Why we still need ‘100 Great Black Britons'

30 October 2017

By Patrick Vernon OBE, Social commentator

The BBC launched 100 Great Britons in 2002, asking the public to vote for the greatest Briton of all time. When the BBC announced the results, there was no one from African or Caribbean heritage. The only person from a Black Asian and Minority Ethnic background was Freddie Mercury.

It sparked an outcry. I was one of those who were outraged, so I decided to run an alternative list to demonstrate that there’s been a black presence in Britain going back 1,000 years - from Roman times to modern day.

It generated real interest from the media. The names suggested ranged from Emperor Septimius Severus who built Hadrian’s Wall, to Ms Dynamite.

The winner was Mary Seacole. It led to the Royal College of Nursing adopting Mary Seacole as a champion, giving her the same status as Florence Nightingale.

The list created a public concept of the history of the black presence in Britain for the first time. It led to TV programmes, books, blue plaques up and down the country.

The reason I’m doing it again 14 years later, is that post-Brexit there’s been an increase in hate crime and people questioning the issue of ‘are you British enough?’

As Black Britons, we go back 1,000 years - we are not going anywhere; this is our home! There’s a new generation of heroines and heroes and also more research available now, with historical figures coming out of the woodwork.

The new 100 Great Black Britons list is a public opportunity to vote for the greatest black Briton of all time. We’ll be taking nominations from October to March next year, and then there’ll be a period for the public to vote for a new list in June 2018. We’ll announce the result at Black History Month 2018.

We want to celebrate all that black people have contributed to Britain. It’s not all doom and gloom. It’s important to send a message to people that they can achieve, that they can make a difference - that they are part of Britain.

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