The 1990s saw international communities emerging into a digital age, and with new connections across the African and African Caribbean Diaspora. Whilst conflicts of previous decades subsided, other tensions rose with economic instabilities.
The 1990s marked a period of mass migration in Africa. An estimated 300,000 people per year migrated, mainly across African nations and Europe. In 1990, Nelson Mandela and other Black political leaders were released from prison in South Africa. Economic sanctions and continued protests. In a referendum, the white minority population decided in favour of a new multiracial constitution. After the first democratic elections of the decade, African National Congress (ANC) was voted into power and Nelson Mandela became president.
In April 1994, Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutu, were assassinated when the plane they were travel on was shot down. The resulting power vacuum triggered two the Rwandan genocide and First Congo War, mass conflict between majority Hutu and minority Tutsi people, with over 500,000 people killed.
In the US, Dr Mae Jemison made history in 1992 as the first Black female astronaut in space as part of the STS-47 a cooperative mission between the United States and Japan. Jamison took a poster from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater along with her on the flight. The mission was one in preparation for the construction of the International Space Station.
The Million Man March takes place in Washington, D.C. in October 1995. Aimed to inspire solidarity and self-improvement in Black men, whilst dispelling negative stereotypes, the march was organised by Louis Farrakhan from the Nation of Islam. It was followed in 1997, by the Million Woman March in Philadelphia.
Caribbean nations were caught up in a trade disagreement between the US and EU. Known as the “bananas wars.” In 1993, the EU agreed to maintain preferential access of former European colonies to European markets. In 1997, the US filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation and won, causing concern for banana farmers in the Caribbean who had previously been protected from competition with plantations in Latin America run by US based corporations on a larger scale. Fruit farming is crucial to the Caribbean economy with half of the population employed in the industry. It was not until 2009 that the dispute was resolved with the EU and 10 Central American countries signing an agreement.
Over two thirds of the population of Montserrat are forced to flee between 1995 and 2000 as a result of volcanic activity in Soufriere Hills destroying all major infrastructure on the island along with farmland and homes. Due to Montserrat being a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, many people chose to settle in the UK, with full residency rights granted.
The 1990s marked a continued campaign for justice in the UK. In April 1993, Black British teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racially motivated attack whilst waiting for the bus in Eltham, London. After tireless campaigning by the Lawrence family, in particular Stephen’s mother Doreen an investigation was launched into the handling of the case. The MacPherson report highlighted institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police force (introducing the term into British vernacular) and setting in motion a campaign for change in the justice system.
In 1995, the death of Wayne Douglas in police custody prompted protests outside of the police station which spiralled into riots in Brixton. The inquest into his death was ruled as accidental, but highlighted the police restraint that might have contributed to his premature death.
As a result of these tragedies and other the UK came under scrutiny from the United Nations in 1996 who criticised race relations in the country. Citing police brutality faced by the Black community, high unemployment and lack of representation in politics, the army and police. As a result, the British government agreed to be part of the European Convention on Human Rights, with a European wide plan to combat racism. A change in policy that was desperately needed amidst a number of cases which highlighted police negligence or brutality.
With the ambition to support Black British talent, MOBO (Music of Black Origin) was founded in 1996, by Kanya King. The launch of the MOBO award are show on Channel 4, shining a spotlight on the music and talent of Black artists. In the first year, Jazzie B received an award for outstanding contribution to Black music, with the Fuggees and Goldie also receiving two awards each. In 1991, the Ministry of Sound opened its doors in south London, marking a shift in taking raves from warehouses, derelict buildings and fields to license venues. It marked the increasing commercialisation of Black British music, but also the promotion of house, garage and jungle to wider audiences. The UK’s first Black arts centre also opened its doors in 1991, with the establishment of the Nia Centre in Manchester.
Black British literature is shaped by launch of Black owned publishers The X Press, founded in 1992. Their seminal publication Yardie by Victor Headley, which took stylistic and genre defying risks which earn national attention. Prior to formal publication, Headley had sold 12,000 copies by hand distribution sold in African Caribbean shops across London.
Both in front of and behind the camera, Black British actors and directors achieved international acclaim. Marianne Jean-Baptiste was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and a BAFTA for her role in Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies (1996). In 1999, Steve McQueen wins the Turner Prize for his video Deadpan.
Corresponding with the rise of the internet, dedicated platforms The African Caribbean Network and Blacknet UK, launched in 1996.
Arts in the East Midlands flourished in the 1990s. In Leicester, the Phoenix Arts Centre, Haymarket Theatre, Leicester Expressive Arts and Knighton Fields (Leicestershire Arts in Education) supporting, nurturing and showcasing talent. Including three Leicester dancers who went on to flourishing careers. Sheron Ama Wray trained at Dupont Dance School in Leicester before moving to London School of Contemporary Dance. She performed with London Contemporary Dance Company and Rambert before founding her own company JazzXchange in 1992. In 1999 Wray choreographed DNA: Destiny’s Natural Ally performed by Leicester based dancer Louise Katerega for Black History Month. Kwesi Johnson founded Kompany Malakhi in 1994, after a varied career performing with Phoenix Dance Theatre, CandoCo Dance Company and Black Mime Theatre. Djoee Tomakloe trained at Knighton Fields, Leicester College and Northern School of Contemporary Dance before dancing with Kokuma. In 1999 he established his own dance and music performance programme to support other young people.
Supported by Leicester City Council and East Midlands Arts, Black History Month programmes begin to flourish bringing together educational and artistic programmes, including a landmark programme Vision Re:Africa, commissioned by New Walk Museum in 1999. The exhibition opened up previously unseen archival objects from across Africa to the public whilst also providing opportunities for artistic interpretation and also redressing understanding of the objects and their pasts. Victor Richard’s work Streets Paved with Gold is performed at the Haymarket Theatre.
With the establishment of The Scarman Centre and The Race Equality Centre in the early 1990s in Leicester, the East Midlands became a focus for research around racism, social justice, civil liberties and equality. Wellingborough Racial Equality Council embark on a project to record and capture the oral histories of African and African Caribbean elders, and similar projects begin to emerge across the region in an attempt to capture the legacy of the African Caribbean elders.
Banana war ends after 20 years. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20263308 (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
Black History Milestones. Available at: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-milestones (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
The banana wars explained. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/1999/mar/05/eu.wto3 (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
Mobo Awards. Available at: https://www.mobo.com/content/about-us (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
Wayne Douglas. Available at: https://4wardeveruk.org/cases/youth-cases-uk/police-restraint/wayne-douglas/ (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
Why the Victorians were colour blind. Available at: https://www.newstatesman.com/node/153394 (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
Kwesi Johnson. Available at: https://www.kompanymalakhi.com/2011/05/kwesi-johnson-artistic-director/ (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
Africa 1980–2010: Tragedies, Triumphs, and Challenges. Available at: https://exhibitions.nypl.org/africanaage/essay-africa-2010.html (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
1990s News, Events, Popular Culture and Prices. Available at: https://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1990s.html (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
Yardie by Victor Headley. Available at: https://unitedreggae.com/articles/n92/122107/yardie-by-victor-headley (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
Our History So Far. Available at: https://www.northants-black-history.org.uk/about-us/our-history-so-far (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
Black Presence. Available at: https://blackpresence.co.uk/ (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
Montserrat. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/place/Montserrat-island-West-Indies (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)
Allen, J., et al. (2017). Lost Legends, 30 Years 30 Voices. 1st ed. Leicester: Serendipity