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Portrait of Charles Ignatius Sancho

Books on Black British history, culture and life that you should read

Sofia Akel is a cultural historian, producer, writer and host, specialising in Black British history. In this guest article, she documents some of the most important books - from all genres - that cover many aspects of Black British history.

Image: Charles Ignatius Sancho is the subject of the book 'The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho' by Paterson Joseph | Public Domain

Black British history and British history are often seen as two separate portals back through time. However, these are two incredibly interwoven stories of how we came to be, dating back hundreds of years. From the Roman Empire to Grime music, it is all connected. With so many years of history to discover, choosing a starting place can be daunting.

Therefore, I’ve put together a non-exhaustive short list of books that cover our collective history, culture and daily life. Whether you’re aged 3 or 100, from fiction through to poetry, there will be a book for you. Here's to the beginning (or continuation) of your journey!


Where We Come From by Aniefiok Ekpoudom

Weaving a social history of Black and working-class communities through the lens of UK Rap and Grime, journalist Aniefiok Ekpoudom documents its emergence from the underground into the mainstream. From South London to South Wales, Ekpoudom explores how resistance, migration, courage, and loss shaped the sounds and lyricism we hear today. Told through the stories of those who created, those who listened and those who found a home in UK Rap and Grime, this is a landmark exploration of music as a vessel for documentation, archiving and storytelling – bar for bar.

African and Caribbean People in Britain: A History by Hakim Adi

A rich, detailed, and thoroughly researched exploration of African and Caribbean people in Britain. Hakim Adi takes us on a journey across time and geography, starting as far back as the Roman period to the present day. Written in an accessible way, Adi consciously documents Black British history across the UK, bringing together three historical narratives that are often told with separation - the stories of African people in Britain, Caribbean people in Britain, and Britain – but are in fact deeply intertwined. You’ll need your post-its for this one!

Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain by Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe

One of the most important books archiving the experiences, voices and lives of Black women in Britain. Delving deep into structural inequalities within education, healthcare, the judicial system and more, we bear witness through time to the ways that Black women’s lives were shaped by a system they inherited. First published in 1985, Heart of the Race remains a widely-cited and highly-recommended text that breaks down complex societal and political issues, in an open and accessible way.

Revolutionary Acts: Love & Brotherhood in Black Gay Britain by Jason Okundaye

Gossip, scandal and romance meet resistance and politics in this groundbreaking uncovering of the revolutionary acts that shaped the lives of Black Gay men in Britain. Jason Okundaye’s debut is a vital telling of a history that has long been buried and erased - not only in the years in which these biographical stories take place but in the retrospective histories of Gay Britain. This is a testament to the necessary gift of archiving our elders’ stories with vibrancy and texture, in the full messy glory of the human condition.

Deeping It: Colonialism, Culture & Criminalisation of UK Drill by Adèle Oliver

Art as we know it often seeks to convey a message, a time or a snapshot into the life of its creator. Drill music is one such art form that exists at a paradoxical intersection – it is often delegitimised as an art form among the elite quarters of British society, despite meeting the requisites of expression that we often value in art, yet it is considered legitimate enough to serve as evidence in a court of law. Adèle Oliver unpacks the criminalisation of this art form and its connection to colonialism. A short, yet essential analysis.

Settlers: Journeys Through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London by Jimi Famurewa

The marketplace has long forged its position in history as a staple place to meet, barter and trade, a much-cherished institution, especially in the history of working-class Britain. As African migration grew in the late 20th century, the marketplace became a community hub, connecting diasporas to the produce of their homelands and to one another. Famed food critic and MasterChef guest judge Jimi Famurewa takes readers on a journey through food, faith and culture, documenting how these important community hubs created a home that exists in tangible and intangible ways. A relatable, important illumination of a universal human experience that is often left off the pages of our history books.


The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Paterson Joseph

Writer and actor Paterson Joseph (Wonka, Vigil) combines two decades of extensive research and imaginative creative license in bringing to life the exceptional story of Charles Ignatius Sancho – acclaimed musician, abolitionist and the first known person of African descent to vote in Britain. Set in 18th-century Britain, Ignatius Sancho’s story unfurls through a tapestry of diary entries, like peering through a window in time.

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

Initially published in 1956, The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon has rightfully marked its status as one of the most important works of fiction of the 20th century. Selvon paints a story of West Indian immigration to the UK, explored through the experiences of several characters who find guidance in Moses Aloetta – a London veteran hailing from Trinidad – as they create new lives for themselves in unknown, lonely and often turbulent, mid-century London.

Keisha the Sket by Jade LB

A story that started life as a blog on the now obsolete website Piczo (a social media, website builder popular in the mid-00s), soon became a much-celebrated work of 21st-century Black British literature. Written by a then 13-year-old Jade LB, Keisha the Sket follows the story of a schoolgirl who must navigate love, stability, trauma and misogynoir all whilst being branded ‘top sket’. Keisha the Sket swept across schools in London, with students racing to read the next instalment shared voraciously over Blackberry Messenger, MSN or printouts! This is a work of archival fiction, written in the 00s ‘text’ abbreviated language, capturing brilliantly the language and culture of that time.


Poor by Caleb Femi

Chosen as book of the year by BBC, Guardian and Financial Times, to name a few…

Poor by Caleb Femi is an exceptional collection of poetry and photography that vividly and lyrically explores the lives of young Black boys as they navigate their dreams, joy, romance, gentrification, policing, and daily life in 21st-century Peckham. If you’re not yet a poetry reader, allow Femi’s pen to introduce you. This is a book that lingers in your mind long after the final page has been turned.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire’s first full-length poetry collection Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head is a wonderfully textured documentation of the transition from girlhood to womanhood. Explored through the eyes of a young Black girl who, without a maternal guide, embarks on this path alone. Drawing inspiration from pop culture and media, Shire shares vivid renderings of life as mothers and daughters, refugees and immigrants.

Part of a Story That Started Before Me edited by George the Poet

Poetry meets non-fiction in this brilliant Black history anthology edited by acclaimed spoken-word artist George the Poet. Part of a Story That Started Before Me takes readers from Roman Britannia, all the way through to Malcolm X’s visit to the West Midlands. With a wealth of poetry, including writings from the late Benjamin Zephaniah, paired with factual histories from Dr Christienna Fryar, this creative exploration of our past demonstrates how Black history and British history are inextricably linked.


Hey You! An Empowering Celebration of Growing up Black by Dapo Adeola (For Ages 3-5)

Black children navigate a multitude of experiences that are shaped and fueled by systemic racism. Although they may not have the words or tools to understand this, its impact remains nonetheless felt. Hey You! is an age-appropriate book that seeks to honestly address these issues whilst delivering an empowering, uplifting message of joy, hope and happiness to its young readers.

Featuring 18 Black illustrators from across the diaspora, the pages come to life with beautiful, vivid drawings for the young ones.

Dream to Change the World: The Story of John La Rose by Ken Wilson-Max (For Ages 5+)

Dream to Change the World follows a young boy who dreams of seeing the world. Reluctant to be far away from his family and culture, he decides to keep his memories safe in his suitcase. Little does he know; his curiosity will change the world! Discover the incredible journey of the late Trinidadian-born activist, trade unionist and writer John La Rose who fought for social justice and race equity here in Britain and beyond. His story is immortalised in this beautiful children’s book.

The Black Curriculum Series: Legacies, Migration & Places (For Ages 8+)

Founded by Lavinya Stennet, the Black Curriculum is an organisation dedicated to promoting the teaching of Black British history within schools, offering free teaching resources online as well as workshops. Their three-part collection Legacies, Migration and Places is suitable for children aged eight through to teenagers, giving young people the opportunity to explore the untold stories of the people, places and journeys that shape Black British history. A creative, bold and accessible exploration of centuries of history, made engaging and enjoyable for young people.