This secondary citizenship assembly acts as an introduction to Black History Month, while examining the value of studying history in general. It also tells the story of the first black person to drive a London bus, Joe Clough
Three readers, playing the parts of the Main Speaker, the Awkward Questioner and the Researcher.
Photo of Joe Clough – to be shown if possible.
Main Speaker: Good morning everybody. I am the Main Speaker for your assembly today, and I have a friend to challenge me now and again…the Awkward Questioner.
Awkward Questioner: My job is to make sure that the Main Speaker doesn’t have an easy time.
Main Speaker: We also have a Researcher with us.
Researcher: I’m here to supply useful information when we need it.
Main Speaker: So let’s begin. Today we are going to discuss a very important subject. Let’s talk about History.
Awkward Questioner: Boring!
Main Speaker: Excuse me, your job is to ask questions. Saying “boring” is not asking a question.
Awkward Questioner: Sorry. I won’t say it again.
Main Speaker: And anyway, history isn’t boring at all. History tells us great stories. Just think of the ancient Egyptians, the Pharoahs, the secrets of the pyramids… And history isn’t just reading books about ancient civilisations. Ask your grandparents to tell you what it was like when they went to school, or what they did in the Second World War – that’s learning history too.
Awkward Questioner: Ok, history might be interesting, but why must we have a whole special assembly about it?
Main Speaker: Because this month – October – is Black History Month.
Awkward Questioner: What on earth’s “Black History”?
Main Speaker: The idea of Black History Month began in America in 1926 and it’s been celebrated here in Britain for more than twenty years. It means telling the stories of black people and the way they have contributed to life in this country.
Awkward Questioner: What exactly do you mean by “black people”?
Main Speaker: The word “black” has many meanings, but today we are thinking mainly about people who come from, or who have heritage linked to, Africa or the Caribbean.
Awkward Questioner: But why does “Black History” have to be a special topic?
Awkward Questioner: Because it hasn’t always had a fair deal in the past. For several hundred years many black people were victims of the Atlantic Slave Trade. In much of the United States discrimination against black people was legal, and there was often evidence of unofficial racial segregation and discrimination in Britain. In South Africa there was “apartheid” – a system of legal racial segregation.
Awkward Questioner: But apartheid’s been abolished. Nearly everybody knows about Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. So why do we still need Black History Month?
Main Speaker: It’s great that apartheid has been abolished and the slave trade has gone, but we still have to cope with the after-effects. Old history books were sometimes biased. History tends to mainly notice the people who held important job titles, and not many black people were given those, historically. In fact often they didn’t get mentioned at all. So Black History Month is all about getting the balance right. We all need role models, and Black History can encourage and inspire black pupils.
Awkward Questioner: It’s a great idea for black pupils. But does it mean that everyone else will get a free period?
Main Speaker: No it doesn’t – because Black History Month is meant for everybody. It’s about learning from sad and unfair stories but also means celebrating good stories.
Awkward Questioner: But isn’t history about blaming somebody else? The Scots blame the English for invading them, the Irish blame the British for oppressing them, the British blame the Germans for the second world war, Africans blame Europeans for the slave trade. Doesn’t learning history simply help to stir up hatred of other people and other countries?
Main Speaker: If it does, then it’s Bad History. And we are talking about Black History, not Bad History. Black History Month is not meant to make anybody feel guilty. It’s not about blaming anybody – it’s about celebrating success. You’ve mentioned famous black people like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King…and today it’s good to hear about black racing drivers like Lewis Hamilton, or athletes like Kelly Holmes, or footballers like Emmanuel Adebayor…or Joe Clough.
Awkward Questioner: (surprised) Joe Clough? What team does he play for?
Main Speaker: I was hoping you’d ask that, Mr/Ms… Awkward Questioner. I never said that Joe Clough was a famous footballer. Let’s ask our researcher to tell us about him.
Researcher: Mr Joe Clough was the first black person to drive a London bus. He was born in Jamaica, where as a young man he worked for a Scottish doctor, Dr White, looking after his polo ponies. One day Dr White asked Joe if he would like to go to England with him and Joe said “yes”.
When Joe got to London he became a coachman, driving Dr White around in a horse-drawn carriage. However, when the motor car was invented and Dr White was keen to get one, Joe became his chauffeur [show photo of Joe].
In 1910, after Joe stopped working for the doctor, he took and passed his bus-driving test and became the first black bus driver in London. He used to drive the Number 11b across London, from Liverpool Street Station to Wormwood Scrubs.
Not long after that, the first world war broke out, and for four years Joe drove an ambulance in Ypres, Belgium, on the Western Front, carrying wounded soldiers to field hospitals.
After the war, Joe moved to Bedford with his wife and family. In those days they were just about the only black family in the town, which meant that they sometimes got stared at. Worse still, they might be on the receiving end of racist remarks. But Joe never answered back. He simply raised his hat in the old style and wished the rude person a good day.
When Joe first arrived in Bedford he started driving buses again, until he bought his own taxi in 1949. He died in 1976 he died at the age of 91.
Main Speaker: So there you have the story of Joe Clough. He became quite a local hero in Bedford. He wasn’t as famous as Nelson Mandela, but he made a big contribution to this country. And that’s all part of Black History too.
Researcher: And his story shows that Black History isn’t all about conflict. Joe got on very well with Dr White, who after they stopped working together treated Joe as a friend and equal.
Main Speaker: The Awkward Questioner was right to point out that Bad History can stir up bad feeling, with people from different countries and cultures blaming each other for what happened in the past. It’s too easy for dictators to use Bad History to whip up hatred.
That’s why Black History Month is meant to help us recognise our neighbours – wherever they come from – as brothers and sisters, not as foreigners.
Please listen to this short prayer – and join in if you like.
Researcher: Let’s say a big “Thank You” to God for the rich contribution made by black people to life in our country,
Awkward Questioner: for famous people who made the world better.
Main Speaker: for not-so-famous people who made the world better.
All readers: And let’s say
“God – help usto learn together wisely,to live together peacefully,to care for each other kindly,And to do our bestto make the world better
for everyone to share and enjoy.”
This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2008
About the author: John Coutts has worked as secondary school principal in Nigeria, taught RE in Scotland, and has been involved in teaching and teacher training at the University of Greenwich. He has written and presented many scripts for the BBC and other broadcasters, and currently works as a freelance writer, poet and performer.