Witness: Black History Collection



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


  • The Battle of Versailles: Catwalk clash of American and French fashion

    09/02/2024 Duração: 10min

    In 1973, a fashion show was held in France which became known as the Battle of Versailles, a duel between designs from modern America and the capital of couture, Paris. Five American designers, including Oscar de la Renta and Halston, were invited to show their work alongside five of France’s biggest names, including Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy. The aim was to raise money to help restore Versailles, a 17th Century palace built by King Louis XIV, but the media billed it as a competition between the two countries.By the end, the Americans were declared the winners. The show also highlighted their industry’s racial diversity on an international stage, with 10 women of colour modelling work by US designers. Bethann Hardison, one of the models, talks to Jane Wilkinson about the lasting impact of the astonishing show.(Photo: Bethann Hardison at Versailles in 1973. Credit: Jean-Luce Hure/Bridgeman Images)

  • How Rosa Parks took a stand against racism

    08/02/2024 Duração: 09min

    Rosa Parks was brought up in Alabama during the Jim Crow era, when state laws enforced segregation in practically all aspects of daily life.Public schools, water fountains, trains and buses all had to have separate facilities for white people and black people.As a passionate civil rights activist, Rosa was determined to change this.In December 1955, she was travelling home from the department store where she worked as a seamstress.When a white passenger boarded the bus, Rosa was told to give up her seat.Her refusal to do so and subsequent arrest sparked a bus boycott in the city of Montgomery, led by Dr Martin Luther King.Using BBC interviews with Rosa and Dr King, Vicky Farncombe tells how Rosa’s story changed civil rights history and led to the end of segregation.This programme includes outdated and offensive language.(Photo: Rosa Parks sitting on a bus. Credit: Getty Images)

  • Lucha Reyes: Peruvian music star

    07/02/2024 Duração: 10min

    Lucha Reyes was one of Peru’s greatest singers. She was born into poverty in 1936 and fought terrible health problems and racism throughout her life. But it didn’t stop her becoming a star of Peruvian Creole music - a fusion of waltzes, Andean and Afro-Peruvian styles. In the early 1970s she recorded hits including Regresa and Tu Voz. One of the few black Peruvian celebrities of her era, she was a trailblazer for black women in the country. Polo Bances played the saxophone in her band, accompanying her on many of her greatest records. He celebrates her life with Ben Henderson.(Photo: Lucha Reyes. Credit: Javier Ponce Gambirazio)

  • How a young mother was saved from death by stoning

    06/02/2024 Duração: 10min

    In March 2002, a young Nigerian Muslim woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery and conceiving a child out of wedlock. Amina Lawal’s case attracted huge international attention and highlighted divisions between the Christian and Muslim regions in the country. Hauwa Ibrahim, one of the first female lawyers from northern Nigeria, defended Amina and helped her secure an acquittal. The case would have very personal consequences for Hauwa who went on to adopt Amina’s daughter. She tells Vicky Farncombe how the ground-breaking case also changed attitudes in Nigeria towards defendants from poor, rural communities.(Photo: Hauwa Ibrahim (left) with Amina Lawal, Credit: Getty Images)

  • Queen of the 'fro

    05/02/2024 Duração: 09min

    In May 1986, 16-year-old Charlotte Mensah went to work in the UK’s first luxury Afro-Caribbean hair salon, Splinters.In London’s glamorous Mayfair, Splinters had earned a world-class reputation and hosted the likes of Diana Ross.Charlotte says it looked more like a five-star hotel than a salon and that its owner, Winston Isaacs expected no less than perfection from all his staff.Now a giant of the hair care industry in her own right, Charlotte has become known as the 'Queen of the 'fro'.She tells Anoushka Mutanda-Dougherty about her roots and how training at the legendary Splinters changed her life. This programme includes an account of racial bullying. (Photo: Young Charlotte in the salon. Credit: Charlotte Mensah)

  • The funeral of Nelson Mandela

    15/12/2023 Duração: 15min

    On 15 December 2013, South Africa held the funeral of Nelson Mandela who led the struggle in defeating apartheid and became the country’s first black president. His ancestral home in the village of Qunu in South Africa’s Eastern Cape hosted 60 world leaders including four United States presidents and two UN secretary generals. It was the first state funeral held by the country.Nelson Mandela’s eldest child Dr Makaziwe Mandela tells Josephine McDermott how it took eight years to plan and why it makes her proud to remember that day.(Photo: Candles are lit under a portrait of Nelson Mandela at his funeral service. Credit: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)

  • The Bristol bus boycott

    28/08/2023 Duração: 09min

    Sixty years ago, there was a boycott of local bus services in the English city of Bristol. The bus company had specified that it did not want to employ black bus drivers. The boycott ended on 28 August 1963 and the campaign helped to bring about Britain's first laws against racial discrimination. In 2013, Louise Hidalgo heard from Paul Stephenson and Roy Hackett, who died in 2022. This programme contains some racist language, used at the time. (Photo: Bus on Park Street in Bristol in the early 1960s. Credit: Fox Photos/Getty Images)

  • The Empire Windrush arrives

    22/06/2023 Duração: 08min

    The Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury in England on 22 June 1948 with 802 people on board from the Caribbean. The former passenger liner's arrival on that misty June day is now regarded as the symbolic starting point of a wave of Caribbean migration between 1948 and 1971 known as the "Windrush generation". Sam King was one of the passengers. He describes to Alan Johnston the conditions on board and the concerns people had about finding jobs in England. In this programme first broadcast in 2011, Sam also talks about what life was like in their adopted country once they arrived. (Photo: Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948. Credit: Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

  • Ming Smith makes history at MoMA

    16/06/2023 Duração: 10min

    In 1979, The Museum of Modern Art, (MoMA) purchased photographs from an African-American woman for the first time in its history. Ming Smith was famous for capturing her subjects with slow shutter speeds and using oil paints to layer colour onto her black and white photos. She worked as a model in New York in the 1970s, while pursuing her passion for photography and was friends with Grace Jones. Ming took a powerful image of Grace performing at the iconic Studio 54 nightclub in 1978 after meeting her at an audition. Ming was also a backing dancer in Tina Turner’s music video for What’s Love Got to Do with It, where she captured Tina glancing away from the camera, in front of Brooklyn Bridge wearing a leather skirt, denim jacket and patent stilettos with huge spiky hair. Ming speaks to Reena Stanton-Sharma about graduating with a degree in microbiology, modelling and struggling to make a living, and then becoming a famous photographer with a retrospective at MoMA in 2023. (Photo: Tina Turner, What’s

  • Octavia E. Butler: Visionary black sci-fi writer

    06/03/2023 Duração: 08min

    In 1995, Octavia E Butler became the first author to receive a MacArthur “genius” award for science fiction writing. From a young age she dreamed of writing books, but faced many challenges, including poverty, sexism and racism in the publishing industry. She died aged 58 in 2006. Alex Collins speaks to her friend and fellow author Nisi Shawl. (Photo: Octavia E. Butler. Credit: Getty Images)

  • Una Marson and the BBC Caribbean Service

    19/12/2022 Duração: 09min

    To mark the 90th anniversary of the BBC World Service, we trace the development of the Caribbean Service. Its beginnings go back to the early 1940s when the BBC’s first black producer, Una Marson was employed. She created Caribbean Voices, which gave future Nobel laureates such as Derek Walcott their first international platform. In 1969, one of the UK’s best known newsreaders, Sir Trevor McDonald, left Trinidad to join the BBC Caribbean Service as a producer. He reflects on its legacy. Produced and presented by Josephine McDermott. Archive recording of West Indies Calling from 1943, is used courtesy of the Imperial War Museum. Una Marson's poem Black Burden is used courtesy of Peepal Tree Press and the BBC Caribbean Service archive material was provided by the Alma Jordan Library, The University of the West Indies. (Photo: Sir Trevor McDonald and Una Marson. Credit: BBC)

  • The Little Black Book survival guide

    31/10/2022 Duração: 09min

    In 1985, Carol Taylor wrote a survival guide for young black men in the Unites Stated who were stopped by the police. Her son, Laurence Legall, tells Ashley Byrne the story of the small and important book created by his mum to help young black men stay safe on the streets of New York. It all began when Laurence went shopping and was robbed but the police didn’t take his complaint seriously. This is a Made in Manchester production for BBC World Service. (Photo: Carol Taylor. Credit: Laurence Legall)

  • The beginnings of Notting Hill Carnival

    07/10/2022 Duração: 10min

    On 30 January 1959, the late Trinidadian activist Claudia Jones held a Caribbean party in St Pancras Town Hall in London, planting the seeds for the famous carnival. She wanted to bring Caribbeans across the capital together for dancing, singing and steel bands. Rachel Naylor hears from her best friend, Corinne Skinner-Carter. (Photo: A woman having a good time at Claudia Jones' Caribbean carnival, at St Pancras Town Hall in London, 1959. Credit: Daily Mirror via Getty Images)

  • The Harder They Come

    06/10/2022 Duração: 10min

    In 1972, a low-budget Jamaican film and its legendary soundtrack helped popularise reggae music in the world. Ben Henderson spoke to one of the most famous reggae artists ever, Jimmy Cliff, who played the film's protagonist and wrote a number of the songs. Jimmy explained why the film was so popular and how it reflected his own life. 'The Harder They Come' was produced by International Films Inc. (Photo: Jimmy Cliff in 'The Harder They Come'. Credit: Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images)

  • The funk and soul club that changed Manchester

    03/10/2022 Duração: 10min

    In 1962, Nigerian man Phil Magbotiwan opened a brand new nightclub in Manchester, England. In part because of his own personal experiences of racism, Phil wanted to create somewhere where everyone would be welcome – Manchester’s first racially inclusive nightclub. The Reno was born. The nightclub became a particularly important space for Manchester's mixed heritage community, who felt unwelcome in city centre venues. Phil’s youngest daughter, Lisa Ayegun has been sharing her memories of the Reno with Matt Pintus. This programme contains descriptions of racial discrimination. (Photo: Phil Magbotiwan (right) standing in front of the Reno nightclub in Manchester. Credit: The Magbotiwan family)

  • Civil Rights activist Ida B Wells

    31/05/2022 Duração: 09min

    In March 2022 a law was passed in the United States making lynching a federal crime - nearly 120 years after the first attempts to introduce legislation. The pioneering African-American journalist Ida B Wells first campaigned for the change in the 1890s after realising the horror of lynching taking place across the country. Laura Jones has been speaking to her great-granddaughter Michelle Duster. PHOTO: Ida B Wells in 1920 (Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

  • The death of Trayvon Martin

    24/02/2022 Duração: 08min

    In February 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot dead by a member of a Neighbourhood Watch group who claimed he was acting suspiciously. The unarmed black teenager was returning to a gated community in Florida after buying some snacks from a nearby convenience store His death sparked national outrage in the US over racial profiling and the first use of the slogan "Black Lives Matter". Rachel Naylor talks to Trayvon Martin's high school friend, Ashley Burch. PHOTO: A protest demanding justice for Trayvon Martin in 2013 (Getty Images)

  • Black Jesus

    02/04/2021 Duração: 10min

    On Easter Sunday 1967 the Reverend Albert Cleage renamed his church in Detroit the Shrine of the Black Madonna. He preached that if man was made in God's image there was little chance that Jesus was white as most of the world's population is non-white. Reverend Cleage also pointed to the many depictions of black madonnas all over the world throughout history. Claire Bowes has been speaking to his daughter Pearl Cleage, a writer and activist, about her father's belief in black representation and self-determination. Photo: Black Madonna and Child courtesy of BLAC Detroit. Archive: Thanks to the Chicago History Museum and WFMT for the Studs Terkel Radio Archive.

  • 'I just wanted to be white'

    03/11/2020 Duração: 10min

    In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, thousands of children were born to white German women and black American soldiers who were stationed in Allied-occupied Germany. The mixed-race infants were viewed with contempt by many Germans and endured constant abuse and racism. Black activist and author Ika Hügel-Marshall was one of the so-called "occupation babies". She tells Mike Lanchin about the painful struggle to discover her own identity as a result of the racism she experienced growing up black in post-war Germany. Photo: Ika as a young girl (Courtesy of Ika Hügel-Marshall)

  • Nasa's pioneering black women

    23/10/2020 Duração: 08min

    Usually it is the names of astronauts that people remember about the space race. But less celebrated are the teams of people working on how to put a rocket into orbit. only in recent years have stories come to light of the contributions of the black women involved. Many were recruited as 'computers', meaning that they carried out complex mathematical calculations by hand, before machines were invented that could do the job. Christine Darden started her career in the computer pool, helping the engineers work out the trajectories needed to bring the Apollo Capsule back to Earth. Finally, she broke through the hidden barriers facing women at the time, gaining a promotion to engineer. (Photo: Dr Christine Darden at a desk in Nasa's Langley Research Center, 1973. Credit: Bob Nye/Nasa/Getty Images)

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