Why You Must Go On a Black History Walk Around London

Sep 18 2017 BY Rachel Ayeh-Datey

Black History Walks are a collective of athletes, IT professionals, teachers, artists, authors and film-makers who collaborate to produce events on British History which centre around the often forgotten experiences of African/Caribbean people. Over their 10+ year tenure, they have collaborated with academic institutions such as LSE alongside government bodies like the Department for Education and Schools to bring black British History to the forefront. Black History Walks offer 2 hour guided tours of London with 5 different walk routes (Saint Pauls, Notting Hill, Elephant & Castle, Trafalgar Square and Soho). They also offer Talks in the form of interactive weekly presentations on important subjects ranging from Black World War 2 Heroes to Fibroids. Classic and rare films are held in different venues around London like BFI Southbank and the Imperial War Museum.


Throughout the guided tour, you’ll be taken back through hundreds of years of African/Caribbean contribution to the very foundation of Britain’s way of life. These walks are tools in which to uncover hidden histories behind some of London’s prominent landmarks and to discover that there are many African connections at every turn. This past Saturday we went on the guided tour of Soho which started at Russell Square Station and ended at Oxford Circus. While standing outside the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square we learnt about a cricketer and politician called Learie Constantine who was denied access to this hotel in 1943 because he was a black man. Learie decided to take legal action against Imperial Hotels which was one of the catalyst for the creation of the Race Relations Act of 1965.  Standing outside SOAS, the histories of incredible Guyanese activists Ivan Van Sertima and Walter Rodney were told. Information about how the Eurocentric teachings of African history at SOAS led Ivan Van Sertima to attempt suicide was passed on. Luckily this attempt was a failed one and Ivan went on to write bestselling novel about African origin in the Americas called “They Came Before Columbus”.


Outside the British Museum which was introduced as “the home of stolen goods”, we became aware of how the British stole and violently acquired the Benin Bronzes from Southern Nigeria. While looking at the Benin Bronzes and all the other African artefacts within the exhibition, it was hard not to feel contempt and resentment towards the British. We were informed that feeling mixed emotions were a usual occurrence during these walks.


The Benin Bronzes


Going on a guided walk of London is both mentally and physically stimulating. Furthermore these walks attract people from a wide variety of ages so you get to experience cross generational interaction. It was enriching hearing stories from older walkers in the tour about their experiences being black in Britain. One of the last stops in the tour was at a bookshop on Bloomsbury Street called Bookmarks which the tour guide labelled as his go-to for interesting and rare finds about the topics we had discussed throughout the tour. We were given 10 minutes to browse and potentially purchase any texts that we pleased. This encouraged us to further delve into black British history in our own time.


It is important to seek out education which is not offered as lessons in the curriculum of British schools. As people of African and Caribbean descent it is easy to feel out of place or to feel a lack of connection to the Eurocentric version of history that is taught. Black Brits commonly feel like we have no history in London, when really our history is everywhere. We just need to discover it.


To find out more information about these walks or any of the other services offered by Black History Walks, check out their website and Facebook page.