James Cleverly MP shares his thoughts on black history
It is through Black History Month that we are all reminded of the positive impact on our cultural heritage by generations of black Britons.
These contributions are recognised in both sport, music and fashion and as a result, modern Britain is a culturally richer place because of people whose ethnic roots stretch beyond our shores. But if we think only of these, admittedly high profile, activities we will miss the longstanding commercial contribution that was made at the same time.
Many people are now familiar with Ignatius Sancho, the first black Briton to vote in a general election in 1774. However, people are less aware that he qualified to do so because he was a free man of independent financial means.
His financial independence came by being a grocer. This oldest of trades gave Sancho both a vote and the financial freedom to be a prominent member of London society.
Within the UK today, black businesses are growing but there is a still way to go. Recent figures from The Small Business Survey of 2010, which included a special analysis of business by minority ethnic groups, found that 2% of all employers were led by people of black ethnic background; making up around 24,000 businesses. On the whole, this makes up 16% of all ethnic minority-led employers.
The life of Sancho and the freedom he enjoyed as a result of the ability to prosper in business at a time when such developments were unheard of, is truly inspiring. The Heritage Lottery Fund supports projects to ensure those of us living in the UK today are able to remember the life of Sancho, and ensure his efforts can continue to be an inspiration to us today.
For example, they assisted with the acquisition of an engraving of Ignatius Sancho made after a portrait by Thomas Gainsborough, which is now part of the Michael Graham-Stewart Slavery Collection at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
Letters, texts and life accounts of Ignatius Sancho features in the exhibition ‘West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song’ on view at the British Library, which has also received support from Heritage Lottery Fund.
I would encourage people to go and find out more about this inspirational character in the UK’s history.