Here’s a quick peek in Coventry Black History that you might not have known about
In celebration of Black History Month
It is no secret Coventry was awarded City of Culture 2021. When you come to Coventry you can see how vibrant and diverse the city is. But according to a recent study, only five percent of Coventry’s population is black. Coventry University as an institution, brings in a lot of diversity and students from different countries and cultures. It is important note that Black history outdates Coventry University and can be traced back to the 1800’s.
In celebration of Black History Month, we took a trip to The Coventry Caribbean Centre to learn more about the Black History that Coventry has to offer. This is just some of the most notable figures.
Our first individual is a true inspiration, in the age of slavery he fought successfully against racism. Ira Aldridge was a stage actor and playwright, born in New York on the 24th of July 1807. He came to England to escape the racism in America after he had been brutally beaten for daring to act in a Shakespeare play. When coming to England, he fought against adversity becoming the first African American to achieve success on the international stage.
He pushed social boundaries by playing opposite white actresses and becoming the first black actor to play one of William Shakespeare’s leading roles in Othello. His link to Coventry is through becoming manager of the Coventry theatre, which made him the first back person to run a British theatre and he was only 20 years old at the time.
Steve Mokone became the first black South African to play first-class football in England and also the first to play outside his native country. He was a player for Coventry City and from this he went on to play football all over the world in places such as Barcelona, Marseille and Torino. Nicknamed ‘The Meteor’, he was known for his “wonderful dribbling skills and devastating pace”.
Mokone lived an incredible life and became a leading light in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. A footballer and an activist, Mokone managed to beat the odds and become a successful international figure. His life was later immortalised in two books and a film.
Britain has a long and deep history with slavery and the slave trade. It is estimated that Britain transported 3.1 million Africans to the Americans. Coventry’s link to slavery comes from Samuel Greatheed. Born in 1710, Greatheed had inherited the St.Kitts plantation after the death of his father in 1739. It is rumoured that his family had around 152 slaves on the plantation. Greatheed was also an MP for Coventry during between 1747 and 1761.
The Ska Revival
This highlights Coventry’s embrace of the multi-ethnic society that was being created in the 70’s. While race relations across the UK were at an all-time low, Coventry had come together to produce a new sound of music that had references of a desire to defuse racial tensions, this new sound revolution saw black, white and other multiracial people unite and come together to create influential music for the generation of that time.
This new sound was called two-tone, influenced by reggae, it was a way for the black youths in Coventry to connect with their parent’s culture through music. It was a genre of British music that fused traditional ska music with elements of punk rock and new wave music. Although commercial appeal was limited to the UK, it did influence the third wave and ska punk movements in the U.S. The Specials, are an example of a successful band formed during the the two-tone movement. They formed in Coventry during the late 70’s and the band was comprised of people from both black and white backgrounds.
This next legend is an English singer, actress and author. Her talents are far reaching, with a music career spanning over 40 years, during a time where there weren’t many black people in the mainstream arts, especially black women. Pauline Black managed to gain fame in a male dominated field, the two-tone era of music and was the lead singer of the band The Selecter. She herself is also a Coventry University alumni where during the 70’s, she studied as a radiographer. It was during her time in Coventry where she founded The Selecter. She has even made an appearance in Hollyoak’s.
These individuals are only a small fraction of the black history that makes up this city, from the Windrush generation who came to help rebuild Coventry, to the Coventry University alumni who have managed to impact this city. Even though Black History Month is coming to an end, it is important to always celebrate the different histories and cultures that make Coventry the city that it is.
Feature Image Credit: @thespecials