Black History Month 2020
Black History Month 2020

Black History Month at Oxford

This Black History Month, the University will be recognising, celebrating and contributing to this national observance with a range of activities, and we're inviting all students to contribute and take part.

Throughout October events and content streams will run University-wide, across colleges, departments and divisions, focusing on some of the contributions that Black people and people of Black heritage have made throughout history, to the University, and society as a whole. The event will also reflect on some uncomfortable legacies of Oxford’s past as well as ongoing work to improve the diversity of the University’s student body, with initiatives unveiled to encourage successful applications from Black undergraduate and graduate students.

Now in its 33rd year nationally, British Black History Month has significantly grown in profile, and raises awareness of the role that black Britons have played in British history and the struggle for racial equality in this country. October also marks the anniversary of 100 years since women first matriculated to Oxford, and the campaign will highlight the stories of some of the Black women whose achievements have contributed to the calibre of the University’s academic legacy.

Other highlights include the Oxford Black History Month 100 series, where we are inviting students to contribute their entries. The list celebrates Black excellence by drawing attention to lesser known academics, books, artefacts, images, podcasts and cultural assets. There is no right or wrong entry, it can be anything that showcases Black excellence for you – from the celebratory to the more uncomfortable reflections on the past, and how we can move forward. 

Examples include:

  • Claire Harvey at St Hilda’s College: A book, 'Gambian Studies', by St Hilda's alumna, Dr Florence Mahoney. After leaving St Hilda's, Dr Mahoney went on to become the first Gambian woman to earn a PhD in History. She gifted a copy of 'Gambian Studies' (2008), a collection of essays on 19th century Gambian history, to our library. 
  • Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, nominated Alain Locke, and his Oxford experience – which included the horrific racism he experienced. He was nominated to highlight how hard it is to be a pioneer, and that Black History Month is about more than showcasing talent and achievements. Sometimes, we want to emphasise progressive historical moments, and end-up erasing the difficulties and the painfulness of the actual experience of Oxfordians’ of colour, then and now.
  • Sarah Wilkins in the Undergraduate Admissions Office nominated Dr Des Oliver, a music graduate, who features on one of the Oxplore programme’s Big Questions, in a video on his research on classical music (re)presentation and inclusion of Black British musicians
  • Matthew Leake, Communications Manager Reuters Institute for Journalism - I have chosen to highlight the Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi who lives in Oxford. His paintings combine a wide range of artistic traditions including African, Arabic, Islamic and Western, reflecting his life's journey. His art can be moving, serene, captivating, and haunting, often all at once, but above all it's beautiful. He was the first African artist to have a retrospective of his work at London's Tate Modern who hailed him as 'one of the most significant figures in African and Arab Modernism', and in 2018 the Ashmolean held an exhibition titled 'A Sudanese Artist in Oxford'. His art is very accessible and offers something for everyone; my children appreciate his work and we'll often head straight for his pieces when visiting museums. El-Salahi is a true visionary modernist.

If you would like to get involved, please send your suggestion for inclusion to lanisha.butterfield@admin.ox.ac.uk, include your name, college affiliation, and a short sentence explaining your suggestion. Please include a supporting image if you have one. 

Further information about the importance of Black History Month, events near you and resources you can access online, are available on the Black History Month website, with details about Oxford’s programme can be found on the main University website.