The History of Black History Month – why does it matter?

During Black History Month, which was celebrated in the UK in October, a number of YSJ team members took time out of their usual roles within the journal to write articles that celebrate the contributions of black and POC (person/people of colour) scientists. Here, Ambassador for Chemistry Elizabeth Barek explains why Black History Month is so important.

Black History Month begins at the recognition of the earliest recorded entry of the enslavement of Black People – in 1619, Jamestown, Virginia, a previous British colony in the United States.[1] In the United States, Black people were auctioned off for work on vast plantations to farm cotton, corn and complete other brutal manual labour jobs. They were forced into cramped and unkept conditions where they were fed little to no food and beaten into submission by their slave owners. The slaves were prohibited from learning to read or write, had no access to assets as well as their movements and freedoms within and out of the plantations restricted.[1] It was only until 1807 when the Slave Trade was abolished in the United Kingdom, with all forms of Slavery being abolished in 1833 by the ‘Slavery Abolition Act of 1833’.[2][3] This was followed by the United States abolishing Slavery 32 years later through the 13th Amendment passed by Congress on January 31st 1865.[4] This stated that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”.[5]

Although Slavery had been abolished, racial segregation in public facilities and institutions were heavily enforced during the late 19th Century (1850-) and early 20th Century (1900-1970s) via the ‘Jim Crow Laws’.[6] People of colour were forced to the bottom of the hierarchy. Anarchy flooded the streets with burning crosses, systematic injustice against Black children and racial slurs. White people who were caught teaching Black children were punished to confinement in jail as well as a fine, according to the Virginia Criminal Code of 1847.[7] By the 20th Century, Black people were only able to apply for low paying jobs. There was a very small community of Black people in the STEM community especially as there were not many universities for Black people to attend.

Segregation was highly publicised in media through sporting events, scientific research and political standings. This was through the civil right protests anchored by Nelson Mandela during the Apartheid (1948-1998)[8], salutes of Black Power during the 1968 Olympics by Tommie Smith and John Carlos[9] and the pushes for scientific recognition by strong Black leads such as Mae C. Jemison and Scarlett Johnson.

History is an important source of knowledge that we have access to today. The study of History allows us to use the past as present lessons to enable future progression. By learning and understanding Black History, as well as other cultures, our tolerance and ability to collaborate to share ideas will greatly aid the success of STEM in the future. Many stories are still unheard and many achievements are still unrecognised. The more History we learn, the more opportunities for improvement will be available to us.


  1. Editors, \”Slavery In America\”,, last modified August 29, 2019,
  2. Kenan Malik, \”Let’s put an end to the delusion that Britain abolished slavery\”, The Guardian, February 11, 2018,
  3. Natasha L. Henry, \”Slavery Abolition Act\”, Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed October 20, 2019,
  4. Editors, \”Slavery Abolished In America\”,, last modified July 28, 2019,
  5. \”13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery\”, National Archives, accessed October 20, 2019,
  6. Editors, \”Segregation In The United States\”,, last modified May 16, 2018,
  7. \”Brown V. Board At Fifty: \”With An Even Hand\” A Century Of Racial Segregation, 1849–1950\”, Library Of Congress,
  8. Alistair Boddy-Evans, \”The Origins of Apartheid in South Africa.\” ThoughtCo, August 22, 2019,
  9. Tom Parfitt, \”Black Power Salute 50 Years On: Iconic Olympics Protest By Tommie Smith And John Carlos Remembered\”, Independent, October 17, 2018,

About the Author

Elizabeth Barek, 17, UK

Elizabeth is a Year 13 IB student who enjoys STEM, particularly the field of Chemistry. Her aims include increasing awareness and diversity outreach in STEM as well as studying Chemistry in hopes of becoming an Astrochemist in the future. Elizabeth led the team members who contributed to YSJ\’s Black History Month celebrations.

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