Black History Month in the Library 2023
Saluting sisters: celebrating the impact of Black British women
This Black History Month, we are focusing on the history, legacies and lasting impact of Black women. With so much online content focused on Afro-Americans, I have tried to centre Black British women and I was spoiled for choice over who to include. So if your greatest heroine is missing, I apologise in advance but do tell us about them in the comments!
Popular history would have us believe that Black people are recent arrivals to Britain, with mythical tales of everyone Black arriving on the one ship, the Windrush, in the 1950s but Black people have been living here since at least the time of the Roman occupation. For all that time, Black women have helped inform our culture and held positions of prominance in Britain.
Ivory Bangle Lady
We may never know her name, but the remains of the Black British woman buried in Britain in the fourth century who has become known as “Ivory Bangle Lady” because of the Ivory and Jet bracelets she wore when she was buried. This single burial discovery has become famous in part because it shows just how long ago people of all ethnicities were living in Britain but also because of the self-evident wealth and high social status held by Ivory Bangle Lady. A clearly wealthy and influential woman in her time, she was buried in York in the late fourth century with earrings, pendants, beads, a blue glass jug and a glass mirror, suggesting those that buried her believed grave goods were useful to the dead in the afterlife but also an openwork bone casket engraved with the inscription “Hail, sister, may you live in God”, suggesting she might have been a Christian.
Finds like this anchor our understanding of Black History in fact and undermine the pernicious fantasies that grip the popular imagination that Britain is somehow being overrun very recently by an influx of people who have always lived here. Sadly, if you want to view Ivory Bangle Lady in person, you currently have to take a trip up t’North, all the way up to Yorkshire to where her remains form an exhibit in the Yorkshire Museum. Still, well worth visiting if you have never been to this ancient city, which has been an important military and administrative centre the life and times of Ivory Bangle Lady.
Image credit: Archaeology Outreach Unit, University of Reading