Legacies: Black British Pioneers by Lania Narjee

The Blurb On The Back:

Discover amazing people who made their mark on the world!

From scientists to sports stars, artists to activists, read all about Black British people who set records, broke new ground, and lifted others up.  Find out what it means to create a legacy with these inspiring stories of incredible people and their hugely informative achievements.

LEGACIES – BLACK BRITISH PIONEERS was released in the United Kingdom on 4th August 2022.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

You can order LEGACIES – BLACK BRITISH PIONEERS by Lania Narjee from Amazon UK, or Waterstone’s.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Lania Narjee is an artist, educator and art psychotherapist.  This inspiring book for readers aged 9+ is a hugely informative and important look at Black British people who have made a difference, whether through sport, art and music, STEM or politics with warm and evocative portrait illustrations from Chanté Timothy.  I learnt a lot from this book and my only complaint was that I wanted it to be longer as the biographies are very short.

The book is divided into 4 chapters.  Chapter 1 looks at artists and musicians including the Southern Syncopated Orchestra and Evelyn Dove (who sand with he Orchestra).  I enjoyed the way Narjee links the musical contributions back to jazz and to Windrush and although I had heard of the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, I knew almost nothing about it (certainly not the tragedy that befell it) so I found the information provided to be fascinating.  The chapter then moves on to visual art and film (and it was lovely to see a focus on Earl Cameron who sadly passed in 2020).  I was a little disappointed with the visual art section because although there are a couple of biographies (Donald Rodney and Ronald Moody) there are also a lot of names with no real context and I really wanted to know more.  Equally although the biographies that are provided are interesting and get across the person’s importance and contribution, I wished there’d been a bit more room to give more details of their life and who they were.

Chapter 2 moves onto STEM, which was my favourite chapter in the book because so many of these people were new to me.  Learning about Dr Cecil Befield Clarke, Alan Powell Goffe and Dame Elizabeth Aninonwu were particular eye-openers to me because I was so ignorant of their work, but in truth everyone in this chapter shows you the contribution that Black British doctors and nurses have made to humanity.  When the chapter moves on to economists and business, I was familiar with Sir William Arthur Lewis (but that’s because I’m a LSE graduate, where he studied) but wished that this section had more examples.  That said, learning about current scientists (including the marvellous Dr Maggie Ebunoluwa Aderin-Pocock) shows how Black British people are still on the front line and blazing developments.

Chapter 3 examines the world of sport.  I think what’s important about this is it doesn’t shy away from highlighting how there were Black footballers in the early days of the game (and again, very pleased to see Walter Tull and Arthur Wharton recognised here).  Narjee deftly highlights how the increased presence of Black players (who have faced terrible racism) is still only something that has happened over the last 30 years. Also good is that Narjee does not ignore the women’s game and I was fascinated to learn about Emma Clarke, the first Black female professional football player in 1894.  Narjee also looks at track and field, cycling, motorsport (where I was shocked that Lewis Hamilton is still the only Black Formula One driver) and boxing. I was a little disappointed that the only Paralympian mentioned was Ade Adepitan because much as I’m a fan, even a namecheck of other Black Paralympic athletes would have been helpful to know and also reflected the fact that disabled Black people are just as worthy of being recognised.

The final chapter focuses on politics and law, looking at community activists like Claudia Jones (one heck of a woman who moved to Britain after the US deported her for protesting for workers’ rights) and Pearl Alcock (a champion of LGBTQ+ rights).  I particularly liked that there is a special section on everyday heroes like Joe Clough who was Britain’s first Black bus driver and Paul Stephenson who led the Bristol bus boycott.  Again though there is a missed opportunity here as the focus is on men, whereas Narjee could have also mentioned Trudy Aarons (one of the first Black female train drivers).  The chapter also looks at Black politicians, political advocates like Lady Phyll and Marcus Rashford (who also gets name checked in Chapter 2) and finishes with modern givers like Stormzy.

Although the book focuses on the 20th and 21st centuries, there’s a timeline at the beginning of the book which starts in the early 19th century (although again, the book could have gone earlier had it wished to).  Chanté Timothy’s portrait illustrations of the people mentioned in the chapters are sympathetic and get across a sense of their character.

This is only a short book and it clearly isn’t going to catch everyone who could be mentioned or go into as much detail as I would have liked.  That said, there are a couple of places where I really just wanted an extra paragraph on some of these people because they are so remarkable – honestly this is one of those books that could have been twice the length and just as fascinating.  Notwithstanding my minor disappointments, I do think the book achieves its aim of helping readers discover amazing people who made their mark on the world and certainly, I would want to read more about everyone in this book.  

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