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Witness History: Witness Black History
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Witness History: Witness Black History

Author: BBC World Service

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Interviews with people who were there at key moments in black and civil rights history
59 Episodes
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Three Strikes Law

Three Strikes Law

2020-06-1217:284

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
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
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)
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
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
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.
The Miami riots

The Miami riots

2020-05-1808:59

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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
The Bristol bus boycott

The Bristol bus boycott

2019-10-1008:581

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)
The Notting Hill riots

The Notting Hill riots

2019-10-0908:582

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.
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
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.
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)
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