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Mainstream media 'ignoring' black history, claims author

WAR HERO: Walter Tull

A PROLIFIC historian on Black Britain says he is shocked at the way mainstream media, including the BBC, has not picked up on his latest work about the roles played by black men and women in World War One.

Stephen Bourne published Black Poppies – Britain’s Black Community and the Great War last August, which coincided with the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

With many first-hand experiences and original photographs, it tells the often hidden stories of both the military and civilian wartime experiences of black people who toiled in the trenches and sang in the music halls.

Bourne expected the BBC and the national broadsheets to show an interest, but with the exception of one very favourable review in The Independent, last September his book has been completely overlooked.

London-based Bourne, who has written more than 20 books on black history over the past 25 years, told The Voice: “I contacted the BBC’s Director General last year as I felt Black Poppies was very relevant to the centenary work they were doing. I was then put in touch with the BBC’s Head of World War One Programmes.

“We had a very polite conversation in which they said they said they were extremely interested, but nothing happened. I left it for a while, then later I contacted the BBC’s Head of Diversity and had another polite conversation, but again nothing has happened.

“I’m not the type to rant and rave, but it has shocked me. There has been a complete lack of interest. This is not about me – it’s about the people in the book, who I feel are being discriminated against.”

Black Poppies was published by the History Press, the UK’s largest local and specialist history book publisher.

A BBC spokesperson said: “Our four year plans to mark the First World War Centenary is the biggest and most ambitious pan-BBC season ever undertaken, and the global aspect of the war has been covered extensively.


OVERLOOKED: Author Stephen Bourne

“Numerous programmes, not least historian and film maker David Olusoga’s landmark BBC Two serious, covered the conflict from the perspective of Indian, African and Asian troops and ancillaries as well as Radio programmes such as The War That Changed The World (Radio 3 & World Service) and Heroes at War (BBC Radio 5 Live)”

However, London-based Bourne, who is also an independent advisor to Southwark Police, has been invited to give talks on the book by both the Imperial War Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. Universities across the UK have invited him to speak and the book has been extremely well received.

He has also spoken to actors who are staging a new version of Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre after the director was inspired by Black Poppies to set the play in the trenches of World War One.

“The media landscape has changed so much since I wrote my first book in 1991 about the life of my adopted Aunt Esther, who was a black Londoner, born here in 1912. She also features in Black Poppies,” said Bourne.

“The BBC used to have African Caribbean units; there were multi-cultural programmes on Channel 4; we had more black radio stations and six black newspapers.

“British Black culture and history has been so marginalised. Twenty five years ago in the 1980s and 90s there was hope that it could be main stream. Essentially, social media has replaced the earlier media outlets and that can only be a good thing.

“But the dwindling number of black British media has meant that American African Caribbean history has taken precedence over UK figures.

“I am not disrespecting people such as Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks, but too often black British figures are overlooked because they are not receiving the recognition they deserve.

“This means that schools are not hearing about books on black history, so the African Caribbean culture and history is not taught in the UK as it should be,” he said.

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