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Black History in Wales: Celebrating the Rich Cultural Heritage

Black history is an integral part of Wales' diverse cultural tapestry, with a rich legacy that spans centuries. From the presence of African soldiers in the Roman army to the contributions of Black individuals in various spheres of Welsh society, the influence of the African diaspora can be seen throughout the nation's history. In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the lesser-known stories and achievements of Black individuals in Wales, celebrating their invaluable contributions to the country's economic, cultural, and social development.

The roots of Black history in Wales can be traced back to the Roman era, when soldiers from diverse backgrounds, including Africa, were stationed in the region. One notable figure is Titus Flavius Postumius Varus, an African soldier who settled in Italy before being stationed in Wales and eventually rising to the position of a prefect in Rome. This inscription found in Caerleon serves as evidence of the early presence of Black individuals in Wales. As British and European explorers embarked on voyages of discovery during the medieval and Tudor periods, records indicate the existence of African men and women living in cities and villages across the United Kingdom, including Wales. Many of them lived free lives and contributed to the cultural fabric of their communities.

Early Presence: Roman Era and Medieval Period

The roots of Black history in Wales can be traced back to the Roman era, when soldiers from diverse backgrounds, including Africa, were stationed in the region. One notable figure is Titus Flavius Postumius Varus, an African soldier who settled in Italy before being stationed in Wales and eventually rising to the position of a prefect in Rome. This inscription found in Caerleon serves as evidence of the early presence of Black individuals in Wales.

As British and European explorers embarked on voyages of discovery during the medieval and Tudor periods, records indicate the existence of African men and women living in cities and villages across the United Kingdom, including Wales. Many of them lived free lives and contributed to the cultural fabric of their communities.


Expansion of the African Population:

17th Century onwards

With the expansion of the British Empire and the growth of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the later 17th century, the African population in Wales increased significantly. Port cities involved in the slave trade, such as Cardiff and Swansea, became hubs for African servants, children, seamen, and freed slaves. Their presence can be found in household accounts, parish records, letters, and oral accounts passed down through generations within communities.


Celebrating Black History in Wales: Black History Wales 365

Black History Wales 365 is a year-round program that celebrates the richness of Black history in Wales. Each year, a theme is chosen to highlight the cultural heritage and triumphs of Black individuals in the country. As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Windrush arrivals, the theme for this year's celebration is "Celebrate and Elevate," emphasizing the importance of recognizing and promoting the diverse stories that shape Wales' national identity.


Black History Wales Artists Gallery

In 2020, Black History Wales established the Artists Gallery, showcasing the work of talented individuals who create thought-provoking, intriguing, and educational artwork. This initiative contributes to the vibrant and culturally diverse artistic scene in Wales. The Artists Gallery serves as a platform to celebrate the creativity and contributions of Black artists, further enriching the cultural landscape of the country.



Notable Figures in Black History Wales

Throughout history, Wales has been home to remarkable individuals of African and Caribbean descent who have made significant contributions in various fields. Let's explore the stories of some of these trailblazers:


Paul Robeson, an internationally renowned singer, actor, and civil rights activist, is better remembered in Wales than in his home country. Robeson's visits to Wales during the mid-20th century left a lasting impact on the Welsh people, and his powerful performances resonated deeply with audiences. His commitment to social justice and his artistic achievements continue to inspire generations.
Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson: The American Singer, Actor, and Activist

Paul Robeson, an internationally renowned singer, actor, and civil rights activist, is better remembered in Wales than in his home country. Robeson's visits to Wales during the mid-20th century left a lasting impact on the Welsh people, and his powerful performances resonated deeply with audiences. His commitment to social justice and his artistic achievements continue to inspire generations.

Clive Sullivan made history as the first Black sports captain for Great Britain in any sport. He captained the victorious 1972 Rugby League World Cup team, leaving an indelible mark on the world of sports. Sullivan's achievements shattered barriers and paved the way for future generations of Black athletes in Wales and beyond.
Clive Sullivan

Clive Sullivan: The First Black Sports Captain for Great Britain

Clive Sullivan made history as the first Black sports captain for Great Britain in any sport. He captained the victorious 1972 Rugby League World Cup team, leaving an indelible mark on the world of sports. Sullivan's achievements shattered barriers and paved the way for future generations of Black athletes in Wales and beyond.

John Ystumllyn holds the distinction of being the first Black person in north Wales whose life was well-documented. His story provides valuable insights into the experiences of Black individuals during the 18th century. Ystumllyn's presence and contributions challenge preconceived notions about the diversity of Welsh history.
John Ystumllyn

John Ystumllyn: The First Well-Recorded Black Person in North Wales

John Ystumllyn holds the distinction of being the first Black person in north Wales whose life was well-documented. His story provides valuable insights into the experiences of Black individuals during the 18th century. Ystumllyn's presence and contributions challenge preconceived notions about the diversity of Welsh history.


Historical Accounts: Unveiling the Stories

The pages of history are filled with fascinating accounts of Black individuals in Wales. These stories shed light on the diverse experiences, struggles, and triumphs of Black people throughout different historical periods. Let's explore some of these narratives:


The Gordon Riots of June 1780 marked a significant moment in British history, and amidst the chaos, the stories of Charlotte Gardiner and Lucy Johnson emerged. These two Black women played active roles in the riots, challenging the prevailing stereotypes and contributing to the fight for social justice.
The Gordon Riots 1780


Charlotte Gardiner and Lucy Johnson: Black Women and the Gordon Riots of June 1780

The Gordon Riots of June 1780 marked a significant moment in British history, and amidst the chaos, the stories of Charlotte Gardiner and Lucy Johnson emerged. These two Black women played active roles in the riots, challenging the prevailing stereotypes and contributing to the fight for social justice.

Henry McGilchrist's story exemplifies the courage and resilience of Black individuals in the face of adversity. As the kettle drummer of the 3rd (King's Own) Dragoons, McGilchrist served with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars, leaving a lasting legacy in the annals of military history.
Henry McGilchrist

Henry McGilchrist: Kettle Drummer of the 3rd (King's Own) Dragoons

Henry McGilchrist's story exemplifies the courage and resilience of Black individuals in the face of adversity. As the kettle drummer of the 3rd (King's Own) Dragoons, McGilchrist served with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars, leaving a lasting legacy in the annals of military history.


Olaudah Equiano, a former enslaved African who became a prominent abolitionist, played a crucial role in raising awareness about the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. His autobiography, "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano," exposed the brutalities of slavery and advanced the cause of abolitionism. Equiano's powerful words continue to resonate with readers worldwide.
Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano: A Voice for Freedom

Olaudah Equiano, a former enslaved African who became a prominent abolitionist, played a crucial role in raising awareness about the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. His autobiography, "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano," exposed the brutalities of slavery and advanced the cause of abolitionism. Equiano's powerful words continue to resonate with readers worldwide.


Remembering the Unsung Heroes

While some Black individuals in Wales achieved fame and recognition for their contributions, countless others remain unsung heroes. Their stories may be lesser-known, but they are no less significant. Let us shine a light on a few of these remarkable individuals:


Peter Bishop: Soldier of the 69th Foot and Veteran of Waterloo

Peter Bishop, a soldier of the 69th Foot, fought bravely alongside his comrades at the Battle of Waterloo. His service to the British army exemplifies the sacrifices made by Black soldiers during times of conflict, despite facing discrimination and prejudice.


William Buckland: From Guadeloupe to 'The Fighting Fifth'

William Buckland's journey from Guadeloupe to serving in the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers, known as 'The Fighting Fifth,' showcases the resilience and determination of Black soldiers in the British military. Buckland's story challenges the narrative that Black individuals were passive participants in the history of the armed forces.


Conclusion

Black history in Wales is a testament to the resilience, creativity, and enduring spirit of individuals who have shaped the nation's past and present. From the early presence of African soldiers in the Roman army to the contributions of Black artists, activists, and servicemen, their stories deserve to be celebrated and shared. By acknowledging and embracing the diversity of Wales' history, we can foster a more inclusive and equitable future for all.


Published by

Visit Caernarfon Ltd




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