Historian Tony Warner is the founder of Black History Walks, which takes people through different parts of London identifying neighborhoods and spaces integral to the city's black culture. Ahead of Africa Utopia, Tony guides us through nine key London landmarks of Black History.
Parliament Square, London, SW1P 3JX
This nine foot statue would be in Trafalgar Square were it not for the objections of Westminster Council who stated ‘it would be out of place because it is too big and in too prominent a location.’ With the Council decision supported by English Heritage and the National Gallery, those backing the statue, including former Mayor Ken Livingstone, took their appeal higher, to the then Labour government. Unfortunately they also refused permission for the statue to stand on the north side of Trafalgar Square, but suggested Parliament Square as an alternative, and in 2007, the statue was unveiled here. Interestingly, of all the statues on Parliament Square, Mandela’s is the only one not on a plinth; but as a result his statue is also the most popular, with people taking selfies with, what is at present, one of only two full-size statues of Black people in London.
‘Cleopatra’s Needle’, Victoria Embankment, WC2N 6PB
Londinium was founded by The Romans roughly 2,000 years ago. Yet, within the city there is clear evidence of African technology, art and design that is around 1,500 years older than London. So impressed were the British explorers with the what they found in Africa, they plain took it; shipping it over and putting it on display in their capital city.
1A Cato Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5HG
On 1 May 1820, Jamaican William Davidson was taken to Newgate Prison (a site now occupied by the Old Bailey), hung by the neck until dead, before having his head chopped off. His crime? Fighting for his people’s freedom. Mr Davidson, who had attended both Glasgow and Aberdeen universities, was ringleader of a radical anti-government group and had planned a revolution. An ex-military man, Davidson had arranged to buy numerous guns and bullets and planned to ambush a meeting of government ministers and take over the country. However, among his crew of radicals was George Edwards, a government informer. Davidson was arrested at Cato Street, convicted, and then executed in front of a huge crowd – some of whom supported his efforts. The Cato Street Conspiracy is but one example of the level of resistance Black people have engaged in while in England.
Africa section, British Museum, Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG
For reasons I’ve never understood the British Museum has separate sections for Africa and Egypt, with the latter disconnected from the rest of the African continent to enjoy a much more prominent location. Be that as it may, the Benin Bronzes are incredible works of art; so exquisitely made from bronze that racist Europeans would not believe Africans had made them. So, despite being dated to the 12th century - hundreds of years before white people arrived in the area - various fantastic explanations were advanced to explain their creation. Though many people have the idea Africa was ‘primitive’, ‘backward’ and ‘uncivilised’, the first British explorers drew great pictures of the many African cities they encountered, including the fabulous Benin City. But in 1897 the British decided to burn down Benin City and loot its valuables, including the famous Bronzes – some of which are housed in this display. West Africans have repeatedly demanded the return of these artefacts, and the British have been good enough to sell some of them back to the descendants of those they stole them from.
73 Riding House Street, Marylebone, London W1W 7EJ
Equiano is one of few African abolitionists to make it onto the National Curriculum. His amazing story began with his kidnap from the area now known as Nigeria as a young boy, and subsequent sale into British slavery via Barbados and Virginia. He enabled himself to read and write; served in various wars with the Royal Navy; managed to free himself from slavery and went on to travel the world, including a voyage to the North Pole with one Horatio Nelson. He even worked as a hairdresser. Vexed at the continuing exploitation of his people, Equiano ‘crowdfunded’ (without the website of course) money from high society and published his book The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano in 1789, which became a bestseller that’s still available today. Equiano subsequently travelled the country giving lectures and speeches on the evils of the slave trade.
Blackfriars Bridge, SE1 9UD
The biggest ever march of Black people in England took place here on 1 March, 1981. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people crossed the river to protest against British racism, and demonstrate for equal treatment under the law. The trigger for the march had been the deaths of 13 young Black people at 439 New Cross in a suspected racist arson attack on 18 January that same year. Although racially motivated arson and other physical attacks were common at this time, there was a distinct lack of interest in, and coverage of, the incident from police and mainstream media. The march proceeded along Fleet Street - the address of many British newspapers at the time - and passed off peacefully, notwithstanding the racist abuse marchers experienced from staffers leaning out of windows. Yet, the next day The Sun ran with the headline ‘The Day the Blacks Ran Riot’
Bank of England, Threadneedle Street, EC2R 8AH
This has been a depository for wealth from Africa and the Caribbean for centuries, whether it be the Apartheid dealings of the 1980s or the millions deposited there from Caribbean slave masters. In 1663 the bank even introduced a new coin named after the African region from which the gold to make it came from.
Windrush Square, Brixton, SW2 1JG
The only one of its kind, and 70 years in the making, this memorial was unveiled on 22 June 2017, by the Nubian Jak organisation. More than two million African and Caribbean military servicemen and women participated in the First World War and Second World War, but their contribution has gone unrecognized. Unveiled to correct this historical omission, the memorial also serves to ensure young people of African and Caribbean descent are aware of the valuable input their forefathers had in the two World Wars. Also listed on the monument are the oft-forgotten Black troops who fought in the Napoleonic wars.
8 All Saints Road, Notting Hill, W11 1HH
Set up by legendary activist Frank Chrichlow, this was far more than just a place to eat. It was a meeting place for the Black Panthers and offered legal advice to young black men unfairly arrested by the police. As part of the Mangrove Nine, Frank Chrichlow challenged state racism in the British court system and won. Beyond this important anti-racist campaigning, it was also the place to be for visiting celebrities such as Muhammad Ali, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Bob Marley, Sammy Davis Junior, Jimi Hendrix and others.
As part of Africa Utopia, Tony Warner will be conducting two specially curated Black History Walks along the Thames riverside on Sunday 16 July.