olive Morris, and Beverley Bryan.
OWAAD campaigned against discrimination and state oppression of black and Asian women in Britain.
In 1985, OWAAD members Suzanne Scafe, Beverley Bryan, and Stella Dadzie published ‘The Heart of the Race‘, a groundbreaking book centering the diverse experiences of black women in the UK.
It highlighted the triple oppressions of racism, sexism and classism faced by this marginalized group
Here are some pioneering women of color who worked in education in the UK to promote change
Jenny Douglas (1907-1990) – First black headteacher in the UK. She led Roseneath Primary School in London in the 1960s. She focused on multicultural education and stood up to racist authorities.
Betty Campbell (1934-2017) – Teacher and community activist in Cardiff. She was the first black headteacher in Wales, leading Mount Stuart Primary School in the 1980s. She also chaired the Cardiff Community Relations Council.
Catherine Ross educates the community about African and Caribbean culture through the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, continuing the legacy of work by her late husband Bernie Grant, the UK’s first Black MP.
Educator and writer Maureen Stone was a leading figure in the field of multicultural education and school inclusion efforts in the 1960s-80s.
Diane Abbott – First black woman to be elected to the House of Commons in 1987. Before entering politics, she taught at London schools in the 1970s-80s and criticized discriminatory practices in education.
Brenda Woods (1951-2018) – Jamaican-born teacher who became principal at Greenford High School in London in 1996, likely the first black woman secondary headteacher in the UK. She promoted inclusive education.
Catherine Ross (b. 1944) – British educator and activist who founded CLAAS (Community Learning and Active Support) to provide supplementary education for African-Caribbean youth facing disadvantages.
Wilmet Sudler played a pivotal role in preserving Black British history, founding the George Padmore Institute archive which houses indispensable records on community organizing and anti-racist movements.
Sisters in Strength
The stories of these courageous women and so many others are so motivational. They overcame prejudice and injustice to lead change and uplift their communities. Though the scale of their impact varied, their integrity, passion, and perseverance can inspire anyone.
During Black History Month, I hope we take time to celebrate the ‘sheroes’ who came before. Their struggle continues today, but they lit the torch and showed us the way forward. As author Mary McLeod Bethune put it: “Have the courage to stand up for justice and truth.” Let us honor these women by exhibiting the same bravery and conviction.
Resilience, self-care, and well-being into modern day social justice
The incredible women we celebrate during Black History Month exemplified resilience in the face of injustice. As we carry their torch in today’s fight for equality, we must also prioritize self-care and well-being. Our reforms will only thrive if we nurture our minds, bodies, and spirits.
Share your feelings with a loved one. Unplug from devices and get grounded in nature. Express your truth through music, poetry, painting, or dance. Take breaks when overwhelmed and be kind to yourself. Protect your peace and happiness, for they are revolutionary acts.
Our resilience comes not from being unbreakable, but from learning to heal. We honor the women before us by embracing our full humanity. Our power lies in sisterhood, community, and radical self-love.
Take time to care for the precious girl within you. Find power in joy, laughter, and moments of stillness. Together we will sustain one another, and be the heroines of our own stories.
Here are some events happening in the UK, especially London, for Black History Month in October
Black History Month at the National Archives (October 1-31, London) – Exhibits, workshops, and tours related to Black history in the UK archives. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/news/black-history-month-at-the-national-archives/
Black History Month River Boat Cruise (October 2, London) – Boat cruise along the Thames celebrating Black music, food and culture. https://www.designmynight.com/london/whats-on/food-drink/black-history-month-river-boat-cruise
Making History: Uncovering Black British History (October 5, London) – Panel discussion on overlooked Black British history at the National Archives. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/making-history-uncovering-black-british-history-tickets-168045223147
Black Writers Festival (October 7-9, London) – Literary festival highlighting Black British writers through talks, workshops, etc. https://www.blmuk.org/2020/09/07/black-writers-festival-2020/
Hackney Knees Up (October 8, London) – Celebration of Black music, food and culture in Hackney. https://www.hackney.gov.uk/hackney-knees
Black History Month Walking Tour (Various dates in October, London) – Guided tour of sites related to Black history in London. https://britainisgreat.com/event/black-history-month-walking-tour/
BCA Heritage Month (October, Birmingham) – Exhibits, performances, and film screenings about Black history and culture. https://birminghammuseums.org.uk/bca/whats-on/bca-heritage-month
Some great events happening this October for children to celebrate and learn about Black History Month in the UK
Black History Tours for Families at Hackney Museum (Saturdays in October, London) – Interactive tours suitable for kids aged 7-11 and their families. £10 per child. https://hackneymuseum.org/whats-on/black-history-tours-for-families/
BCA Youth Takeover (October 20, Birmingham) – Event organized by and for young people to explore Black history and heritage. Free. https://birminghammuseums.org.uk/bca/whats-on/bca-youth-takeover-2
Black History Month Family Day at the V&A Museum (October 15, London) – Arts & crafts, music, and storytelling for kids inspired by the V&A’s collections. Free. https://www.vam.ac.uk/event/oDZ51AD8/black-history-month-family-day
Half-term Black History Month Family Workshop (October 26, Manchester) – Arts activities for families inspired by Walter Tull, a Black British WW1 hero. £5 per child. https://manchesterartgallery.org/events/half-term-black-history-month-family-workshop-2/
Black History Month Storytelling & Music (October 30, Leeds) – Interactive stories and music for kids. Free. https://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/events/black-history-month-storytelling-and-music
Engaging kids with Black history and culture through interactive and creative activities can really foster an appreciation and respect for diversity from an early age.