New BBC digital series explore black British history before the Windrush

When I was growing up, I learnt nothing about black British history at school. It was as if we had no history. These Alt History films reveal the black presence in the great events of a hundred years ago.David Olusoga
Date: 25.06.2019     Last updated: 25.06.2019 at 08.51
Two new digital series from the BBC seek to rethink black British history

The Empire Windrush arrived 71 years ago - bringing with it a new generation of black Britons. But black British history didn’t begin there, and two new digital series from the BBC, Alt History and Black To Life, seek to explore the untold stories of minority communities in Britain that make up an important, but often overlooked, part of our history. Both series will be published by BBC Stories on YouTube.

Alt History is a short series produced for the BBC by Uplands TV, in which historian David Olusoga addresses how and why the black experience is often left out of the narrative of British history.

In the introductory episode, Alt History: The History You Don’t Learn In School, David explains how the story of black presence in Britain goes back all the way to Roman times. He introduces the other three films of the series, which look 100 years into the past to explore three stories from the year 1919:

  • A British Lynching: Rapper Gaika presents the story of Charles Wootton, a young black man murdered by a mob during The Race Riots in Liverpool
  • White-Washing History: Historian Emma Dabiri discusses how most accounts of the First World War overlook the contribution of over four million non-European and non-white soldiers
  • A Forgotten Regiment: Olivette Otele, professor of history at Bath Spa University, explores the story of a regiment of black subjects who served in the First World War, who were treated so badly they were compelled to mutiny.

David Olusoga says: “When I was growing up, I learnt nothing about black British history at school. It was as if we had no history. These Alt History films reveal the black presence in the great events of a hundred years ago."

Black To Life is a beautiful collection of short films directed by moving image artist Akinola Davies and produced by Nuuksio Films. The series highlights surprising and little-known stories of black figures from British history, including the story of the first black aristocrat, Dido (Belle) Elizabeth Lindsay (1761-1804), who was raised with her father Sir John Lindsay’s family as part of the British upper class. Another looks at Omoba Aina Forbes-Bonetta (1843-1880), a Yoruba princess displaced by an attack on her tribe by a slave trader and given as a gift to Queen Victoria, who appointed herself the princess’s godmother.

Daisy Griffith, the BBC’s digital commissioner in factual, says: “The black experience is an important part of British history, but too often it’s overlooked, and undertaught. The stories featured in both Black To Life and Alt History are fascinating insights into a world we often hear about - such as the First World War, or Queen Victoria’s court - through an angle we rarely hear much about. We hope that both series will help people to think again, and to learn about and gain a new appreciation of our shared history.”

RB