01 OCTOBER 2018

This month we're celebrating a black British woman every day of Black History Month for #REMEMBERHERNAME 

Una Maud Victoria Marson was a poet, playwright and campaigner for equality as well as the first black woman programme maker at the BBC. Born in 1905 in Jamaica, she was appointed as assistant editor of Jamaican political journal ‘Jamaica Critic’ at the tender age of 21.

In 1928 she broached new ground as Jamaica’s first woman editor and publisher of her own magazine “The Cosmopolitan” which featured feminist articles as well as pieces on key topical social issues, and was used as a vehicle for bringing attention to women’s rights in Jamaica. But Marson wasn’t to be confined to the world of journalism; in 1932 following a successful first play ‘What a Price’ about a young girl who moves to Kingston for work, she relocated overseas to London, so that her work could find a broader international audience.

Following her arrival in London, Marson became increasingly active in political spaces, her politicization clearly visible through her new found appreciation for her natural hair. She stopped straightening her hair and would make reference to Eurocentric beauty standards in the poetry she wrote. It was also during this time that she became secretary to the League of Coloured Peoples, a civil rights organization established to fight racial inequality.

The racism and sexism she met would dramatically transform her life and writing. Her work began to explore the difficulties that she encountered in England, particularly those felt by someone dealing with the dual oppressions of blackness and womanhood.

Marson’s second tenure in England began with her working as a freelancer for the BBC. Starting out as a script writer in the television studio she quickly became their first black woman broadcaster to work there, in 1942 becoming the producer of the programme Caribbean Voices, which celebrated West Indian literary talent during the 40s and 50s. 

Marson’s work is largely unarchived but is referenced to on the internet in academic outposts. Her caustic, acerbically witty style is instantly recognisable in this segment of her poem “Black Burden”:

I am black  

And so I must be

More clever than white folk,

More wise than white folk,

More discreet than white folk.

I must not laugh too much,

They say black folk can only laugh,

I must not weep too much,


They say black folk weep always

I must not pray too much

They say black folk can only pray.


Black girl – what a burden – 

But your shoulders

Are broad

Black girl – what a burden – 

But your courage is strong – 

Black girl your burden

Will fall from your shoulders

For there is love

In your soul 

And a song In your heart.

- Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century

Read more about Una Marson

What can you do to support this Black History Month?

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You can also read Fawcett's research on The Gender Pay Gap by Ethnicity to find out more about how the pay gap affects women of colour, and our Invisible Women report exploring how race, faith, ethnicity, age, disability, sexuality, location and employment status can combine with gender to create distinct and particularly troubling experiences of discrimination and inequality.