African and Caribbean support organisation Nubian Jak Community Trust and Havas London have created The Black Plaque Project, an initiative to commemorate the contributions of black people throughout history.
Timed to launch at the end of Black History Month, the project is a twist on London’s blue plaques – the signs hung around the capital to pay tribute to notable British figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. However, only 1.6% of those honoured in that scheme are of African or Caribbean descent.
To address this imbalance, The Black Plaque Project will install specially designed black plaques on buildings across London to celebrate the lives of some of its most notable black residents who may have been overlooked.
The first plaque recognises musician Winifred Atwell and will be hung in Brixton, where she used to live. In 1954, Atwell was the first black person to reach number one in the UK singles chart with Let’s Have Another Party, and Sir Elton John once described her as his first hero on the piano.
Forthcoming plaques will commemorate businessmen Len Dyke, Dudley Dryden and Tony Wade – Britain’s first black millionaires and fathers of the black haircare and beauty industry in the 1960s – in Tottenham, where they opened their first shop, as well as activist, musician and Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti in Greenwich, where he studied at Trinity College of Music.
Nubian Jak and Havas have secured permissions for 30 black plaques and also created an interactive map that will allow people to find the signs and learn about their recipients.
Dr Jak Beula, founder and chief executive of Nubian Jak, helped select the names of the 30 people to be honoured in the scheme. For the past 16 years, the trust has erected a number of plaques and statues honouring black achievements.
The Black Plaque Project also aims to raise money for Nubian Jak, turn the black plaques blue and make them permanent.
In addition, there will be a series of podcasts hosted by Beula, featuring luminaries from London’s black community, such as Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy and influencer and blogger Kelechi Okafor.
Beula said: “There are nowhere near enough blue plaques celebrating black achievement and history in Britain, so it is vital this project has a lasting legacy. Partnering with Havas on The Black Plaque Project helps us to raise awareness of this institutional discrimination and puts the pressure on those institutions – it shouldn’t just be us doing this.
“We must ensure these plaques commemorating our common cultural heritage keep going up and stay up – there are so many more stories that need to be told to celebrate our rich, diverse past and to inspire future generations.”
The work was created by Sam Adio and Ken Abalos at Havas London.
They added: “We’re incredibly proud to see this project come together. Black history is British history; it’s the history of our city, our home and our community, and for too long it has been overlooked and ignored. This is our chance to shed light on this exclusion and discrimination, and to do something to end it.”