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  • Writer's pictureSarah Hassan

Fill in the Gaps: The Black History we were never taught!

Amid everything that is occurring, it is time to talk about the major achievements made by Black people, that were left out of the history books, which benefit ALL of us.

Image Credits: PNW Production via Pexels

Why is it important to learn about our own history?

Ignorance is not bliss, so it is important to cultivate a long-lasting sense of Black pride, especially in the younger Black diaspora.

We’ve all heard of the amazing likes of Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King but many of us don’t recognise the names of Charles Drew, who revolutionised science by enhancing means of blood transfusions which meant he saved, and is still saving millions of lives, or Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the queer Black woman who invented Rock-n-Roll.

Our history is reduced to just struggles while any mention of our rich history is uncommon. Instead our history classes, the authors we learnt about, all the scientists that we were taught “revolutionised medicine” were all white as a result of the ethnocentric curriculum we see in the UK’s education system.

Other than slavery and the civil rights movement, how much Black history do you really know? Throughout time there has been a biased fixation on all the negative aspects of Black history - feeding into this idea that white history is the epitome of virtue - rather than any recognition of how the Black community shaped our modern world.

The people named positively changed the world we know today and deserve to be recognised as such.

So here is some black history I wish I learnt in school:

Meet Dr. Gladys West: Black Woman Pioneer of GPS Technology

Dr. Gladys West, a Black woman, was instrumental in creating the GPS that we use every day and almost cannot live without.


Meet Black Women Inventors - Dr. Valerie Thomas and Marie Van Brittan Brown

Dr. Valerie Thomas was a scientist and inventor whose contributions to NASA are still relevant to this day. Without her 3D imaging and movies simply wouldn’t exist.

Other inventions that wouldn’t exist without Black women include home security systems. As a result of the high crime rates in her neighbourhood, Marie Van Brittan Brown created a system to increase her levels of personal security that consequently influenced the modern home security system still in use today.


Meet Mary Mahoney - The First Licensed Black Nurse in the United States

1879 saw Mary Mahoney become the first licensed Black nurse in the U.S but, due to the prominent discrimination at the time she was unable to work in a hospital so instead worked as a private nurse. But she didn’t stop there, not only was Mahoney the co-founder of the National Association of Coloured Graduate Nurses (NACGN), but she later became one of the first women registered to vote in Boston.


Meet Mansa Musa - The Richest Person in History

Mansa Musa was the ruler of the prosperous Mali Empire in 1312 whose wealth was beyond comprehension. At the same time that European nations were struggling and lacking resources as a result of civil wars, the Mali Empire was flourishing due to its natural resources such as gold and salt. Musa was described as generous. He displayed this generosity while in Egypt as he gifted so much gold to the community it took 12 years for the Egyptian economy to recover.

This same 14th-century African emperor is still regarded as the richest person in history.


Meet Bessie Coleman - First Black Female Pilot

At a time of such gender and racial discrimination, Bessie Coleman became the first Black female pilot. She overcame the hardship of being denied to flying schools in the States by teaching herself French and moving to France to earn her license, she was a symbol of hope and bravery for millions of women of colour.


Meet Jesse Owens - First person to break 4 Olympic Records in just 45 minutes!

In 1936, Jesse Owens broke the Olympic record and won 4 gold medals in Berlin under Hitler’s Nazi regime where it was claimed that “no dark-skinned person could compete with the blond-haired blue-eyed Aryan master race". Owens victories in the face of such oppression is truly honourable.


Meet Miriam Benjamin - Inventor of the "Gong and Signal Chair"

Miriam Benjamin was the second Black woman to receive a patent for her invention that she called “A Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels” although it is its successor that is used daily in modern society - the flight attendant call button.

Image Credits: "Patent Drawing for M. E. Benjamin's Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels" via Picryl

Meet Mary Seacole: A British-Jamaican War Nurse

Mary Seacole was so dedicated to helping others that she made her own way to Turkey during the Crimean war and set up the British Hotel providing food and health care for British soldiers all using her own money.


Meet Henrietta Lacks: The powerful legacy of a Black woman whose cells were stolen by doctors

Henrietta Lacks was the subject of a medical experiment that is still saving lives today and is one example of the immoral experimentation and exploitation of the Black community. Her cells were stolen by doctors and played an important role in developing in vitro fertilisation (IVF), the Polio vaccine and cloning. The cells have also been used to develop drug treatments for Leukaemia, Parkinson’s and so much more.

Unfortunately, rather than learning about any of this through the school curriculum, we had to learn through family members, social media and our own research. You know there’s a problem with the education system when we’re learning more from social media than history lessons.

Our history is more than just slavery and civil rights!

May we rewrite history as we educate ourselves to change this narrative.



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