Before Black History Month comes to an end here’s a quick read into Manchester’s Black History

In celebration of Black History Month

It will come as no surprise to hear that Manchester has a long history of cultural diversity. Home to 540,000, 91 cultural groups, an estimated 200 languages spoken, and voted as the 13th best city in the world by Time Out, the city is known to be a melting-pot of multiculturalism. Important to note is that black presence in Manchester can be traced historically as far as to the eighteenth century, dating far before the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948. In celebration of Black History Month, this article takes a look at a few of the individuals from Manchester’s past and present that have shaped it into the city it is today.

Olive Morris

Radical feminist and British Black Panther member Olive Morris came to study at the University of Manchester in 1975. Having been recognised for her activism against racial, gender and class oppression, Olive was offered a place at the University with no prior formal qualifications to study Economic and Social Sciences. Her efforts to unite and organise the black community have been historic in their implications for Manchester’s black communities.

Known in part for her work in Moss Side, Olive’s drive for equal and universal education led her to campaign alongside black parents for a higher quality of educational provision for their children. This stand against injustice resulted in the establishment of a supplementary school for the community.

Being a co-founder of the Manchester Black Women’s Co-operative (MBWC) and the Black Women’s Mutual Aid Group, Olive’s dedication to fighting oppression has been invaluable in providing a support base for young black women. The 1979 Co-Operative, now transformed as the Abasindi Co-Operative, initially set out to combat white-collar employment inequality and has been key to providing a safe space and community resources to many.

Turning now to her university activities, Olive was also active in campaigning against the University’s decision to increase fees for overseas students. Given that today, 33.6% of The University of Manchester’s student population consists of international students, Olive’s efforts resonate as an example of incredible bravery, commitment and determination. To this day, Manchester prides itself on having one of the largest and most diverse student community in Europe, including those from abroad, those native to Manchester and those who have joined Manchester from across the nation. The political activism and engagement in local (and global) politics of Olive Morris is a vital inspiration to the students of Manchester today.

Nana Bonsu

Pan-African Community activist Nana Bonsu (the title given to him by Africans in Manchester), also known as Beresford (Berry) Edwards has been described as “one of the founding fathers of the African Caribbean community in Manchester.” Upon his move to Britain in 1961 to Moss Side, Berry devoted his life to fighting against racism and became hugely important to the African community after his court case against the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT) who had dismissed him on racist grounds. The case was intrinsic in setting a legal precedent in 1968 that, “No trade union can give itself an unfettered discretion to expel a man or to withdraw his membership. The reason lies in a man’s right to work.”

In Manchester, Berry became Chairman of the Guyanese Association and subsequently warden of the West Indian Organisations Coordinating Committee which became a base for campaigning and cultural events, including helping to develop Black History Month. Pursuing his belief of education for all, Berry additionally established summer schools for black school children at the Carmoor Road West Indian centre. Secretary of both the National Campaign Against Racial Discrimination which was influential in orchestrating the UK Race Relations Act (1968), and the Manchester branch of the Pan-African Congress Movement, Berry’s efforts did not stop there. He was also one of the leading campaigners in Manchester against the racially charged ‘SUS’ (stop and search) laws, used by police throughout Britain in the 1980s to discriminate against black people.

To find out more, details of Berry’s astonishing life and achievements can be found on the oral history website created in his memory. Berry is a true hero who worked tirelessly throughout his life for the rights of the African-Caribbean community across the country. His legacy is eternally entrenched in Mancunion history.

Arthur Wharton

British sport is well known for having a long and abhorrent history of racial discrimination. However after moving to Britain from Ghana, Arthur Wharton defied all odds against him to become the world’s first black professional footballer, the world’s first official fastest man, a professional rugby player, a professional cricket player and a cycle champion. He is renowned for his unique goalkeeping style by rushing out to put off those attempting to score-one supporter even claimed to see him save a goal with his legs. A sad indicator of racial attitudes at the time, Wharton was buried in 1930 in an unmarked grave and received little acknowledgement in the period for his achievements. However, in more recent decades Wharton’s sporting accomplishments have come into the public eye and he is finally gaining the recognition he deserves. Wharton’s incredible legacy has certainly left its mark on Manchester, after he joined Stockport County’s team and played his last ever match against Manchester United. A remarkable all-round sportsman, Wharton’s life has been extremely influential to young and old athletes alike.

Sharon Amesu

Multi-award winning motivational and TedX speaker Sharon Amesu is Manchester’s first woman to be Branch Chair of The Greater Manchester Institute of directors. Her outlook on the future of businesses is centred on closing gender and racial gaps in the workplace to build a more inclusive environment for all and advance leadership opportunities for black women in the field. Sharon is an inspiration to many women in business as she has managed to attain fame and success in a male-dominated field. Her talents are far-reaching, as demonstrated by her founding of the Leadership Development Consultancy. Sharon’s belief that leadership should not be based upon the title of a position, fulfils into her motto that, “every meeting, presentation or conversation is an opportunity for you to lead well and have a positive impact.” Fundamentally, leadership to Sharon is about everyday interactions that inspire and empower others to take action. Her ambitions for positive change have connected black women and brought many businesses on board with her efforts, gaining sponsorship from many for her She Leads for Legacy ‘Empowered to Lead’ conference in 2o22, including EY, Lloyds Bank, Agent, Pro Manchester, and Northern Rail.

Cleopatra (Cleo, Yonah and Zainam Higgins)

Originating in Moss Side, Cleopatra was one of the UK’s first black 90’s girl groups consisting of three sisters: Cleo, Yonah and Zainam Higgins. Their debut single reached #3 of the UK Singles Chart, placing their hit in the Top 5. Following their success, their next singles “Life Ain’t Easy”, “I Want You Back” (a cover of The Jackson 5’s) and “Thank ABBA for the Music” continued their pattern of reaching the top 5, resulting in nominations for the BRIT Awards and MOBO Awards. Performing at the 1999 BRIT Awards earned them the nomination for Best British Newcomer. Despite Zainam leaving the group in 2017, the sisters have made an incredible contribution to the British R&B and pop genres and continue to perform today.

These individuals mentioned are only a small part of Manchester’s black history. Having one of the largest numbers of migrants from across the nation (and the rest of the world) has led Manchester to become one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country. The “historic spirit of unity in diversity, passion and determination” in Manchester can be captured in Tony Walsh’s poem The Place, which was recited in Albert Square after the attack on Manchester Arena. Whilst Black History Month is coming to an end, it is always important to remember the histories and legacies of those who have greatly impacted this city.

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‘Black is beautiful’: Black Brits on what Black History Month means to them in 2022

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‘I want to see an end to the appalling way we treat uni students’, Corbyn tells The Manchester Tab

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