A FORMER HACKNEY COUNCILLOR is about to become a bestselling author. Loving Dalston does not normally make predictions but Patrick Vernon’s non-fiction book, which he has co-written and which is published today Thursday, is an entry in a gap that our society is only now trying to fill.
A must for students, this compilation of mini biographies, will also make a valuable contribution to the knowledge of their elders, adding great chunks of the British story mostly left out by the schools tasked with telling it.
Vernon, who represented the now-abolished Queensbridge ward from 2006 to 2014 and was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2012, is named as co-author with Hull University historian Angelina Osborne, although he admits she did most of the writing. Activism — lately, campaigning on the Windrush migrants scandal — takes up most of his time, he says.
The book’s list of greats may be contentious, as such choices invariably are, and perhaps there is an excess of footballers and celebrities, but most readers will enjoy reading about neglected historical greats and potential role models, whittled down by Vernon and Osborne from names voted for by the public.
* Here is what Hackney councillor Soraya Adejare, right, thought of the book:
THE WIDE-RANGING SELECTIONS made by the two authors of this eminently readable book will appeal to a wide readership.
They provide both a historical and contemporary recognition of Black Britons who have helped to make social change in all areas of life.
Among the OBEs and CBEs there are some names we know, and the Hackney reader may take pride in some of the local references, but they sit alongside a fair number of black Britons many of us will never have heard of. And therein lies the reason for this book: we should know them all.
Though the writers do not claim the list of 100 to be definitive, I could not help but feel that contemporary musicians Rodney P, who forged the way for British hip-hop, Stormzy and perhaps one or two others, could have done with a mention. But, then, I am a huge hip-hop fan.
Still, it is the gaps that continue to pervade our education system that the book tries to plug. The role of, for example, William Wilberforce in campaigning to abolish slavery is well known — the inclusion of Britons such as African abolitionist Quobna Ottobah Cugoano will help to explain the role of campaigners who have been overlooked.
In an era when the Black Lives Matter movement has led to calls to decolonise school curriculums, one has to ask whether this work deserves to be on all our bookshelves? The answer is a loud Yes, every school library needs a copy. All of us, both student and adult, should be given the means to, as Dr David Olusoga says in the book, understand our shared history in its entirety. It is an aid to framing who we are as a nation.
For every person of African heritage who has ever been told to “go back to where you come from”, this offering of 100 heroes makes it unquestionably clear that black people are an intrinsic part of this nation’s progression. Our contribution to its history, its culture, its politics, its music and even, dare I say, the royal family (spoiler alert), is indelible and undeniable.
* 100 Great Black Britons (Little, Brown, ISBN-13: 9781472144300), by Patrick Vernon and Angelina Osborne, goes on sale today at £20.
* All pictures on this page © firstname.lastname@example.org (apart from Angelina Osborne handout), and all for sale for reproduction.
* Backstory: Rare African artworks show up in Shoreditch; Hackney drops black hero CLR; Clapton breakthrough for black writers; Afro-Caribbean experience in film; Marley at the Rio; Early black Spurs star
* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink, a reader service rare among websites. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained. Most photographs can be visually enlarged by pressing on them.