Celebrating 75 Years Of Windrush For Birmingham’s Black History Month
19 October 2023
October marks Black History Month (BHM) in the US, Canada, UK, and Ireland, which aims to promote, observe, and celebrate the contributions of those with African and Caribbean heritage and raises awareness of the importance of recognising the enormous contribution Caribbean culture has made to England’s history.
This year marked the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Windrush, signified historically by the first ship HMT Empire Windrush, which arrived in Britain on 22 June 1948.
Those who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971 have become known as the Windrush Generation, which is an estimated 500,000 people who immigrated from Caribbean countries – giving the West Midlands a British Caribbean population of around 87,000.
The Windrush Generation has made momentous contributions to all parts of society and culture; however, it has also experienced continual immigration issues and injustices. It is as important now, as ever, to celebrate cultural diversity and educate society on Black history.
Windrush in Birmingham
Many individuals who were part of the Windrush generation settled in Birmingham, making it the most diverse city in the UK, finding jobs in industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, and education. Today, Birmingham is home to 8% of Britain’s African and Caribbean population.
The Windrush generation also had a sizeable impact on the world’s culture, affecting everything from books, music, and film, to sports, language, and community organisations. UB40, a multicultural band from Balsall Heath, have enjoyed international success with their Ska and Reggae influenced music, releasing over 50 singles since 1978 and selling more than 70 million records worldwide. Their influence continues to this day, having performed in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year. Another Birmingham-formed band – who took to the stage during the Games – is Musical Youth, whose music has also been loved around the world with their song Pass the Dutchie even being recently featured in the hit Netflix series, Stranger Things.
Birmingham’s large Windrush population helped to kickstart Britain’s dance revolution in some of the city’s most unconventional venues, such as basements, school halls, and churches. This movement challenged the exclusion of African and Caribbean people from white-owned social venues, and the dance revolution grew from Birmingham’s basements to stage shows, Black clubs, and major international events such as the Notting Hill Carnival.
A notable figure in Birmingham’s cultural landscape is Benjamin Zephaniah, a writer and poet who was born in Handsworth in 1958 to parents who were members of the Windrush generation. Describing Handsworth as the ‘Jamaican capital of Europe’, his music and poetry are strongly influenced by the country. At the age of fifteen, he completed his first performance in a church and was already well-known among the local Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities for his words and music.
He went on to be included in The Times list of Britain’s top 50 post-war writers in 2008, with one of his notable works being the book Windrush Child, which gives us insight as to the experience of a child in the Windrush generation. His work has been praised for dealing with important themes of race, politics and social injustice.
Black History Month in Birmingham
Some notable events taking place in honour of Black History Month are:
The ‘Blood and Fire: Our Journey Through Vanley Burke’ Exhibition is open Thursday–Saturday, 11:00 am-4:00 pm, until 4 November 2023. The exhibition features images taken by Vanley Burke and archive material from his personal collection to illustrate a history of Black British experiences using Birmingham’s community as a lens.
The Comedy Shutdown Black History Month Special – Sunday 15 October and 21 October 2023, Doors open at 5.00 pm. The Comedy Shutdown tour hosts memorable, quality shows all over the UK and features the very best of established and new comedy talent appealing to all ages and backgrounds.
A full listing of the events can be found here.