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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Who is your great black Briton?
By Cindi John
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Inspired by the success of the BBC's Great Britons poll last year, now comes the Mayor of London's vote on notable black Britons to mark Black History Month.


Do you know who these people are? It is likely that only a handful of people will be able to name them all, but a poll being launched on Wednesday aims to change that.

These men - from left, the footballer Arthur Wharton, the UK's first black mayor John Archer, the actor Ira Aldridge and the composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor - are among the 100 historical and contemporary black personalities nominated in the Great Black Britons poll.

The vote is part of the Mayor of London's Black History Month programme, and will be launched at a debate at City Hall where guests will put forward their arguments for their favoured nominees.

Patrick Vernon
I hope that people will realise that black people have been in Britain since before Roman times
Patrick Vernon
The poll will be opened up to the general public, who can vote via a website run by Patrick Vernon [see 100 Great Black Britons in Internet links on right to cast your vote].

He came up with the idea after watching the BBC's 100 Great Britons series during last year's Black History Month, Mr Vernon told BBC News Online.

"The BBC poll made no mention of any black people. I was struck by the contradiction that we had Black History Month and yet we had this big national competition where there was no reference at all to black people."

Mr Vernon says many people do not realise the long history of black people in the UK.

"I hope that because of this poll people will realise that black people have been in Britain since before Roman times and didn't just arrive with the Windrush."

Heroes for all

But the idea of the poll has not been met with unqualified approval in all quarters.

Paul Phoenix, of Black Parents in Education, says black people needed to start being more proactive and not just copy ideas from the mainstream.

Paul Phoenix
Paul Phoenix wants black history in the mainstream
"Why do we always have to keep reacting to what other people do? We should celebrate our heroes every single day of the year and not wait till Black History Month to bring these issues to public attention."

He also thinks that grass-root attempts to promote black history throughout the year need more support from those in prominent positions.

"What they need to do is challenge the curriculum, which does not reflect reality of our society and the contribution of African people to mainstream society."

However, Sam Walker, of the Black Cultural Archives, believes it is of little importance where the idea for the poll came from.

"It doesn't matter whether the poll is a copycat idea; so is Black History Month, which came from America in the late 1980s and has served us well to date.

"Because the whole country now celebrates Black History Month, gradually that part of British history is becoming more widespread knowledge. Of course we want black history to be taught throughout the year, but we've got to start somewhere."


Who would you nominate as a great black Briton? Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

The parents of Stephen Lawrence. I note that Stephen is in the official list and I don't feel this is appropriate. He was a tragic victim of racist scum, but had not achieved any greatness. His parents, on the other hand, conducted their long fight for justice with awe-inspiring dignity, intelligence, passion and good grace. I believe they are an example to all Britons, regardless of race or religion.
AJ, UK

Mary Seacole - did more for the sick & injured of the Crimea than Florence Nightingale, but, not being white and wealthy, totally ignored.
LynneA, UK

Colin Jackson, a talented athlete and a great role model.
Liz, Belgium

Bill Morris, the union leader.
Brendan, England

Ozwald Boateng, Jazzy B (Soul II Soul), John Barnes, Trevor McDonald, Daley Thompson, Floella Benjamin - all pretty comtemporary...
James, NY, USA

Naomi Campbell, for showing the world that British black women are beautiful too!
Melissa, England

Kenny Lynch, who battled his way into the UK entertainment industry at a time when there were very few prominent black figures in the UK, and when there was widespread resentment of black immigration. He became a nationally loved and respected figure through sheer hard work and talent.
David Clare, UK

Nigel Benn or Frank Bruno, who between them brought pride and enjoyment to millions of working class families the country over, black and white.
Liam, Kent, England

Shirley Bassey, because she climbed to the very top of the tree, which has to be the best example to send to our youth, black or white. And also because she sang words "he fills my heart with very special things, with angel songs and wild imaginings", and made it sound so incredibly majestic with her tremendous voice. And for bridging the generation gap by being "hip" at 60.
Hey Big Spender, ex-Hants, now HK

Lenny Henry.
David, UK

Football player Andrew Watson who was capped three times for Scotland between 1881 and 1882. He was the first black captain of an international team when Scotland played England at the Oval in 1881 (We won 6-1). He began playing in 1874 and played for Maxwell FC, Parkgrove and the greatest team of its day, Queens Park.
Davie, Scotland

Darcus Howe [ex-Black Panther and leading radical commentator] - top bloke, knows his stuff!
Bob, UK

Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis and Brendan Batson did so much for black footballers and also put up with much abuse in the early days. Especially Batson, who has continued on in a more administrative capacity since. All of them excellent role models.
Paul Whitty, Switzerland

Linton Kwesi Johnson, the reggae dub poet.
Adam Hoskins, UK

Benjamin Zephaniah, the poet who has done so much to influence contemporary poetry, despite having little formal education.
Colin Waft, UK

Rudolph Walker, the EastEnders actor, is someone I've always admired.
Steven Brown, UK

Trevor Macdonald must be close to the top of the list. He has probably done more than anybody else to make people reject racism, just by being himself, being ordinary, and being successful.
Keith L, UK

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