Reviewed by Laura Ovenden
The History of the African and Caribbean Communities in Britain
Did you know that Queen Elizabeth I ordered the arrest of all Africans in London in 1596? Or that there was an early eighteenth-century fashion of wealthy people buying African boys as pages? Had you heard of the Black Loyalists who fought for the British in the American War of Independence, yet when they arrived in England most were refused pensions? Or of the disastrous attempt to settle 350 Black settlers in Sierra Leone in 1787, which resulted in most of them dying? This study certainly filled many gaps in my knowledge of Black history.
The author Professor Hakim Adi suggests there is still research to be done into the presence of Africans in the Anglo-Saxon period and into the lives of ordinary Black men and women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The deceptively slim book takes us chronologically through from the first Africans in Britain to the end of the twentieth century in this reissue of the most comprehensive overview of the presence and influence of people of Africa and Caribbean heritage in Britain. It is interspersed with plenty of case studies of individuals and colourful illustrations and photographs.
Above all, I was struck by the key figures who brought about change through their words and actions whether that be through publishing, political action or community building. The actions of the Abolitionists who refused to take sugar in their tea and their connection to the uprisings in the Caribbean are also referred to. It became abundantly clear that through the centuries African and Caribbean migrants have been encouraged to move to Britain when their labour is needed but abandoned when it is not. There is a constant ebb and flow and legal obstacles were put in place such as the Colour Bar. Of course, this hostile environment has most recently been seen in the Windrush scandal.
This important history book needs to be in every primary and secondary school library. It gives that important overview but is also peppered with inspiring individuals who were agents of change. It provides all readers with a broader sense of British history as without these stories we only have partial histories. The History of the African and Caribbean Communities in Britain presents people and history as dynamic and hopefully, young readers will see themselves as the agents of change.