Five reasons why Black people have changed Yorkshire for the better
It’s a myth that Black immigration to the UK and Yorkshire began with the Windrush generation in 1948.
Indeed there have been Black people living in Yorkshire at various points throughout history since.
In 1687, a ‘Moor’ was given the freedom of the city of York. Records of the time list him as ‘John Moore – blacke’. Shamefully, some of Yorkshire’s history involves slavery. For example, in the 18th century, the Lascelles family of Harewood House (built 1759-1771), near Leeds, made most of their wealth from sugar plantations in Barbados which employed African slaves. It is, however, worth noting that William Wilberforce, MP for Yorkshire (1784 – 1812), led the parliamentary campaign for the abolition of slavery which achieved its goal in 1807.
The biggest wave of Black immigration to Britain and Yorkshire took place after World War Two when people from Jamaica, Barbados and other British governed Caribbean territories were invited over to make up for post-war labour shortages.
In the last census (2011), 1.5% of people in the Yorkshire and Humber region identified as Black.
However, the positive contribution of Black people – and people with African heritage – towards Yorkshire should not be underestimated. From sports champions to entertainers and community leaders and people who have changed Yorkshire for the better, God’s Own Country has plenty to thank Black British people for.
Elements of Black culture have been a significant part of British culture for decades from carnivals in the county’s main urban centres to music and literature. Leeds West Indian Carnival, Europe’s longest-running authentically Caribbean carnival, and Huddersfield Carnival have been among the key cultural events enjoyed by people from all ethnic backgrounds.
Entertainment and arts
Some of Yorkshire’s greatest singers, musicians, actors, authors and poets are Black or have Black heritage. Actors include Angela Griffin, originally from Leeds, who has had leading roles in Coronation Street, Waterloo Road and Harlots. Speaking of Corrie, there’s Ryan Russell, originally of Huddersfield and later Holmfirth, who plays Michael Bailey on the UK’s number one soap. Musicians and singers include Mel B, of Spice Girls and solo fame, soul singer Corinne Bailey Rae and electronic composer George Evelyn, aka Nightmares on Wax. In comedy, Charlie Williams, from Barnsley, broke new ground as Britain’s first well-known Black stand-up TV comedian.
Dishes like curry goat and jollof rice are almost as much a part of British cuisine as chicken tikka – and they’re a flavoursome break from bland British fayre. But there is so much more to Caribbean and African cuisine from Jamaican jerk chicken and fried dumplings (pictured above) to giant Ethiopian flatbreads and fiery West African dishes. Let’s not forget about grape soda, Red Stripe or rum cocktails either.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, Black people were recruited specifically from Jamaica and Barbados to work in the new NHS, British Rail and other public transport bodies. Today the NHS continues to recruit doctors, nurses and other medical professionals from Africa who help keep our Health Service afloat.
Black people and people with Black heritage have made an enormous contribution when it comes to representing Yorkshire in sport, not least football. Leeds United’s best have included Tony Yeboah, Kalvin Phillips and Brian Deane who was also a star at Sheffield United. Meanwhile, some of Huddersfield Town’s best included Chris Billy, Iffy Onuora and Wayne Allison. Elias Kachunga and Rajiv van La Parra were essential in Town’s promotion to the Premier League in 2017. And we can’t forget player turned pundit Chris Kamara who played for Leeds, Sheffield United and Bradford City.