Passports for Black Africans and Caribbeans in the UK

Early Passports of Black British citizens are a rare find

In the 19th century and even in the early 20th century, they were not that common. Now I did acquire such a Black British passport lot of five documents including two British Jamaica passports. One from 1919 and the other from the 1950s. Jamaica was British for more than 300 years (since 1655) and got its full independence in 1962.

Talking to Dave Miller who has a fantastic and comprehensive Flickr account (puzzlemaster) on US passport applications with pictures tells me the following…

Tom, as you know, I concentrate on US passport applications with pictures, and the earliest passport photos date from 1915. I have found numerous instances of African Americans with passport photos in the 1915 records. However, there was a steady flow of black Americans traveling abroad, especially to Europe, in the pre-world war II years as well. Passports Black Africans Caribbeans


There were musical groups such as the Fisk Jubilee singers (1873) and Broadway musicals like “In Dahomey” (1903) who had successful European tours. They led to African-American performers finding a place on the music hall circuit in Britain (Belle Davis and others). There were also early entertainers in Tsarists Russia (Ida Forsyne, Ollie Burgoyne, etc.)

Besides that, there were boxers and other athletes who had a tendency to travel abroad. I also want to mention that there was a large group of black Americans who travelled to and from Liberia in the 1910s. For instance: Passports Black Africans Caribbeans

The earliest African-American passport (no picture, though) I have found is of sculptor Edmonda Lewis in 1865, who was sent abroad to pursue her education by a group of philanthropic “subscribers”.

During 20+ years of research in passport history and collecting historical passports, I have rarely seen early travel documents for black people. Well, here are the pictures of the passports I recently got into my collection. They are also specifically interesting for British territory collectors. Pay attention to the complexion and face description!

Black British Passports – Referring Mainly To British Colonies Passports Black Africans Caribbeans

Black British are British people of Black and African origins or heritage, including those of African-Caribbean (sometimes called “Afro-Caribbean”) background, and may include people with mixed ancestry. The term has been used from the 1950s, mainly to refer to Black people from former British colonies in the West Indies (i.e., the New Commonwealth) and Africa, who are residents of the United Kingdom and who consider themselves British.

The term “black” has historically had a number of applications as a racial and political label and may be used in a wider sociopolitical context to encompass a broader range of non-European ethnic minority populations in Britain, though this is a controversial and non-standard definition. “Black British” is one of the various self-designation entries used in official UK ethnicity classifications.

Black residents constituted around 4.2 percent of the United Kingdom’s population in 2021.

Read more about the topic e.g. at The Black Presence In Britain

The First African American Diplomat

Passports Black Africans Caribbeans


incl. FREE guideline!

FAQ Passport History pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...

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