African and Caribbean community organisation Nubian Jak and creative agency Havas London have teamed up to create The Black Plaque Project: a new initiative to commemorate the rich, diverse contributions of Black people throughout history through a series of black plaques across the capital.
London’s famous blue plaques have served as a permanent tribute to Britain’s notable men and women since 1866 – yet only 1.6% of those honoured in this official way are of African or Caribbean descent. Often ignored or discriminated against by the establishment during their lifetime, many historically significant individuals continue to be excluded posthumously. Their names, and the important contributions they made to society, are at risk of being forgotten or even erased from history forever.
To raise awareness of this imbalance and do something visible to address it, The Black Plaque Project will see specially designed black plaques installed on buildings across London to celebrate the lives of some of its many notable Black residents – who, despite their achievements, continue to be officially overlooked.
The project was launched on ITV London’s flagship news programme on Friday 30 October and was deliberately timed to mark the end of Black History Month – representing a commitment to the ongoing celebration of Black History throughout the year, not just for a single month.
The Black Plaque Project kicks off this week with the first plaque to be installed recognising the contributions of musician Winifred Atwell. Described by Elton John as his first hero on the piano, 1954 saw Atwell become the first Black person to go to number one in the UK singles chart with Let’s Have Another Party. Her plaque will go up in Brixton, where she lived throughout her early years in the capital.
Upcoming plaques will include Len Dyke, Dudley Dryden and Tony Wade, the fathers of the Black hair care and beauty industry in the 1960s and among Britain’s first Black millionaires (to be installed in Tottenham, where they opened their first shop), and Fela Kuti, the musician widely acknowledged as the pioneer of Afrobeat, campaigner against colonial politics in Nigeria and inspiration to generations of activists and artists (to be installed in Greenwich, where he studied at Trinity College of Music).
In total, permissions for 30 black plaques are being secured, with an interactive Black Plaques map at www.blackplaqueproject.com allowing the public to find the locations of the commemorations as they are installed and learn more about their recipients.
The names of the 30 Black pioneers to be commemorated were selected in consultation with Dr Jak Beula, founder and CEO of Nubian Jak Community Trust – which has, with little institutional support, paid for and erected a number of plaques and statues highlighting Black achievement over the past 16 years.
As well as narrowing the gap between the significant contributions of Black people and the public awareness and celebration of them, The Black Plaque Project also aims to raise money for Nubian Jak to help turn these temporary black plaques blue, making them permanent.
Dr Jak Beula, founder of the Nubian Jak Community Trust said: “There are nowhere near enough blue plaques celebrating Black achievement and history in Britain, so it is vital this project has a lasting legacy. Partnering with Havas on The Black Plaque Project helps us to raise awareness of this institutional discrimination and puts the pressure on those institutions – it shouldn’t just be us doing this.
“We must ensure these plaques commemorating our common cultural heritage keep going up and stay up – there are so many more stories that need to be told to celebrate our rich, diverse past and to inspire future generations.”
The Black Plaque Project website will also include a series of podcasts hosted by Dr Jak, featuring luminaries from London’s Black community today including Artistic Director of the Young Vic, Kwame Kwei-Armah; Labour MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy; and influencer and blogger Kelechi Okafor.
Sam Adio & Ken Abalos, the Havas London creative team behind The Black Plaque Project, said: “We’re incredibly proud to see this project come together. Black history is British history; it’s the history of our city, our home and our community, and for too long it has been overlooked and ignored. This is our chance to shed light on this exclusion and discrimination, and to do something to end it.”