Witness History: Black history

Witness History: Black history

By BBC World Service

Listen to and download our programmes


The Battle of Versailles: Catwalk clash of American and French fashion

In 1973, a fashion show was held in France which became known as the Battle of Versailles, a duel between designs from modern America and the capital of couture, Paris. Five American designers, including Oscar de la Renta and Halston, were invited to show their work alongside five of France’s biggest names, including Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy. The aim was to raise money to help restore Versailles, a 17th Century palace built by King Louis XIV, but the media billed it as a competition between the two countries.By the end, the Americans were declared the winners. The show also highlighted their industry’s racial diversity on an international stage, with 10 women of colour modelling work by US designers. Bethann Hardison, one of the models, talks to Jane Wilkinson about the lasting impact of the astonishing show.(Photo: Bethann Hardison at Versailles in 1973. Credit: Jean-Luce Hure/Bridgeman Images)
09/02/2410m 13s

How Rosa Parks took a stand against racism

Rosa Parks was brought up in Alabama during the Jim Crow era, when state laws enforced segregation in practically all aspects of daily life.Public schools, water fountains, trains and buses all had to have separate facilities for white people and black people.As a passionate civil rights activist, Rosa was determined to change this.In December 1955, she was travelling home from the department store where she worked as a seamstress.When a white passenger boarded the bus, Rosa was told to give up her seat.Her refusal to do so and subsequent arrest sparked a bus boycott in the city of Montgomery, led by Dr Martin Luther King.Using BBC interviews with Rosa and Dr King, Vicky Farncombe tells how Rosa’s story changed civil rights history and led to the end of segregation.This programme includes outdated and offensive language.(Photo: Rosa Parks sitting on a bus. Credit: Getty Images)
08/02/249m 12s

Lucha Reyes: Peruvian music star

Lucha Reyes was one of Peru’s greatest singers. She was born into poverty in 1936 and fought terrible health problems and racism throughout her life. But it didn’t stop her becoming a star of Peruvian Creole music - a fusion of waltzes, Andean and Afro-Peruvian styles. In the early 1970s she recorded hits including Regresa and Tu Voz. One of the few black Peruvian celebrities of her era, she was a trailblazer for black women in the country. Polo Bances played the saxophone in her band, accompanying her on many of her greatest records. He celebrates her life with Ben Henderson.(Photo: Lucha Reyes. Credit: Javier Ponce Gambirazio)
07/02/2410m 0s

How a young mother was saved from death by stoning

In March 2002, a young Nigerian Muslim woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery and conceiving a child out of wedlock. Amina Lawal’s case attracted huge international attention and highlighted divisions between the Christian and Muslim regions in the country. Hauwa Ibrahim, one of the first female lawyers from northern Nigeria, defended Amina and helped her secure an acquittal. The case would have very personal consequences for Hauwa who went on to adopt Amina’s daughter. She tells Vicky Farncombe how the ground-breaking case also changed attitudes in Nigeria towards defendants from poor, rural communities.(Photo: Hauwa Ibrahim (left) with Amina Lawal, Credit: Getty Images)
06/02/2410m 0s

Queen of the 'fro

In May 1986, 16-year-old Charlotte Mensah went to work in the UK’s first luxury Afro-Caribbean hair salon, Splinters.In London’s glamorous Mayfair, Splinters had earned a world-class reputation and hosted the likes of Diana Ross.Charlotte says it looked more like a five-star hotel than a salon and that its owner, Winston Isaacs expected no less than perfection from all his staff.Now a giant of the hair care industry in her own right, Charlotte has become known as the 'Queen of the 'fro'.She tells Anoushka Mutanda-Dougherty about her roots and how training at the legendary Splinters changed her life. This programme includes an account of racial bullying. (Photo: Young Charlotte in the salon. Credit: Charlotte Mensah)
05/02/249m 54s

The funeral of Nelson Mandela

On 15 December 2013, South Africa held the funeral of Nelson Mandela who led the struggle in defeating apartheid and became the country’s first black president. His ancestral home in the village of Qunu in South Africa’s Eastern Cape hosted 60 world leaders including four United States presidents and two UN secretary generals. It was the first state funeral held by the country.Nelson Mandela’s eldest child Dr Makaziwe Mandela tells Josephine McDermott how it took eight years to plan and why it makes her proud to remember that day.(Photo: Candles are lit under a portrait of Nelson Mandela at his funeral service. Credit: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)
15/12/2315m 32s

The Bristol bus boycott

Sixty years ago, there was a boycott of local bus services in the English city of Bristol. The bus company had specified that it did not want to employ black bus drivers. The boycott ended on 28 August 1963 and the campaign helped to bring about Britain's first laws against racial discrimination.In 2013, Louise Hidalgo heard from Paul Stephenson and Roy Hackett, who died in 2022.This programme contains some racist language, used at the time.(Photo: Bus on Park Street in Bristol in the early 1960s. Credit: Fox Photos/Getty Images)
28/08/239m 58s

The Empire Windrush arrives

The Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury in England on 22 June 1948 with 802 people on board from the Caribbean.The former passenger liner's arrival on that misty June day is now regarded as the symbolic starting point of a wave of Caribbean migration between 1948 and 1971 known as the "Windrush generation".Sam King was one of the passengers. He describes to Alan Johnston the conditions on board and the concerns people had about finding jobs in England. In this programme first broadcast in 2011, Sam also talks about what life was like in their adopted country once they arrived.(Photo: Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948. Credit: Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
22/06/238m 58s

Ming Smith makes history at MoMA

In 1979, The Museum of Modern Art, (MoMA) purchased photographs from an African-American woman for the first time in its history. Ming Smith was famous for capturing her subjects with slow shutter speeds and using oil paints to layer colour onto her black and white photos.She worked as a model in New York in the 1970s, while pursuing her passion for photography and was friends with Grace Jones.Ming took a powerful image of Grace performing at the iconic Studio 54 nightclub in 1978 after meeting her at an audition. Ming was also a backing dancer in Tina Turner’s music video for What’s Love Got to Do with It, where she captured Tina glancing away from the camera, in front of Brooklyn Bridge wearing a leather skirt, denim jacket and patent stilettos with huge spiky hair. Ming speaks to Reena Stanton-Sharma about graduating with a degree in microbiology, modelling and struggling to make a living, and then becoming a famous photographer with a retrospective at MoMA in 2023. (Photo: Tina Turner, What’s Love Got to Do with It. Credit: Ming Smith)
16/06/2310m 2s

Octavia E. Butler: Visionary black sci-fi writer

In 1995, Octavia E Butler became the first author to receive a MacArthur “genius” award for science fiction writing. From a young age she dreamed of writing books, but faced many challenges, including poverty, sexism and racism in the publishing industry. She died aged 58 in 2006. Alex Collins speaks to her friend and fellow author Nisi Shawl.(Photo: Octavia E. Butler. Credit: Getty Images)
06/03/238m 58s

Una Marson and the BBC Caribbean Service

To mark the 90th anniversary of the BBC World Service, we trace the development of the Caribbean Service.Its beginnings go back to the early 1940s when the BBC’s first black producer, Una Marson was employed. She created Caribbean Voices, which gave future Nobel laureates such as Derek Walcott their first international platform.In 1969, one of the UK’s best known newsreaders, Sir Trevor McDonald, left Trinidad to join the BBC Caribbean Service as a producer.He reflects on its legacy. Produced and presented by Josephine McDermott.Archive recording of West Indies Calling from 1943, is used courtesy of the Imperial War Museum. Una Marson's poem Black Burden is used courtesy of Peepal Tree Press and the BBC Caribbean Service archive material was provided by the Alma Jordan Library, The University of the West Indies.(Photo: Sir Trevor McDonald and Una Marson. Credit: BBC)
19/12/229m 5s

The Little Black Book survival guide

In 1985, Carol Taylor wrote a survival guide for young black men in the Unites Stated who were stopped by the police. Her son, Laurence Legall, tells Ashley Byrne the story of the small and important book created by his mum to help young black men stay safe on the streets of New York. It all began when Laurence went shopping and was robbed but the police didn’t take his complaint seriously. A Made in Manchester production for BBC World Service. (Photo: Carol Taylor. Credit: Laurence Legall)
31/10/229m 2s

The beginnings of Notting Hill Carnival

On 30 January 1959, the late Trinidadian activist Claudia Jones held a Caribbean party in St Pancras Town Hall in London, planting the seeds for the famous carnival.She wanted to bring Caribbeans across the UK's capital together for dancing, singing and steel bands. Rachel Naylor hears from her best friend, Corinne Skinner-Carter.(Photo: A woman having a good time at Claudia Jones' Caribbean carnival, at St Pancras Town Hall in London, 1959. Credit: Daily Mirror via Getty Images)
07/10/2210m 21s

The Harder They Come

In 1972, a low-budget Jamaican film and its legendary soundtrack helped popularise reggae music in the world. Ben Henderson speaks to one of the most famous reggae artists ever, Jimmy Cliff, who played the film's protagonist and wrote a number of the songs. Jimmy explains why the film was so popular and how it reflected his own life.'The Harder They Come' was produced by International Films Inc.(Photo: Jimmy Cliff in 'The Harder They Come'. Credit: Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images)
06/10/2210m 16s

The funk and soul club that changed Manchester

In 1962, Nigerian man Phil Magbotiwan opened a brand new nightclub in Manchester, England. In part because of his own personal experiences of racism, Phil wanted to create somewhere where everyone would be welcome – Manchester’s first racially inclusive nightclub. The Reno was born. The nightclub became a particularly important space for Manchester's mixed heritage community, who felt unwelcome in city centre venues. Phil’s youngest daughter, Lisa Ayegun shares her memories, of the Reno and her dad, with Matt Pintus.This programme contains descriptions of racial discrimination.(Photo: Phil Magbotiwan (right) standing in front of the Reno nightclub in Manchester. Credit: The Magbotiwan family)
03/10/2210m 10s

Civil Rights activist Ida B Wells

In March 2022 a law was passed in the United States making lynching a federal crime - nearly 120 years after the first attempts to introduce legislation. The pioneering African-American journalist Ida B Wells first campaigned for the change in the 1890s after realising the horror of lynching taking place across the country. Laura Jones has been speaking to her great-granddaughter Michelle Duster.PHOTO: Ida B Wells in 1920 (Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)
31/05/229m 1s

The death of Trayvon Martin

In February 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot dead by a member of a Neighbourhood Watch group who claimed he was acting suspiciously. The unarmed black teenager was returning to a gated community in Florida after buying some snacks from a nearby convenience store His death sparked national outrage in the US over racial profiling and the first use of the slogan "Black Lives Matter". Rachel Naylor talks to Trayvon Martin's high school friend, Ashley Burch. PHOTO: A protest demanding justice for Trayvon Martin in 2013 (Getty Images)
24/02/228m 59s

Black Jesus

On Easter Sunday 1967 the Reverend Albert Cleage renamed his church in Detroit the Shrine of the Black Madonna. He preached that if man was made in God's image there was little chance that Jesus was white as most of the world's population is non-white. Reverend Cleage also pointed to the many depictions of black madonnas all over the world throughout history. Claire Bowes has been speaking to his daughter Pearl Cleage, a writer and activist, about her father's belief in black representation and self-determination.Photo: Black Madonna and Child courtesy of BLAC Detroit. Archive: Thanks to the Chicago History Museum and WFMT for the Studs Terkel Radio Archive.
02/04/2110m 15s

'I just wanted to be white'

In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, thousands of children were born to white German women and black American soldiers who were stationed in Allied-occupied Germany. The mixed-race infants were viewed with contempt by many Germans and endured constant abuse and racism. Black activist and author Ika Hügel-Marshall was one of the so-called "occupation babies". She tells Mike Lanchin about the painful struggle to discover her own identity as a result of the racism she experienced growing up black in post-war Germany.Photo: Ika as a young girl (Courtesy of Ika Hügel-Marshall)
03/11/2010m 34s

Nasa's pioneering black women

Usually it is the names of astronauts that people remember about the space race. But less celebrated are the teams of people working on how to put a rocket into orbit. Only in recent years have stories come to light of the contributions of the black women involved. Many were recruited as 'computers', meaning that they carried out complex mathematical calculations by hand, before machines were invented that could do the job. Christine Darden started her career in the computer pool, helping the engineers work out the trajectories needed to bring the Apollo Capsule back to Earth. Finally, she broke through the hidden barriers facing women at the time, gaining a promotion to engineer. (Photo: Dr Christine Darden at a desk in Nasa's Langley Research Center, 1973. Credit: Bob Nye/Nasa/Getty Images)
23/10/208m 57s

Viv Anderson - first black England footballer

In November 1978, Viv Anderson became the first black footballer to play a full England international. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Anderson had to endure racial abuse from opposing fans to achieve his dream of reaching the very top of the professional game. He went on to win the European Cup twice with Nottingham Forest and to become Sir Alex Ferguson’s first signing at Manchester United. Viv Anderson talks to Rebecca Kesby.PHOTO: Viv Anderson on his England debut (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
22/10/2012m 36s

The Battle of Lewisham

In August 1977, the racist National Front organisation planned to stage a march into Lewisham in South London at a time of high racial tension in the area. The National Front activists were met by a huge counter-demonstration organised by anti-racist campaigners – in the clashes that followed, hundreds of people were arrested and injured before the National Front were forced to withdraw. The so-called Battle of Lewisham is now seen as having halted the rise of the far-right in British politics. Nacheal Catnott talks to Lez Henry, who grew up in Lewisham and witnessed the unrest. Produced by Eleanor Biggs.PHOTO: A police officer attempts to restore order in Lewisham in 1977 (Getty Images)
09/10/2010m 20s

When Nelson Mandela went to Detroit

Just months after his release from prison in 1990 the South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela toured the USA. One of the eight cities he went to visit was Detroit. Benita Barden has been speaking to Reverend Wendell Anthony who was one of the people who welcomed him to the city.Photo: Nelson Mandela and Rev Wendell Anthony in 1990. Courtesy of Rev Wendell Anthony.
23/09/208m 58s

The unlawful death of Christopher Alder

The black former soldier choked to death in handcuffs on the floor of a British police station in 1998. CCTV footage taken from the police station showed the 37 year-old father of two gasping for air as officers chatted and joked around him. It took 11 minutes for him to stop breathing. An inquest found he was unlawfully killed but no-one has been held accountable for his death. Farhana Haider speaks to Janet Alder about her long fight to get justice for her brother.Photo:Christopher Alder an ex paratrooper who died in a police station in Hull on 1 April 1998. Credit Alder family hand out.
07/07/2013m 28s

Three Strikes Law

One man's experience of the controversial US law that saw thousands locked up for life. Under the law in California, a third conviction for a felony offence would lead to a life sentence. At times in California, 45% of "three strikers" were African American. Many were sentenced to life in prison for non-violent or minor offences. Alex Last hears the story of Bilal Chatman, and his hopes for reform.Photo credit: Getty Images
12/06/2014m 38s

Rodney King and the LA riots

People took to the streets of Los Angeles in fury after police, who had assaulted a black driver called Rodney King, were acquitted in 1992. His assault had been captured on video and played repeatedly on US television. In 2012 Nina Robinson spoke to Rodney King about the beating, the trial of the police, and the anger and mayhem that followed their acquittal.Photo: Rodney King in 2012. Credit: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
11/06/208m 59s

Black basketball pioneers - Texas Western

In 1966, an all-black team went head-to-head with an all-white team for the National College Basketball championship - one of the biggest prizes in American sport. To much surprise, the African-Americans of Texas Western College defeated the University of Kentucky, then the number one team in the country. The game is now regarded as breaking the colour barrier in US basketball. In 2016 Nija Dalal-Small spoke to Nevil Shed, one of that groundbreaking Texas Western team. The programme is a Sparklab Production for BBC World Service.PHOTO: Texas Western celebrate their victory in 1966 (Getty Images)
10/06/208m 59s

The 16th Street church bombing

Four young black girls were killed in a racist attack on a church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. The 16th Street Baptist Church was a centre for civil rights activists in the city. One of the girls who died was Addie Mae Collins, her sister, Sarah Collins Rudolph was badly injured but survived. In 2013 she spoke to Eddie Botsio about the bombing.Photo: men carrying the coffin of Addie Mae Collins at her funeral. Copyright: BBC
09/06/208m 58s

Brown v the Board of Education

In 1954 the US Supreme Court ruled that the segregation of public schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional. The case was a turning point in the long battle for civil rights in America. In 2017 Farhana Haider spoke to Cheryl Brown Henderson, the youngest daughter of Oliver Brown, who was the named plaintiff in the class action against the local board of education.Photo: African American student Linda Brown, Cheryl Brown Henderson's eldest sister (front, C) sitting in her segregated classroom. Credit: GettyArchive
08/06/208m 59s

Ann Lowe - African American fashion designer

Ann Cole Lowe designed Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress in the 1950s. As a black woman working in high fashion she was a groundbreaking figurein New York. Sharon Hemans has been speaking to Judith Guile who went to work with Ann Lowe in her Madison Avenue studio in the 1960s.
29/05/208m 58s

The Miami riots

After four white policemen were acquitted of killing a black man - Miami rioted. Citizens took to the streets on the night of May 17th 1980. The unrest lasted for three days. 18 people died, hundreds were injured, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage were done to property. Sheila Cook has been hearing from Lonnie Lawrence who was a childhood friend of the dead man, but also a spokesman for the police force involved.Photo: A Florida National Guardsman directs traffic away from the northwest section of Miami as fires burn out of control and looting continues. Credit: Getty Images.
18/05/208m 59s

The last survivor of the transatlantic slave trade

The last surviving person to be captured in Africa in the 19th century and brought to United States on a slave ship, has been identified as a woman called Matilda McCrear, who died in Alabama in 1940. Sean Coughlan has spoken to the historian Hannah Durkin who uncovered Matilda's extraordinary life story and to Matilda's grandson, Johnny Crear.Photo: Matilda McCrear in later years. Copyright: Johnny Crear.
21/04/208m 58s

London's first black policeman

Norwell Roberts joined the Metropolitan police in 1967. He was put forward as a symbol of progressive policing amid ongoing tensions between the police and ethnic minorities in the capital. But behind the scenes, he endured years of racist abuse from colleagues within the force. Norwell Roberts QPM spoke to Alex Last about growing up in Britain and his determination to be a pioneer in the police force. Photo: London's first black policeman PC Norwell Roberts beginning his training with colleagues at Hendon Police College, London, 5th April 1967. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
03/02/2014m 36s

The first self-made female millionaire

Madam C. J. Walker was the first ever self-made female millionaire. She was born to former slaves in the USA and was orphaned at seven but against all the odds she went on to create her own business selling black hair-care products. By the time of her death in 1919 she'd become a famous philanthropist and civil rights campaigner. Claire Bowes has been speaking to her great great granddaughter A'Lelia Bundles. Photo: Madam Walker Family Archives/A'Lelia Bundles
30/01/2010m 10s

The story of George Stinney Jr

How a 14-year-old boy became the youngest person to be executed in the USA during the 20th century. George Stinney Jr was sent to the electric chair in 1944. He had been tried for the murder of two young girls, but when the case was reviewed by a court in South Carolina in 2014 his conviction was annulled. Ashley Byrne has been speaking to George Stinney Jr's sister Katherine Robinson, and to Matt Burgess who was one of the team of lawyers who fought to clear his name.Photo: George Stinney Jr in 1944. Credit Alamy.
16/01/2010m 3s

Desmond's: A sitcom that changed Britain

Desmond's was the most successful black sitcom in British TV history. It ran on Channel 4 for over five years, attracting millions of viewers. Trix Worrell, the man who wrote it, believes that Desmond's changed attitudes to race in the UK. Trix has been speaking to Sharon Hemans about the show, and the people who inspired it.Image: Ram John Holder, Norman Beaton and Gyearbuor Asante (Credit: Courtesy of Channel 4)
02/01/208m 58s

Black GIs during World War Two

For much of World War Two African-American soldiers were relegated to support roles and kept away from the fighting. But after the Allies suffered huge losses during the Battle of the Bulge, they were called on to volunteer for combat. Janet Ball has been speaking Reverend Matthew Southall Brown who saw action in Europe towards the end of the war. He fought in the US Army's 9th Division, 60th Regiment, Company E.Photograph:Volunteer combat soldiers from the 9th Division prepare for shipment to front lines in Germany. Credit: US Government Archives.
16/12/198m 58s

The killing of Amadou Diallo

When police in New York shot a young immigrant 41 times in 1999, thousands of people took to the streets to protest. But Amadou Diallo's mother Kadiatou wanted her son to be remembered for the way he lived, not the way he died. So she flew to the US to speak on his behalf. She has been telling Sharon Hemans her story.
12/12/198m 56s

Britain's World War Two 'Brown Babies'

The US first began sending troops to the UK in 1942 to help in the war effort. It is estimated that at least two million American servicemen passed through the UK during World War Two and tens of thousands of them were black. The African-American GIs stationed in Britain were forced by the American military to abide by the racial segregation laws that applied in the deep south of the US. But that didn't stop relationships developing between British women and the black soldiers, some of whom went on to have children. Babs Gibson-Ward was one those children. She has been speaking to Farhana Haider about the stigma of growing up as mixed raced child in post-war Britain.(Photo: Hoinicote House children, c.1948. Boys and girls whose parents of mixed ancestry met during WWII. Credit: Lesley York)
11/10/1910m 23s

The Bristol bus boycott

In 1963 a small group of British black activists started a pioneering protest against racism within the local bus company in Bristol. It had specified that it did not want to employ black bus drivers. Inspired by the example of the US Civil Rights Movement the boycott ended in victory and led to the passage of Britain's first anti-discrimination laws.Paul Stephenson and Roy Hackett spoke to Louise Hidalgo in 2013 about their part in the protest.Photo: Park Street in Bristol in the early 1960s. (Credit: Fox Photos/Getty Images)
10/10/198m 58s

The Notting Hill riots

In August 1958 Britain was shocked by nearly a week of race riots in the west London district of Notting Hill. The clashes between West Indian immigrants and aggressive white youths known as Teddy Boys led to the first race relations campaigns and the creation of the famous Notting Hill Carnival. Using voices from the BBC archives Simon Watts tells the story.Photo: Street scene in Notting Hill at the time the race riots broke out in 1958. Credit: Getty Images.
09/10/198m 58s

The first black woman MP in Britain

In 1987 Diane Abbott became the first black woman elected to the British Parliament. The daughter of first generation immigrants she was one of only four black MPs elected that day. In 2015 Diane Abbott spoke to Farhana Haider about her journey into the political history books.Photo: Diane Abbott in 1986. Copyright: BBC
08/10/199m 3s

Learie Constantine - fighting racism in the UK

The great West Indian cricketer, lawyer and member of the House of Lords took a London hotel to court when it refused to let him and his family stay there in 1943. Susan Hulme brings us his story from the BBC archives.Photo: Sir Learie Constantine outside Westminster Abbey in 1966. Credit: Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images.
07/10/198m 57s

Free breakfast with the Black Panthers

The Black Panther Party hit the headlines in the late 1960s with their call for revolution. But they also ran a number of "survival programmes" to help their local communities - the biggest of which was a project providing free breakfasts for schoolchildren.Reverend Earl Neil was one of the organisers of the first Free Breakfast for Children programme at St Augustine's Church in Oakland, California. He speaks to Lucy Burns.(IMAGE: Shutterstock)
18/09/199m 55s

Nina Simone moves to Liberia

The great African-American jazz singer Nina Simone moved to the Liberian capital Monrovia in September 1974. Simone was famous for her vocal support for the civil rights movement in the USA as well as for songs like I'm Feeling Good, Mississippi Goddam and I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, and she was invited to the West African republic by her friend the singer Miriam Makeba.Lucy Burns speaks to Nina Simone's friend James C Dennis Sr.Picture: Nina Simone performs on stage at Newport Jazz Festival on July 4th 1968 in Newport, Rhode Island (David Redfern/Redferns)
29/08/1910m 7s

The murder of black teenager Emmett Till

Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago, was brutally murdered in Mississippi, in the USA.His death was one of the key events that energized the American civil rights movement. An all-white jury acquitted the two white suspects. Farhana Haider has been listening through interviews with some of Emmett's family, to tell the story of the young boy who became an icon in the struggle against racism in America.(Photo: Emmett Till lying on his bed in Chicago, in 1955. Credit: Getty Images)
26/08/199m 36s

Britain's first female black headteacher

Yvonne Conolly was appointed head of Ringcross Primary school in North London in 1969. She had moved to the UK from Jamaica just a few years earlier and quickly worked her way up the teaching profession. She faced racist threats when she first took up the post but refused to allow them to define her relationship with the children she taught.Photo: Yvonne Conolly in a classroom. Copyright: Pathe.
08/03/198m 57s

Photographing Martin Luther King and His Family

In 1969 photo journalist Moneta Sleet became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. He won for the black and white image of Coretta Scott King the widow of Martin Luther King taken at the funeral of the murdered civil rights leader. Farhana Haider has been speaking to Moneta Sleet's son Gregory Sleet about his father's remarkable career capturing many of the images that defined the struggle for racial equality in America.Photo: Moneta Sleet's Pulitzer Prize winning photo of Coretta Scott King and daughter Bernice. Credit. Getty
14/08/189m 37s

The "Godfather of Gospel Music"

Thomas A Dorsey is credited with developing Gospel music into a global phenomenon. He started his own musical career in jazz clubs and blues bars, but personal tragedy led him back to church, and inspired hundreds of Gospel songs that transformed the genre. Rebecca Kesby has been listening to archive recordings of Thomas A Dorsey and his singing partner Willie Mae Ford Smith, and speaking to Professor Albert J Raboteau from Princeton University. (PHOTO: Thomas A. Dorsey - 1982. Courtesy of National Endowment For Arts/Humanities/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock. Credit REX)
29/01/189m 18s

The First Kwanzaa

In December 1966, a group of Black activists in Los Angeles created the winter holiday Kwanzaa to try to reclaim their African heritage. It's now celebrated by millions across the US. Lucy Burns speaks to Terri Bandele, who attended the first Kwanzaa celebrations aged 11.Picture: Children at the first Kwanzaa celebration - courtesy of Terri Bandele (on right)
26/12/179m 40s

The Unsung Hero of Heart Surgery

The African-American lab technician, Vivien Thomas, whose surgery helped save the lives of millions of babies but whose work went unrecognised for years. Claire Bowes has been listening to archive recordings of Vivien Thomas describing his long partnership with Dr Alfred Blalock, the man solely credited with inventing an operation in 1944 which helped manage a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. (Photo: Vivien Thomas, US Surgical Technician, 1940) (Audio: Courtesy of US National Library of Medicine)
13/12/179m 9s

The Immortal Cells of Henrietta Lacks

In 1951 cells taken from an African American woman suffering from cancer were found to be unique because they carried on reproducing endlessly in the laboratory. Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951. Cultures from her cells have since been used to provide medical breakthroughs but as Farhana Haider reports, Henrietta Lacks was never asked if her cells could be used in medical research. (Photo: Henrietta Lacks. Copyright: Lacks Family)
02/03/179m 6s

Roots - The TV Series

The epic mini-series about slavery in the USA hit TV screens in January 1977. Based on a novel by Alex Haley it imagined the lives of his ancestors who had been brought to the US from Africa on slave ships. It revolutionised perceptions about African-Americans and their history. Ashley Byrne has spoken to Leslie Uggams who played the character Kizzy in the series.(Photo: Actors LeVar Burton, Todd Bridges and Robert Reed in Roots. Credit: Alamy)
19/01/178m 52s

Bob Marley Survives Assassination Attempt

In December 1976 unidentified gunmen tried to kill Bob Marley at his home in Kingston, Jamaica. The legendary reggae singer miraculously survived with just light injuries. Mike Lanchin has been hearing from Nancy Burke, one of Marley's friends and neighbours, who was trapped inside the house as the gunmen stormed in, guns blazing.Photo: Bob Marley, 1970s (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
02/12/169m 9s

A Black GI in China

In November 1950, Clarence Adams, an African-American soldier fighting in the Korean war, was captured by the Chinese Red Army. He was held in a prisoner of war camp until the war ended. But instead of returning home, Adams and 20 other GIs chose to settle in China. Rob Walker has been speaking to his daughter, Della Adams.(Photo: Clarence Adams and his Chinese wife, Liu Lin Feng, courtesy of the family)
01/11/168m 57s

Voting Against the War on Terror

Just three days after the 9/11 attacks on America, Congress gave the President the power to order military action against any person, organisation or country suspected of involvement in the attacks - without needing Congressional approval.Witness speaks to Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the only member of the legislature to oppose the new powers.Photo: Barbara Lee in 2002. Credit: Getty Images News.
20/09/168m 52s

The Dance Theatre of Harlem

In August 1969, Arthur Mitchell founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem - the first classical ballet company to focus on black dancers. Virginia Johnson, now the organisation's director, was a founder member.(Photo: The Dance Theatre of Harlem, circa 1970. Virginia Johnson pictured back row, third from left. Credit: Marbeth)
24/08/168m 59s

Race Riots in Liverpool

In July 1981 race riots broke out on the streets of Liverpool. It was the first time that British police used CS gas to control civil unrest in mainland Britain. Witness has been hearing from a man who took part in the riot.(Photo: Lines of police with riot shields face a group of youths during riots in the Toxteth area of Liverpool, July 1981. Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
25/07/168m 55s

Black in the USSR

Robert Robinson, a Jamaican born engineer, was recruited to work in the USSR from a factory in Detroit in 1930. Having had his US citizenship revoked, he spent 43 years unable to leave the Soviet Union. Dina Newman tells his story, using BBC archive. (Photo: Robert Robinson in the 1920s. Source: BBC archive)
20/06/169m 20s

Marcus Garvey

In 1916 Marcus Garvey arrived in the US and began a movement for black pride. His dream was that black people would live independently of whites in a new empire in Africa.Photo: August 1922 Marcus Garvey is shown in a military uniform as the "Provisional President of Africa" during a parade on the opening day of the Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World in Harlem, New York City. (Credit: AP Photo/File)
17/05/169m 7s

Haile Selassie In Jamaica

In April 1966, Ethiopia's emperor Haile Selassie made a spectacular arrival in Jamaica. It was his first and only visit to the birthplace of the Rastafarian movement which revered him. A quarter of a million people greeted him at the airport.(Photo: Emperor Haile Selassie speaking to the BBC in 1954)
18/04/169m 6s

The Back to Africa Movement

At the end of the 19th Century, African-Americans in the southern states of the US faced a wave of political and racial violence. Lynchings reached a peak. Black people were prevented from voting and subject to laws which enforced racial segregation. In response, thousands sought to leave the US and travel to Liberia. More emigrants left from Arkansas than any other southern state. We hear from Professor Kenneth Barnes of the University of Central Arkansas. He uncovered a fascinating series of letters that reveal why so many black Arkansans dreamed of Liberia and what happened to them when they got there. (Photo: Departure of African American emigrants for Liberia; from The Illustrated American, 21 March 1896. Credit: The New York Public Library Digital Collections, 1890 - 1899)
23/02/168m 58s

The Death of Walter Rodney

In June 1980, the Guyanese opposition leader and academic, Dr Walter Rodney, was killed in a bomb explosion. He was one of the leaders of a movement trying to bridge the racial divide in Guyana’s politics. His supporters said he had been assassinated on the orders of the government. We hear from his widow, Patricia Rodney, and from Wazir Mohamed who was a young activist at the time. (Photo: Walter Rodney. Credit: the Walter Rodney Family)
11/06/159m 16s

The Scottsboro Boys: A Miscarriage of Justice in the US

In 1931, nine black teenagers were convicted of raping two white girls in the southern US state of Alabama.Eight were sentenced to death by an all-white jury; but after years of campaigning, all eventually went free.We hear from the daughter of Clarence Norris, one of the accused.Picture: Police escort two recently freed "Scottsboro Boys" New York, 1937, Credit: Associated Press
17/10/138m 53s

Josephine Baker - Black American Superstar

In 1925 a young black American dancer became an overnight sensation in Paris. Her overtly sexual act soon made her one of the most famous women in Europe. Her name was Josephine Baker - hear from her adopted son Jean-Claude Baker about her dancing, and her life.(Photo: Josephine Baker in her heyday. Credit: Walery/Getty Images)
10/10/139m 5s

The Children's Crusade

Birmingham in Alabama was one of the most segregated cities in the USA in 1963. In May that year thousands of black schoolchildren responded to a call from Martin Luther King to protest against segregation at the height of racial tensions. It became known as the Children's Crusade.Gwendolyn Webb was 14 years old at the time and took part. Listen to her story. (Photo: Firefighters turn their hoses on civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama. Credit: AP Photo/Bill Hudson)
09/10/139m 13s

Mixed race marriage victory in US

In 1958, a mixed-race couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, were arrested and then banished from the US state of Virginia for breaking its laws against inter-racial marriage. Nine years later, Mildred and Richard Loving won a ruling at the Supreme Court declaring this sort of legislation unconstitutional.Witness speaks to the Lovings' lawyer, Bernie Cohen.Image: Mildred and Richard Loving, pictured in 1967 (Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)
08/10/138m 59s

Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-ins

On 1 February 1960, four young black men began a protest in Greensboro, North Carolina against the racial segregation of shops and restaurants in the US southern states.The men, who became known as the Greensboro Four, asked to be served at a lunch counter in Woolworths. When they were refused service they stayed until closing time. And went back the next day, and the next. Over the following days and months, this non-violent form of protest spread and many more people staged sit-ins at shops and restaurants. Witness hears from one of the four men, Franklin McCain.
07/10/139m 10s

The Freedom Riders

The Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode on buses, testing out whether bus stations were complying with the Supreme Court ruling that banned segregation. Listen to Bernard Lafayette Junior, an eyewitness to how Martin Luther King managed to prevent inter-ethnic bloodshed on a night of extreme tension during the battle against segregation in the American South.Picture: A group of Black Americans get off the 'Freedom Bus' at Jackson, Mississippi, Credit: William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images
07/10/138m 54s

The Mississippi Burning Case

Andrew Goodman was one of the three civil rights workers killed by the Klu Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1964. He and the other two victims, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, had been working on a project to register African-Americans to vote. For Witness, Andrew's brother David recalls his brother's strong sense of justice and what his family lived through in the 44 days he was missing. He remembers how nationwide shock helped change America for good - and that it took the deaths of two white people to awake the conscience of middle America.Picture: Andrew Goodman, Credit: Associated Press
05/10/139m 26s

Petula Clark touches Harry Belafonte's arm

In 1968, when Petula Clark touched Harry Belafonte's arm during a duet, it was the first time a white woman had touched a black man on US television.The sponsor insisted it be cut from the programme, but the programme makers refused. Louise Hidalgo speaks to the producer of the programme, Steve Binder.(Photo: Harry Belafonte. Credit: Alan Meek/Express/Getty Images)
03/10/139m 28s

John Howard Griffin: Black Like Me

John Howard Griffin, a white journalist, dyed his skin black to experience segregation in America's Deep South. John Howard Griffin wrote a book about his seven week experience.*** Listeners should be aware that some of the language in this programme reflects the historical context of the time. ***Photo: Griffin as a black man in 1959 (left). Courtesy of John Howard Griffin Estate.
03/10/139m 0s

Beverly Johnson - Vogue's First Black Covergirl

In 1974 American Vogue put a black model on its cover for the first time. We hear how Beverly Johnson made it to the front of the world's most famous fashion magazine.
02/10/138m 56s

Black Golfer at the US Masters

In 1975, Lee Elder braved death threats to become the first African-American golfer to play at the prestigious US Masters in Augusta.It was one of the last colour barriers in US sport and made him a hero to many black sportsmen - including Tiger Woods.Lee Elder recalls the tournament for Witness.PHOTO: Lee Elder playing golf later in life (Getty Images)
02/10/138m 48s

Jamaica Slave Rebellion

*** Contains descriptions that some listeners may find upsetting *** Enslaved Africans are forced to work in sugar cane fields - the hours are long and there are frequent, brutal punishments. They have endured these conditions for 200 years. By 1831 the anti-slavery movement is gathering pace and the slaves decide to take action - by going on strike. Samuel Sharpe became a Jamaican national hero as he led the island's slaves in a rebellion against the overseers and sugar plantation owners.The rebellion was brutally crushed, but over time, the rebellion had a significant impact - and two years later in 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act is passed. Picture: Making sugar in Jamaica, Credit: HultonArchive/Illustrated London News/Getty Images
01/10/138m 57s

The Voyage of the Empire Windrush

In 1948 nearly 500 pioneers travelled from the Caribbean on the Empire Windrush. The passage cost £28, 10 shillings. Passenger Sam King describes the conditions on board and the concerns people had about finding a job in England - and what life was like in their adopted country once they arrived.
01/10/139m 0s

The Attica Prison Riot

In September 1971 prisoners in a high security jail in the US rose up against their guards taking 42 people hostage. After 4 days of negotiations, armed police retook the jail. By the time the siege ended 39 people were dead.Photo: Discussions inside the prison on 10th September 1971. Associated Press.
09/09/139m 3s

I Have a Dream

On August 28th 1963, the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, made his historic plea for an end to racial discrimination in the USA. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he addressed hundreds of thousands of activists who had marched to Washington to demonstrate for black rights. Listen to John Lewis, the youngest speaker on the podium that day.Photo: Associated Press.
28/08/139m 4s

Muhammad Ali and the Draft

In 1967, the world heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali, refused to be indicted into the American military. His decision to follow his conscience and not serve in Vietnam galvanised radicals across the US.Simon Watts speaks to Dr Nathan Hare about a visit by Muhammad Ali to Howard University at the height of the outcry over his refusal of the draft.(Photo: Muhammad Ali in training. Credit: R McPhedran/Express/Getty Images)
25/04/139m 6s

James Brown Concert at the Boston Garden

The soul singer's April 1968 concert was held amid rioting and violence provoked by the assassination of Martin Luther King. But despite the fears of the city authorities, the streets of Boston were quiet the night James Brown and his band played. Listen to two people who were there.(Photo: James Brown. Credit: AFP)
05/04/139m 0s

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study

For nearly 40 years, the US government conducted an experiment on a group of African-American men without their knowledge - to see what would happen if their syphilis was left untreated. Photo: US National Archive.
14/01/138m 57s
Heart UK