Black British change-makers who paved the way for others – and should be in movies
Throughout history, we can’t deny that there have been people who have paved the way for others – but unfortunately, many have not received the accolades they deserve. This is due to the fact Black changemakers have not always been highlighted on school curriculums or in popular culture.
Now we are starting to see a societal shift where we’re not just acknowledging, but praising the achievements of Black people who have changed history. In July 2020, a report by The Guardian found that only 11 percent of pupils taking their GCSEs were studying modules that acknowledged Black people’s contribution to British history – despite the fact that many Black folks have impacted on British society and culture.
We’ve leafed through the history books and pulled together a list of Black pioneers, trailblazers and campaigners who deserve far more recognition than they’ve been awarded.
Before the ultra-famous Mary Nightingale, there was Mary Seacole – a pioneering nurse and also an unsung heroine of the Crimean War.
Seacole set up the “British Hotel” behind the lines during the Crimean War. She described the hotel as “a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers” and she nursed many soldiers back to health, often using herbal remedies.
In 2004, she was voted the greatest black Brit in a survey conducted in 2003 by the Black heritage website Every Generation.
She has been described as a ‘pioneer’ and many people argue that she deserves her own movie because she’s as iconic as Florence Nightingale, but obviously lesser known then her European counterpart.
Claudia Jones was determined to have her voice heard – and she did just that. She was born in Trinidad and Tobago, moved to the US but was then deported and eventually settled in the United Kingdom.
Upon arriving in the UK, she immediately joined the Communist Party of Great Britain, using it as a vehicle to make her political views known.
In 1958, she founded Britain’s first major black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, and she also played a central role in founding Notting Hill Carnival, the second-largest annual carnival in the world which thousands attend and enjoy to this day.
Paul Stephenson OBE is a community worker, activist, and long-time campaigner for civil rights for the British African-Caribbean community in Bristol, England. He is currently 85-years-old.
In 1963 Stephenson led a boycott of the Bristol Omnibus Company, protesting against its refusal to employ Black or Asian drivers or conductors.
After a 60-day boycott supported by thousands of Bristolians, the company revoked its ‘colour bar’ in August of that year.
In 1964 Stephenson achieved national notoriety when he refused to leave a pub until he was served, resulting in a trial on a charge of failing to leave a licensed premises.
His bold and brave campaigns were instrumental in paving the way for the first Race Relations Act, in 1965 – his life is definitely worthy of a film.
Harold Arundel Moody was a Jamaican-born physician who emigrated to the United Kingdom, where he campaigned against racial prejudice and established the ‘League of Coloured Peoples’ in 1931 with the support of the Quakers.
Shockingly, he was refused work because of his skin colour, but he did not let this deter him. He simply set up his own medical practice in Peckham in 1913.
He also boldly campaigned against racial prejudice in the armed forces, and he is credited with overturning the Special Restriction Order of 1925, a discriminatory measure that sought to provide subsidies to merchant shipping employing only British nationals and required so-called ‘alien’ sea men (many of whom had served the United Kingdom during the First World War) to register with their local police. Many black and Asian British nationals had no proof of identity and were therefore made redundant as a result.
Having become a respected and influential doctor in Peckham, Moody was very involved in organising the local community during the Second World War. Historian Stephen Bourne noted: “In 1944 there was a terrible bombing in south London and he was the first doctor on the scene. He played an important role in these events, saving many lives, yet this wartime history is not known.”
Dame Jocelyn Barrow
Dame Jocelyn Anita Barrow DBE was a British educator, community activist, and politician, who was the Director for UK Development at Focus Consultancy Ltd.
She was the first Black woman to be a governor of the British Broadcasting Corporation and was the founder and Deputy Chair of the Broadcasting Standards Council, which was eventually abolished and replaced by Ofcom in late 2003.
Barrow was a founding member, general secretary and later vice-chair of Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) – the organisation that between 1964 and 1967 lobbied for race relations legislation and was directly responsible for the Race Relations Act of 1968.
Later, as a senior teacher, and then as a teacher-trainer, at Furzedown Teachers College and at the Institute of Education in the 1960s, she pioneered the introduction of multi-cultural education, stressing the needs of the various ethnic groups in the UK.
Between 1981 and 1988 Barrow served as a governor of the BBC – she was the first Black woman to have been appointed to the board of the corporation.
She was instrumental in the establishment of the North Atlantic Slavery Gallery and the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. She was a Trustee of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside and a Governor of the British Film Institute, as well as the first patron of the Black Cultural Archives – truly an inspirational life.
Leighton Rhett Radford “Darcus” Howe was a British broadcaster, writer, and racial justice campaigner. Originally from Trinidad, Howe arrived in England as a teenager in 1961, intending to study law and settling in London
He came to the attention of the public in 1970 as one of the nine protestors, known as the Mangrove Nine, arrested and tried on charges that included conspiracy to incite a riot, following a protest against repeated police raids of The Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, London.
They were all acquitted of the most serious charges and the trial became the first judicial acknowledgement of behaviour (the repeated raids) motivated by racial hatred, rather than legitimate crime control, within the Metropolitan Police.
Howe was an editor of Race Today, and chairman of Notting Hill Carnival. He was best known as a television broadcaster in the UK for his ‘Black on Black’ series on Channel 4, his current affairs programme ‘Devil’s Advocate’ and his work with Tariq Ali on ‘Bandung File.’
Walter Tull gave up his career as a professional footballer to become a soldier during World War One. Tull made his debut for Tottenham in September 1909 against Sunderland and his home Football League debut against FA Cup-holders, Manchester United, in front of over 30,000 people.
After the First World War broke out in August 1914, Tull became the first Northampton Town player to enlist in the British Army, in December of that year. Tull served in the two Football Battalions of the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment, the 17th and 23rd, and also in the 5th Battalion. He rose to the rank of lance sergeant and fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
When Tull was commissioned as a second lieutenant he became one of the first mixed-heritage infantry officers in a regular British Army regiment.
Tull fought on the Italian Front from 30 November 1917 to early March 1918. He was praised for his “gallantry and coolness” by Major-General Sydney Lawford, General Officer Commanding 41st Division, having led 26 men on a night-raiding party and returning them unharmed.
Tull and the 23rd Battalion returned to northern France on 8 March 1918. He was sadly killed in action near the village of Favreuil in the Pas-de-Calais on 25 March during the First Battle of Bapaume, the early stages of the German Army’s Spring Offensive. His body was never recovered, despite the efforts to find him.