Reviews /

Brilliant Black British History

Authored by Atinuke
Illustrated by Kingsley Nebechi
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Brilliant Black British History is an excellent overview of how Black people have been present in Britain throughout human history.

This book sets out clearly and with lots of detail how Black people have always been part of British history. The author points out that the first settlers in prehistoric times, 12000 years ago, have been shown through DNA tests to have had brown skin. ‘They were black – like all western Europeans were in those days‘ (p.9). Atinuke also points out that ‘Every single British person comes from a migrant who moved here anytime from yesterday to thousands of years ago.’ (p.3).

This history of the Black people of Britain then shows, from Roman times up to the present, examples of Black people who lived and working in the UK, contributing significantly to society at all levels. We learn about Ellen and Margaret Moore who were ladies in waiting at the Scottish Court in the Tudor and Stuart period. They had servants and horses of their own and Ellen was considered a great beauty. Just before the section on the Atlantic slave trade there is a highly informative double page spread and the African Empires – great civilizations that lasted for hundreds of years.

The substantial section on the slave trade is clear about Britain’s central role in that trade. The author points that ‘The Royal African Company in Britain bought and sold more African people that any other slave-trading company in Europe. It was owned by King Charles II, his brother the Duke of York and other British royals and aristocrats. It made them super rich.’ (p.31). Resistance and rebellion by enslaved people are emphasised and the central role of Black people in the campaign for abolition described. The British Empire and the impact both on the colonies and on Britain is given a major chunk as this history moves into the 20th Century and up to the present day.

The book ends with two important double page spreads. The first gives an overview of 40 current Black people who make present day Britain great – some of whom I was personally not aware of. Jawahir Roble, a football coach and men’s games referee or Dr. Maggie Aderin – Pocock, a scientist who designs machines that go up into space, for example. The second spread ends the book,  and is entitled Black Lives Matter and reminds all of us that the fight against racism still goes on and is the responsibility of everyone to continue it.

This is a book that will be invaluable in primary and secondary classrooms. It is easy to read and contains much essential information about Black history. The illustrations complement the text well and the front cover design is particularly powerful.

Highly recommended.

Winner of the the British Book Awards 2024 Nonfiction Category