Selena Carty

Why the black poppy matters

Selena Carty

The Black Poppy Rose commemorates African/Black/Caribbean/Pacific Islands & Indigenous Communities' participation in war.

Created to honour the history of People of Colour, the flower represents not only those who served in the military, but also the impact of war on women and children around the world.

The symbol tackles conversations around heritage, culture, and identity of anyone who is classified as Black around the world.

Veterans at Festival of Remembrance wearing a red poppy which honours all serving personnel (Picture: Selena Carty)
Veterans at Festival of Remembrance wearing a red poppy which honours all serving personnel and veterans (Picture: Selena Carty).

Historian and genealogist Selena Carty created the Black Poppy Rose to combat what she describes as "a universal miseducation on so many levels around people that look like me or are classified as Black, are classified as not belonging in a certain place in the world, because of how history is taught."

Ms Carty believes that even though she went to "a good school" she was not taught about colonialism and the contributions of Black people of the British Empire to warfare.

She said: "I'm first generation born in England. So, my grandparents and my parents came over within the Windrush era, which is 1948 to 1971.

"And being first generation born here, I used to be told to go home, people used to tell me to go home.

"But I didn't understand because I was born here. And my parents were born before Jamaica had independence.

"So we were part of the British Empire. But they were telling me to go home.

"And it didn't dawn on me, that they were telling me to go back to Africa until I got older but then when you are telling me to go back to Africa, it helped me to understand where on the continent I'm supposed to go back to."

As an Afrocentric genealogist and historian, Ms Carty understood that this was due to a misunderstanding and lack of knowledge around the history of Black people, not only in the UK but globally, so she decided to address it.

British Empire 1921
British Empire 1921 (Picture: Selena Carty)

The historian said: "The poppy already has a job. And my job is not to do what the poppy does, my job is to do something that the poppy cannot do."

This year marks 100 years since the first time artificial poppies were first sold in Britain to raise money for ex-servicemen and the families of those who had died in the First World War.

The red poppy has since become a ubiquitous symbol of respect and gratitude shown towards the sacrifices of British military personnel in the Great War and all the conflicts that followed.

However, there has not been a specific symbol that remembers the lives that were lost in colonial wars until the Black Poppy Rose. The emblem also commemorates African subjects that later fought side by side with soldiers from Britain.

Britain called on people across its vast Empire to fight in both World Wars.

Soldiers from Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, the Gambia and other African colonies were an integral part of the war effort shortly after the First World War began, while 120,000 Africans and 60,000 black South Africans served on the behalf of the British Empire.

They aided in the defence of their countries' frontiers, which bordered German-held territory and eventually played a key role in the battles to expel German forces from Africa.

The conversation around remembrance has in the past tended to focus on the Western Front, commemorating major offensives such as the Battle of the Somme, but some felt it lacked a representation of the full picture of World War One on all fronts.

Black Poppy Rose
Black Poppy Rose (Picture: Selena Carty)

The Black Poppy Rose commemorates conflicts starting from the 16th century to the Vietnam War (1955-1970).

The symbol represents remembrance of the following conflicts:

  • Maroon Wars - 1655
  • Haitian Revolution - 1791 to 1804
  • Xhosa War - 1779 to 1879
  • Napoleonic Wars – 1803 to 1815
  • Crimean War - 1853 to 1856
  • Anglo Ashanti Wars – 1823 to 1900
  • Anglo Zulu Wars - 1879 to 1879
  • Boer Wars - 1899 to 1902
  • World War I – 1914 to 1918
  • Italo Ethiopian Wars - 1935 to 1936
  • World War II – 1939 to 1945
  • Korean War – 1950 to 1953

The Black poppy rose is not just a different version of the Royal British Legion’s red poppy. It is intended as its own emblem of remembrance that serves the purpose of teaching that when Britain was an empire, it benefited from the colonies which were part of it.

While the campaign has been going strong for the past 11 years, Ms Carty admits that the reception to the Black Poppy Rose from the public has been mixed.

She said: "Not everything is the flavour profile for everyone."

The campaign has received a "great deal of positive responses" she said, but others have questioned its necessity.

To the people who say, we already have a poppy that remembers everyone, Ms Carty’s answer is: "I agree with the sentiment because the red probably does remember everyone, but I don't think it's enough."

Ms Carty explains that it is important to understand how we have contributed to the world that we live in.  

She believes that knowing one's own history allows us all to feel empowered.

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