Black History Month is a fantastic opportunity to recognise the incredible contribution that black people of African and Caribbean descent have made to this country. From art, music and sport, to the legal profession, or teaching, caring, policing, firefighting and many many more, Black British people have left, and will continue to leave, an indelible mark.
This page celebrates just a few of these outstanding individuals. If there are any individuals you would like to add, please send details to me at email@example.com
Lilian Bader (1918-2015)
Born in Liverpool on 18th February 1917, Lilian Bader made her name as the first black woman to join the British Armed Forces. After being forced to leave her brief time in a Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) canteen, due to the colour of her skin, Bader persevered and in 1941 volunteered to join the WAAF and chose to train as an Instrument Repairer. She went on to pass her course ‘First Class’, making her not only the first woman but also the first woman of colour to qualify in that trade. Her ability continued to show leading to her promotion to Acting Corporal. On reflection of her and her family’s dedication to the military service she stated “So all in all, I think we’ve given back more to this country than we’ve received.”
Stuart Hall (1932-2014)
Born in Jamaica, Stuart Hall travelled to Britain as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, he is best known to us for his academic credentials. After graduating from Oxford University, Hall went on to be the Director of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and Professor of Sociology at the Open University.
Mary Seacole (1805-1881)
Better known as ‘Mother Seacole’, Mary was born in Jamaica in 1805, she was the daughter of a Scottish army officer and her mother was of African heritage. After initially being refused by the War Office in London to work as a nurse, Seacole was not defeated and arranged her own travel to Crimea where she set up her own business, The British Hotel, which served as both a general shop and a place where soldiers could go to be nursed. When she returned to London she continued to practice as a Doctress and wrote her autobiography “The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands” published in 1857.
Bernie Grant (1944 – 2000)
Born in Guyana, 1944, Bernie Grant travelled to Britain in 1963 and worked as a British Railway Clerk. After proving to be a successful local Councillor in the London Borough of Haringey, he was elected leader in 1985, fusing this experience and joining the Labour party in 1975 it paved the way for his election as a Member of Parliament for Tottenham in 1987. Grant was wonderfully described by Tony Blair as “an inspiration to Black British communities everywhere”, this gives just a glimpse into the life of a man who spent almost four decades campaigning for racial justice and minority rights.
Frank Arthur Bailey (1926 – 2004)
Frank Arthur Bailey is better known as London’s first post war Black Firefighter, he travelled from Guyana to London in 1953. After hearing that ‘black people were not employed by the fire service’, Bailey applied and joined West Ham Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in 1955 and served at Silvertown Fire Station. After leaving the brigade in 1965 Bailey changed his career path to work as a social worker in addition to being the first legal advisor to black youths at Marylebone Magistrates Court.
Sislin Fay Allen; Britain’s first black policewoman (1939 – Unknown)
Sislin Fay Allen is known for being Britain’s first female police officer, based in Croydon in the late 1960s. Despite there being no black police officers at the time, Sislin completed the application and made it to the interview stage and successfully passed the tests necessary. On reflection of the selection day Sislin recalled “…the hall was filled with the young men. There were ten women and I was the only Black person.” In 1972, Sislin left the Metropolitan Police and returned to her husband’s birth place Jamaica.
Fanny Eaton (1835-unknown)
Famous for her unique looks Fanny Eaton is best known as Britain’s first mixed race supermodel whose face adorned many artworks. The British-Jamaican modelled for a number of Pre-Raphaelite artists in addition to the Royal Academy school of painting. She featured in many works of art both as a background character and as the main subject.
Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780)
Born on a slave ship Ignatius Sancho was brought to England by his owner where he worked as a butler. Over time his employer began to see his intellect and supported his creativity, Sancho wrote poetry, music and plays and his love for creativity spurred him to open a shop in which other creative people could meet. Furthermore, he used his intelligence to protest against the slave trade. Not only was Sancho known for being creative he was also the first black voter, at a time where black people were not allowed to vote.
Olive Morris (1952-1979)
Olive Morris was best known for working endlessly to get equal rights for black people, campaigning in both South London and Manchester. Morris was also a founding member of both Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) and the Brixton Black Women’s Group. Devastatingly, Morris died at the young age of 27 yet her contribution to the civil rights movement by that age was vast.
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)
Phillis Wheatley is best known for being the first African-American poet to be published. Born in West Africa, at an early age Phillis Wheatley was sent to the United States where she was sold as a slave. During her time as a slave Phillis was taught how to read and write, which at this time was rare. By age 20 Phillis moved to England where she published her book in 1773.
Olaudah Equiano (c.1745-31 March 1797)
Olaudah Equiano is best known to the British public for his best-selling book: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African which gives his raw and explicit insight into his life as a slave. The autobiography was published 1789 after he brought his freedom as a slave and moved to London, it was in London where Equiano got involved in the movement to abolish slavery.
Sergeant Lincoln Orville Lynch DFM
Lynch was Jamaican born, air gunner and volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force in 1942. In 1943 Lynch won the Air Gunners trophy, for his outstanding performance.
Adelaide Hall (1901-1993)
Adelaide Hall was an American born, London-based jazz singer with a successful career that spanned over several decades. Hall performed in cities worldwide including Harlem, Hollywood, Paris and London and earned the title of Britain’s highest paid female entertainer in 1941.
Claudia Jones (1915 – 1964) Journalist, political activist and Notting Hill Carnival Founder
Claudia Jones is known to the British public as the founder of Notting Hill Carnival, she started the Caribbean Carnival in 1958 not only in response to the race riots in Notting Hill but also to celebrate West Indian culture and heritage.In the same year she launched the West Indian Gazette, a paper which campaigned for social equality.
Connie Mark (1923-2007)
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, when the Second World War was declared, Connie Mark settled in Britain in the 1950s and worked as a medical secretary. She is recognised for keeping the memory of Mary Seacole alive, being a founding member and president of the Mary Seacole Memorial Association. Mark is also a patron of the Descendants, which works to in-still in young people of African and Caribbean descent, to be proud of their heritage.
Evelyn Dove (1902-1987)
Evelyn Dove was a student at the Royal Academy of Music. Whilst studying there, Dove performed with some of the world’s top black entertainers and went on to become a singing and acting star of the 1920s. Dove went on to receive recognition for her singing and acting talent globally, this should be largely celebrated as during this time black female performers struggled to get the same acknowledgement as white entertainers due to racial prejudices.
John Edmonstone (1793-1822)
John Edmonstone was a very important figure in the world of scientific research. After being born into slavery when Edmonstone gained his freedom, he moved to Scotland he was taught taxidermy by Charles Waterton, who taught him the skill of taxidermy. Edmonstone then went on to become a teacher at Edinburgh University, where he taught Charles Darwin.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912)
Samuel-Coleridge was an important composer in the 20th century. Coleridge-Taylor studied at the highly respected Royal College of Music in London, where he went on to write many pieces of music which were celebrated and enjoyed globally and are still enjoyed today. At this time it was very unusual for black composers of classical music to be as successful as Coleridge-Taylor was.
Ira Aldridge (1807-1867)
Ira Aldridge was an extremely important actor who performed in multiple plays at the theatres. Aldridge was one of the highest paid actors in the world at a time when black actors did not have the same opportunities as white actors. Despite being born in New York, Aldridge moved to the UK to enhance his chances of achieving his acting goals which would have proved difficult in America.
Sir Learie Constantine (1901-1971)
Learie Constantine is known for being England’s first black peer due to his work for politics and racial equality. Constantine was also a well-known cricket player. Born in Trinidad, he settled in Britain, in Lancashire after he played cricket there for the West Indies in 1928. At the time this was very controversial, as people were not used to seeing black people around.”School children came out in their droves to see him because the only black face they’d seen before was a coal miner,” explained the Mayor of Pendle, Councillor Tony Beckett. “But he endeared himself to them and would come out and play cricket with the kids in the street.”
Mary Prince (1788 – c.1833)
Mary Prince was best known for being the first Black woman to write and publish an autobiography ‘The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave,’. The autobiography gives a raw and explicit insight into the suffering endured on the plantations enslavement, published in Britain c.1831. Prince was also the first woman to present an anti-slavery petition to Parliament.
J.S Celestine Edwards (1858-1894)
J.S Celestine Edwards was best known for his editorial skills which led him to become the first Black man to edit a White-owned newspaper Lux (1892-1895). Edwards was also the editor of its monthly journal ‘Fraternity (1893-1897)’ which reached a circulation of more than 7000 people.
Una Marson (1905-1965)
The Jamaican born Una Marson was best known for being the first Black female broadcaster at the BBC from 1939 to 1946. Marson also invested much of her time as a poet, publisher and activist for racial and sexual equality. She was a secretary to the League of Coloured Peoples as well as many other organisations including the Women’s International League for Peace.
John Richard Archer (1863-1932)
John Richard Archer became London’s first Black Mayor on 10th November 1913 aged fifty years old when he was elected mayor of Battersea.
In 1913, John Archer was elected Mayor of Battersea, the first person of African descent to reach such a position in the UK. An equality campaigner, he chaired the Pan-African Congress in London in 1921 and was president of the African Progress Union.
Amy Ashwood Garvey (1897- 1969)
Amy Ashwood Garvey founded the Nigerian Progress Union in London in 1924. Garvey was also an incredibly important figure in the anti-racist movement in England. In 1959, she led an enquiry into race relations following the racially motivated murder of Kelso Cochrane in London. Furthermore, following the Notting Hill riots in 1958, she co-founded the Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.
William Cuffay – Activist, 1788-1870
Son of a former slave, Cuffay was best known as a leading figure in the Chartist movement that opposed the imbalance of the distribution of wealth in Britain. The reformist movement is considered the first major working-class movement in the world.
CLR James – Writer, socialist theorist, (1901-89)
James was best known for his seminal writings both on cricket and colonialism, most notably his book The Black Jacobins. He also invested time campaigning for African and West Indian independence and wrote the first novel by a Caribbean author to be published in the UK.
Dr Harold Moody (1882-1947)
Dr Harold Moody was best known for founding the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP) in 1931, the first Black pressure group and the largest British Pan-African organisation in the 1930s and 1940s.
Kathleen Wrasama (1917–?)
Ethiopian-born British community organiser Wrasama came to England in 1917. Following a series of traumatic experiences in children’s homes in Yorkshire, she worked as a farm labourer before becoming a founding member of the Stepney Coloured People’s Association – an organisation dedicated to improving community relations, education and housing for black people in the UK – in the 1930s, thus spending her life fighting to better the lives of others with a similar background to her.
Leslie was an outstanding football player who joined Plymouth Argyle from Barking in 1921 and scored 137 goals in a long and acclaimed career which ended in 1934. Leslie was picked for the England national team to face Ireland in 1925 and was told by his manager that he’d been called up. However, after this selection, his name mysteriously disappeared from the team sheet, seemingly because of the colour of his skin. Not only should Leslie have been England’s first black player, but this story highlights the issue of racism in football that still continues today.