Thursday, 14 October 2010

Black History Month Catherine Johnson

I like Black History Month. Of course it does sound a bit American, and to be absolutely honest I think it should be called British History Month because that's what it is, it's all of our history whatever colour we are. But it does help to know that there is a history of not white people that goes back an awful long way in these islands, and I do passionately believe we should all know about it. At least once a year.
I started writing historical novels because I loved those Sunday afternoon serials we had on the BBC in the 70s. I always loved the clothes and would have diued for an empire line frock, or at a pinch, a long Scottish Widows style velvet cloak I could throw on when I had a delivery to make on my horse.
Basically, I wanted to write stories that had people like me in fancy threads.The only historical outfits I ever saw black people in were slave rags or loin cloths.
Then I found this photo. It's my grandmother, also a Catherine, there on the left, with her mother in the centre, and her sisters. Look at their hats! Aren't they fabulous? This is black people in full late Victorian garb, these people are reasonably well to do and they are sitting there in all their finery for the photographer, just like people do everywhere.
And that's the point of it I suppose, not just Black History Month or history or stories; its that we're all pretty much the same.
Catherine Johnson
PS apologies for the mis post yesterday, I am in Lancashire thanks to the wonderful librarians of the county. If any of you get a chance to go to Shout About Books go! Many thanks to Alison, Allyson, Suzanne and Susan and Sandra. And more apologies to Linda, I tried to reply to your email but postmaster wouldn't let me.


Penny Dolan said...

Well said - and a magnificent photograph too. No wonder there's a subtle love of clothes and finery in your "A Nest of Vipers"!

Leila said...

I heard a really thought-provoking discussion on Radio 4 a few weeks ago about Black History Month - white bloke saying it was insulting and black woman saying it was better than nothign, which is what she got in terms of Black History when she was at school. Good to hear your thoughts too!

Leila said...

oh, and yes, what a fantastic photo!!

Katherine Langrish said...

It's a great photo and illustrates an excellent point. I bet people would be surprised, if we could time travel, to see the variety of races on - say - London's streets over the centuries. I've often wondered if Shakespeare's company had a black actor to play Othello, and the Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice - it's quite possible.

Leslie Wilson said...
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Leslie Wilson said...
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Leslie Wilson said...

Great blog, Catherine,
Do you know a book called 'Photography on the Colour LIne,' by Shawn Michelle Smith? It has photographs of American black people which were put together and exhibited in Paris at the Universal Exhibition in 1900. These were all sophisticated middle-class black people, the exhibit was compiled by W.E.B. Du Bois and as soon as I saw the photograph of your family I thought of it. It's an eye-opener, too, because I'm embarrassed to say I was surprised by them - but I was so pleased to see these clearly intelligent, cultured and sensitive people, rebutting the stereotypes both of their times and ours. But what a shame that we need to learn about that past a hundred and ten years after Du Bois exhibited those images!

I do agree, it is so important to know about ALL the ethnic groupings who lived in this country. All the peoples who have come to live here from elsewhere have altered what 'being British' is. I see this as an excellent thing.

Leslie Wilson said...

ps, it was me who removed the previous two comments, as I can't find a way to edit comments once they've been posted, and I saw a couple of typos and was annoyed by them!