Great Black Britons: Influential figures championing excellence in the UK
16 October 2020, 17:42 | Updated: 29 September 2022, 17:07
We're shining a spotlight on some of the most influential Black British figures in UK history.
Various Black Britons throughout history have championed excellence in their industries - from music to film and other influential activists.
We're dedicated to representing Black people who have paved the way for many other Black brits to be inspired by and look up to.
This series details the journeys and achievements of trailblazers and game-changers in the U.K throughout history to the present day.
Whether it's being the first to earn a major achievement, being instrumental in shaping the culture or making revolutionary changes in politics – we're celebrating their existence and what they've contributed to the U.K.
Take a look at some of the ground-breaking Black Brits we're shining a light on below.
Nigeria born Olaudah Equiano was kidnapped from his home along with his sister at age 11, where they were sold to slave traders.
After years of being sold to several slave traders, he was able to buy his freedom for £40.
Equiano then travelled back to England and started his fight to abolish slavery.
In 1807 the British outlawed slave trade which Equiano did not live to see this take place, but it was clear he contributed.
We're opening our 'Great Black Britons' series with one of the first Black African writers, Olaudah Equiano🙏— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 1, 2020
He was sold into slavery and eventually bought his own freedom, inspiring many others.
Presented by @Remel_London #BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/FQQdlMLQof
In 2008, Lewis Hamilton won the Formula 1 world title becoming the first Black male and the youngest male to do so
Hamilton was also awarded with an MBE by the Queen. Since then Hamilton has won 6 world championships making him the 2nd most successful driver in F1 History.
Lewis Hamilton has also heavily participated in the Black Lives Matter movement, by taking the knee before every race this year.
Hamilton has also launched a commission to encourage more diversity in Formula One.
For this Great Black Britons episode, we're celebrating @LewisHamilton 🙏— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 2, 2020
Hamilton is the first Black Formula One winner and is a six-time world champion🏆
Presented by @Remel_London👇 #BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/cdtLkoikG3
SERLINA & FAITH BOYD
During Lockdown Serlina started looking for magazines for her 6-year-old daughter Faith to read, she found that there weren’t any that represented her daughter or black culture.
She then decided to make her own magazine which would empower black children.
Serlina and her daughter Faith, 6, decided to create their own black girl magazine called 'Cocoa girl' which inspires and educate young black girls who are misrepresented.
Now, Cocoa Girl has sold more than 11,000 copies. Off the back of the success, Serlina went on to creating 'Cocoa boy' for young black boys.
Great Black Britons - Serlina and Faith Boyd ✨— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 8, 2020
Serlina Boyd created the first UK Black children magazine @cocoagirlmag, inspired by her daughter Faith.
Presented by @Remel_London
Learn more about their story here 👇 #BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/x89iGhWdOn
Bergdorf took on modelling in 2014 as there was a lack of diversity in the industry.
At the age of 24, Bergdorf began gender transitioning and became the first transgender model in the UK for L’Oréal but was later dropped after a racial disagreement.
In 2018 she won ‘Changemaker of the Year’ at the Cosmopolitan awards.
In 2019 she was awarded with an honorary doctorate from the University of Brighton in recognition of her campaigning for transgender rights.
On this Great Black Britons episode, we have the amazing @MunroeBergdorf 🙌🏾— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 9, 2020
Bergdorf became the first transgender model in the UK. She has inspired many, campaigning for trans rights and racial equality.
Presented by @Remel_London#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/B4Dl4fRaKz
SISLIN FAYE ALLEN
She was a qualified nurse at Queens Hospital in Croydon. In 1968 she saw a policewomen job role in the newspaper, applied and got the job at the age on 29·
The first black male officer, Norwell Roberts,had only joined the Metropolitan Police the previous year
Over the years she worked at the metropolitan police she experienced a lot of racism· In 1972 Sislin decided to resign and return to Jamaica where she continued work as a police officer
Great Black Britons - Sislin Fay Allen 🙌🏾— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 12, 2020
Sislin Fay Allen became the first black female police officer in the UK, inspiring many along her journey.
Presented by @Remel_London#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/AWDYTddssK
Claudia Jones was born in Trinidad in 1915 and at the age of 8 she moved to New York.
In New York she became an active member of a communist party, where she edited newsletters, attended rallies and became a human rights activist.
In 1958 Claudia founded Britain’s first black weekly newspaper “The West Indian Gazette”·
In 1959 Claudia started Notting hill carnival after several race riots broke out which was her response to rebuild black community and give the black community something to reunite.
Great Black Britons – Claudia Jones 🙌🏾— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 13, 2020
Human rights activist, Claudia Jones, founded the Notting Hill Carnival, aiming to help rebuild the black community.
Presented by @Remel_London#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/u8pNqFFqKb
In 2011 Stormzy began making freestyles which he gained a lot of popularity for.
In 2017 he released his debut album “Gang Signs and Prayer” which went Platinum and received 2 Brit Awards, 2 BET awards, BBC Music Award and more.
In 2018 Stormzy Launched a scholarship to send Black students to Cambridge University. Later on, that year Stormzy signed a contract with Penguin Books and launched his #Merky Books to express the voices of the young Black British community·
In August he donated £500,000 to fund educational scholarships for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Great Black Britons – Stormzy 🙌🏾— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 14, 2020
Stormzy constantly inspires the youth through his music, Merky Books company and community work.
Presented by @Remel_London#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/JUNU1mmPpE
In 2022, Stormzy released his comeback single 'Mel Made Me Do It', which championed and celebrated numerous Black brits including Trevor Nelson, the family of Jamal Edwards and stylist Mel's wardrobe.
North London rapstress Ms Dynamite started her music career working as a presenter at a pirate radio station, from there she got into performing.
In 2001 she released her first Single Booo,which gained a lot of popularity and went into the UK charts at number 12.
Ms Dynamite won a Mercury music prize. She donated the £20,000 prize to the NSPCC in 2012.
In 2003 won British Urban Act and British female Solo at the Brit Awards.
In 2018 she was also given an MBE by the Queen for her services to music
Great Black Britons – Ms Dynamite 👑— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 15, 2020
North London rapstress @Ms_Dynamite is an instrumental figure in the U.K music scene 🙌
Presented by @Remel_London#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/dBgGlWfG2G
Trinidad born Winifred played piano from a very young age, she played for American servicemen and gained popularity very quickly.
In 1946 she moved to London and studied at the Royal Academy of Music.
She became the academies first female pianist to be awarded the academy's highest grading for musicianship.
In 1954 her hit single "Let’s have another party" was the first piano instrumentalto reach number one in the UK Singles Chart· She was the first black musician to have a UK Number 1
Great Black Britons - Winifred Atwell 🎹— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 16, 2020
Atwell was the first Black musician to have a number one hit in the UK, which saw international success.
Presented by @Remel_London#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/DATjzBKaFw
SIR TREVOR MCDONALD
Trevor McDonald began his journalism career in Trinidad in the 1960s before joining the BBC as a radio producer in 1969. he also became ITN's Britain’s first black male TV reporter in 1973.
Sir McDonald has been known for his documentaries and of course his 4-part radio special ‘Sir Trevor McDonalds Headliners’ on Classic FM.
Great Black Britons - Sir Trevor McDonald 🙌🏾— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 19, 2020
Trevor McDonald is a true icon in TV broadcasting. He became the first black male TV reporter at ITN👏
Presented by @Remel_London#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/heyc6Mr1CU
SIR LENNY HENRY
Sir Lenworth George Henry born in 1958· At the age of 18 he made his debut television performance, when he won the New Faces talent competition, with an impersonation of Stevie Wonder, which kicked off his career in comedy.
In the 2000s he appeared in several tv shows includingBerry's Way and Lenny's Britain, a comedy documentary. In 2016 Lenny won the BAFTA Special award.
Great Black Britons - Sir Lenny Henry 🎙— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 20, 2020
Sir Lenny Henry is a British comedy legend and has been on our screens for decades. Henry also co-founded Comic Relief to help raise money for people in need.
Presented by @Remel_London#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/s26cyQbuNG
VAL IRVINE MCCALLA
Val Irvine McCalla was born in 1943 in Jamaica.
In 1959 he moved to England at the age of 15. In 1981 he worked as an accountant and volunteered at ‘East End News'·
The following year he launched ‘The Voice’ newspaper a British newspaper focusing on black issues. After two decades it had become Britain’s most successful black newspaper.
Great Black Britons - Val Irvine McCalla 🗞— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 21, 2020
McCalla was the founder of The Voice newspaper, a weekly British newspaper aimed at serving Britain's black community.
Presented by @Remel_London#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/s1IG1aEANC
Harwood was the first Black actor to play Othello at the national theatre.
In 1990 he began his acting career where he starred in several shows including The Bill, Blood Diamonds and The Vice.
In 2019 he was included in the edition of the power list ranking the 100 most influential Black Britons
Great Black Britons - David Harewood 🎭— Capital XTRA (@CapitalXTRA) October 22, 2020
In 1997, Harewood became the first black actor to play Othello at the National Theatre. He was awarded an MBE in 2012 for services to drama.
Presented by @Remel_London#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/kuv0ntJhGK
Stuart Hall was a Jamaican-born, London-raised sociologist, cultural theorist and political activist.
He founded the school of British Cultural Studies in Birmingham, and was credited at expanding recognition and scope of studies of race and gender.
He has been called the "one of the country's leading cultural theorists" in his work in sociology and cultural studies.
Ncuti Gatwa is a Rwandan-Scottish actor, who rose to fame in his role as 'Eric' in Netflix's Sex Education.
He stole the screen as the loveable sidekick in the series, and has gone from career high to high before he has even turned 30.
In 2022, it was announced that he will be playing the iconic British role of Doctor Who, becoming the first Black briton to do so.
Gatwa will also be playing the first gay Doctor as reported by his co-star Neil Patrick Harris.
He also has a role in the upcoming 'Barbie' film directed by Greta Gerwig, which stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.
By representing Black queer characters on screen, Gatwa has said how he hopes that "that other little Black boys around the world" will be able to look up to him in his roles.