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A Profile of David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead

Windrush Month 2024 'Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s & 1950s' - exploring the lives and stories of the the early Caribbean people who came to Britain after the 2WW.

As Windrush Day approaches, reflecting on the significant contributions and stories of individuals who have shaped the Windrush generation’s narrative is essential. One such influential figure is David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead who dedicated his life to medicine and politics, tenaciously fighting against racism and discrimination.

Pitt was born in St David’s Parish, Grenada in 1913. He first visited the UK as a Grenada representative at the World Scout Jamboree in Northern England in 1929, when he was only 15. At his secondary school, the Grenada Boys Secondary School, where he won the Island Scholarship in 1932, and returned to the UK to study medicine at the University of Scotland. It was here that he developed his political perspectives and was an active member of the Edinburgh University Socialist Society.

Edinburgh was in the grips of the Depression when Pitt arrived. He witnessed the poverty of the working classes in the slums of Edinburgh and saw similarities to the poverty of the rural communities in Grenada. It profoundly shaped his worldview and he said it made him a socialist.

Nicholas Rea, in the British Medical Journal, summarised Pitt’s political development: “It was in the slums of Edinburgh as much as in the Caribbean that [Lord David Pitt] became convinced of the links between poverty, disadvantage, and ill health”. For Lord Pitt, access to medical support was inseparable from social and political factors – a view he maintained throughout his life.

In 1936, David Pitt joined the Labour Party, and as a member of the University of Edinburgh Socialist Society, became the First Junior President of the Students’ Representative Council, the co-founding body of what is now the Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA). He participated in Edinburgh University and UK national politics, both of which helped shape his views on Caribbean independence and politics.

In 1938 Pitt graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine (MB) and Bachelor of Surgery (ChB) and moved back to the Caribbean to begin his medical career. His first job was as a District Medical Officer in Saint Vincent, followed two years later by a position in Trinidad as a house physician at San Fernando  Hospital. By the end of 1941, he had set up his own General Practice (GP) in San Fernando and was elected to serve on the local town council until 1947.

The 1940s were fundamental years for politics in Trinidad and Tobago. The 2WW had ended and the countries of the Caribbean wanted their independence and the right to rule their nation’s affairs. Pitt joined the struggle and in 1943, he co-founded and was the leader of the West Indian National Party (WINP) – a socialist party whose main aim was to deliver political autonomy across the Caribbean. He believed “the whole of the Caribbean, not just any one island, [to be] his home and his political responsibility.” Under Pitt, the party demanded self-government for Trinidad and Tobago, constitutional reform, and the nationalisation of commodities industries such as oil and sugar.

After decades of campaigning, to which Pitt contributed, Trinidad and Tobago were granted universal adult suffrage by the British Parliament in 1945. The following year, Trinidad and Tobago held its first public election. Pitt ran as a candidate for the United Front, made up of the WNIP and others, m the WNIP, but was unsuccessful. Caribbean politicians and voters, unlike British Caribbean ones, did not uniformly envision a Federation of independent states like David Pitt’s party and many of the region’s trade unionists and intellectuals. (1)

Nonetheless, Pitt did not give up on his political activism and “in 1947 led a group of WINP members to Britain to lobby the Clement Attlee Government for Commonwealth status for a Federation of the West Indies.” Finally disillusioned with the trajectory of mainstream Caribbean politics, David Pitt ended up settling in North London, England, in November 1947 with his wife Dorothy Elaine Alleyne, whom he had married in 1943, and their children Bruce, Phyllis, and Amanda.

After working as a medical assistant in Chiswick, London, to a Black doctor from Barbados who introduced him to the challenges of practicing as a medic of African descent, in 1950 David Pitt opened his surgery in Euston which treated both black and white patients. Through his medical practice, he made the political contacts that led him to a renewed involvement with the Labour Party.

After a successful speech at the 1957 Labour Party Conference, he was asked to stand as the party’s candidate in the 1959 General Election for the north London constituency of Hampstead. He was the first person of African-Caribbean descent to stand as an MP. Right-wing media outlets accused him of not deserving the candidacy, merely justifiable for The Daily Mirror as an act of “fashionable liberalism” (i.e. political correctness in today’s language) (Arnold, 2014). This was, however, only the tip of the iceberg.

Fascist leader Oswald Mosley decided to stand against Pitt in the Hampstead seat. Mosley supporters disrupted Pitt’s political hustings and heckled him with their slogan of ‘Keep Britain White.’ Fights broke out and Pitt was forced to seek police support after death threats and a barrage of abusive “go home N***r” phone calls were made to his home.

He became the first Black person to be elected to the Greater London Council in 1958, paving the way for future generations of Black politicians in the UK. His dedication to advocating for equality and social justice earned him a place in the House of Lords in 1975, where he served as a Labour peer.

Baron Pitt of Hampstead played a pivotal role in championing the rights of the Windrush generation and the broader Caribbean community in the UK. He advocated for fair treatment, access to healthcare, and acknowledgment of the contributions made by Caribbean migrants to British society. His tireless efforts helped raise awareness of the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and pushed for meaningful change.

David Pitt's legacy extends beyond his political achievements. His commitment to social equality and his advocacy for marginalized communities left a lasting impact on British society. His work laid the foundation for greater representation and inclusivity in politics and paved the way for a more diverse and equitable UK.

As we commemorate Windrush Day and reflect on the stories of resilience and achievement within the Windrush generation, let us not forget the individuals like David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead, whose contributions have significantly impacted the fabric of British society. Their stories deserve to be celebrated and remembered as we strive for a more inclusive and diverse future.


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