A powerful history of the forgotten lives of black Georgian Britain
Georgian England had a large and distinctive black community. Yet all of them, prosperous citizens or newly freed slaves, ran the risk of kidnap and sale to plantations. Their dramatic, often moving story is told in this book.
The idea that Britain became a mixed-race country after 1945 is a common mistake. Even in Shakespeare's England, black people were numerous enough for Queen Elizabeth to demand their expulsion. She was, perhaps, the first to fear that whites would lose their jobs, yet her order was ignored without ill effects.
By the eighteenth century, black people could be found in clubs and pubs, there were churches for black people, black-only balls and organisations for helping black people who were out of work or in trouble. Many of them were famous and respected: most notably Francis Barber, Doctor Johnson's esteemed manservant and legatee; George Bridgetower, a concert violinist who knew Beethoven; Ignatius Sancho, a correspondent of Laurence Sterne; and Francis Williams a Cambridge scholar. But many more were ill-paid, ill-treated servants or beggars, some resorting to prostitution or theft. And alongside the free world there was slavery, from which many of these black Britons escaped. The triumphs and tortures of black England, the ambivalent relations between the races, sometimes tragic, sometimes heart-warming, are brought to life in this well-researched and wonderfully readable account.
The black population of Georgian England had been completely ignored until this book changed the conversation, clearing the way for a new kind of history based on the experiences of ordinary people rather than the ruling classes.
In the 1990s, an assistant in a London bookshop informed the African American historian Gretchen Gerzina that there "were no black people in England before 1945". Gerzina effectively disproved that assertion by going on write the classic book on black people in Georgian London, Black England - Guardian
A classic that deserves to be read . . . indeed, needs to be read, Black England is deeply researched, lucidly written and utterly fascinating. If you ever thought Black British history began with Windrush, read this book - this is a story we should all know
The admirable clarity of Black England should win it many admirers. Gerzina's book should take its rightful place alongside the work of her predecessors
Gerzina brings the world of the Black Georgians to intriguing life, introducing us to the era's most fascinating individuals while placing them in the wider story of the struggle against enslavement. It is a treat to have a pioneer of the field bring together all the latest scholarship to tell this important part of British history for a wide audience
Wonderfully vivid, multifaceted and engrossing . . . this book brings history alive
Black England taught me more history than I ever learned at school. This book helped me to understand the history that my generation are making now. To say that it is groundbreaking is stating the obvious. Black England is part of our canon. With books like this to guide us, we are unstoppable. Gretchen Gerzina tells it as it was, so we know how it is. Black England is a book that will be relevant for ever