I loved Black History month growing up. Though I wished the school syllabus would give equal space to Black history throughout the year, it was at least one moment where we’d get together and celebrate Black heritage across the diaspora. But to be honest when I look back it didn’t really feel like my heritage. Although it was inspiring to hear about key figures like Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela, I can’t say I knew much about who was fighting for civil rights on British soil. So I decided to do some research and uncover some more heroes of the past. I think it’s only right to shine a light on those who went ahead of us and paved a way for a more just society. Here are five Black British people who took a stand and made a difference:
(1788 – 1870)
Cuffay was the son of a slave from St. Kitts and grew up to become a powerful activist in the UK. After experiencing terrible working conditions as a tailor he became a key leader of the Chartist movement, which campaigned and organised for workers rights in Britain. Because of false claims made against him, he was imprisoned and deported to Australia. Although he was later acquitted, he stayed in Australia and successfully campaigned for democratic rights until his death.
Seacole was born and raised in Jamaica, where she trained as a nurse under the influence of her mother. Her medical skills came in handy when treating people in Jamaica and on her travels elsewhere. When the Crimean war began, she was moved with compassion to help anyway she could. Seacole applied to join the nurses deployed by the British War Office, but was refused. However she refused to do nothing and set up the British Hotel, which helped look after wounded soldiers throughout the war.
Dr. Harold Moody
(1882 – 1947)
Dr Moody left Jamaica and came to the UK as a young child and became an accomplished medicine student at King’s College. Despite his qualifications, finding work as a black doctor in the UK was incredibly difficult. He decided to start his own practice and employed and housed many black students. He later started a civil rights organisations called the League of Coloured Peoples, in which he fought against the racist treatment of black people living and working in Britain.
Amy Ashwood Garvey
(1897 – 1969)
Garvey, born in Jamaica, spent her young adult years campaigning for the better treatment and welfare of black people worldwide. Arriving in London after leading a Pan-African movement with her former husband Marcus Garvey, she continued her political work and grew to be a key figure in the anti-racist movement across England. Alongside being a activist, feminist and pan-Africanist, she was also well known for her work as a lecturer and playwright.
Originally from Jamaica, Marson fought tirelessly for race and gender equality when she lived in London during the 30s and 40s. Although she was a successful magazine editor in Jamaica, she struggled to find work when she first arrived. Despite this, she used her creative writing skills as a playwright and poet, to join the work of Dr Harold Moody and fight racism. She went on to be the first black woman to have a play in the West End as well as producing a radio show on the BBC.
These are just brief snapshots of a few people who prioritised justice above their own lives. I recommend looking each of them up to get a full picture of their inspiring lives. With these incredible people choosing to leave an impact on society, let’s remember that we have the power to change the world too. Let’s live in a way that leaves a legacy of justice through our everyday actions.
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