Witness: Witness Black History

Witness: Witness Black History

United Kingdom

Interviews with people who were there at key moments in black and civil rights history


South Africa's 1985 State of Emergency  

In the dying years of the Apartheid regime, the white minority government in South Africa was desperate to keep control as people took to the streets demanding change. A state of emergency was declared allowing the police and security forces sweeping new powers, which some individuals executed with extreme brutality. Rebecca Kesby spoke to Rev Dr Allan Boesak who was a political activist and church leader - he was one of those calling for an end to the unfair Apartheid system. (Photo: A young South African boy in Duduza township, Jul 1985 (Gideon Mendel, AFP)

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)

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)

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)

Kia Ora: Maori Rights Breakthrough in New Zealand  

In 1984, Naida Glavish, a New Zealand telephone operator became famous for greeting customers in her native Maori language. Instead of "good morning" she insisted on saying "Kia Ora". The New Zealand prime minister supported her, and two years later Maori became an official language of New Zealand. Dina Newman spoke to Naida Glavish. (Photo: Naida Glavish as president of the Maori Party in 2013. Credit: Joel Ford/Getty Images)

Britain's First Black Woman MP  

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. Diane Abbott has been speaking to Witness about her election and making political history in the UK. (Photo: New black MPs Diana Abbott and Bernie Grant 1988. Credit: PA )

Inter-racial Marriage in South Africa  

In South Africa in June 1985, the ban on marriage between people of different ethnic backgrounds was finally lifted. Suzanne Le Clerc and Protas Madlala were the first couple to tie the knot under the new rules. (Photo: Suzanne and Protas, courtesy of the family)

Dorothy Mulkey - US Fair Housing Campaigner  

In 1967, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling which effectively outlawed discrimination in the American housing market. The case was brought by Dorothy Mulkey, a Californian woman who had been preventing from renting an apartment in a white area. She talks to Adam Smith for Witness. PHOTO: Dorothy Mulkey at a Civil Rights exhibition in 2014 (Associated Press)

Black Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm  

In January 1972 Shirley Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate to make a bid for the US Presidency. She was also the first black woman elected to Congress. Witness has been speaking to Congressman Charles Rangel who worked with Shirley Chisholm. (Photo: Shirley Chisholm at the Democratic National Convention in 1972. Credit: Getty Images)

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

Ruby Bridges Attends an all-White School  

In November 1960, Ruby Bridges became one of the first black children in New Orleans to be educated at a white elementary school. It began the desegregation of the education system in the Southern States. She was just six years old, and she had to be accompanied to school by US Marshals. *** Listeners should be aware that some of the language in this programme reflects the historical context of the time. *** Image: Associated Press

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)

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.

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.

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

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

Soweto Uprising  

The Soweto uprising shook the Apartheid regime in South Africa to its core. But it all began with a demonstration by schoolchildren against having to learn Afrikaans at school. Alan Johnston has been talking to one of the schoolgirls who led the march on 16 June 1976. Picture: Students protest in Soweto against the introduction of Afrikaans in schools, Credit: BBC/Clarity Films/Peter Magubane

Albert Luthuli Receives the Nobel Peace Prize  

When Chief Albert Luthuli won the Nobel Peace Prize he was living under a banning order in rural South Africa. His daughter Albertina talks to Witness. Also listen to archive recordings of his acceptance speech. He won the prize for advocating peaceful opposition to the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Picture: Albert Luthuli receives the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960, Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive

Nelson Mandela's Autobiography  

*** This programme was first broadcast on 25 October, 2011 *** In the mid 1970s Nelson Mandela began writing his autobiography in prison, on Robben Island. Mac Maharaj was one of the prisoners who helped edit and conceal the manuscript. Photo: Associated Press, Nelson Mandela before he was imprisoned.

ANC Bomb  

The armed wing of the ANC party took its first violent action in 1961, when a bomb was planted at municipal offices in Durban. Ronnie Kasrils explained what happened that day. (Image: Ronnie Kasrils in 1961. Credit: Ronnie Kasrils)

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