top of page

68 items found for ""

  • Ivor Cummings - the unsung 'gay' father of the Windrush Generation

    Black History Month UK 2023 'Before Windrush' - exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. Ivor Gustavus Cummings was born on 10 December 1913 in West Hartlepool. His mother, Johanna Archer was a white English nurse and his father, Ismael Cummings, was a Black doctor from Sierra Leone. He had come to England to study to be a doctor and was one of several African professionals working on the Tyneside. The couple met whilst working together at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary. After a whirlwind romance they conceived a baby boy they named Ivor. At a young age Ivor and his mother moved to Addiscombe in Surrey, while his father returned to Sierra Leone. Ivor’s family befriended the widow of composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to whom they were related by marriage, and he got to know his cousins Avril and Hiwatha Coleridge-Taylor who were following in their father’s musical footsteps. Growing up in Addiscombe, Ivor was most-often the only person-of-colour in his local environment. One can only imagine how difficult it was for the young Ivor dealing with the prejudice he faced and it certainly help shape the man he would become. Ivor was privately educated and was racially bullied at school. He told how when he was at the Whitgift School how, in one particularly traumatic incident, the boys set his curly hair on fire. After that terrible incident, his father stepped in, and arranged for Ivor to come to Sierra Leone to complete his education. He thought that he would have a better time in Africa, but Ivor also struggled to fit in at school there. He was packed back off back to England and enrolled in Dulwich College in South London. Here, he excelled, and his academic talents were nurtured, but, unlike his half-brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone, poverty prevented him from going further in his education and becoming a doctor. After graduating from Dulwich College, he moved back to Sierra Leone to work briefly as a clerk for the United Africa Company in Freetown. He returned to England to look for medical scholarships but was unsuccessful and then tried to join the British Army as an officer. His application was rejected due to a law stating that all British army officers had to be “of pure European descent”. There had been a colour bar on officers in the British armed forces since the First World War. Under the 1912 Short Guide to Obtaining a Commission in the Special Reserve of Officers to qualify for a commission, a candidate had to be of pure European descent, and a British born or naturalised British subject. This unambiguous regulation was not officially lifted until the Second World War when Harold Moody mobilised the League of Coloured Peoples, the International African Service Bureau and the West African Students Union (WASU) to campaign against the colour bar. By time the ‘colour bar’ had been lifted in 1940, Cummings had taken a job as warden of Aggrey House in Bloomsbury, London and started his career in the civil service. Aggrey House was opened by the Colonial Office in October 1934 as rival accommodation to the West African Student Union (WASU) run hostels. These places provided accommodation to African and Caribbean students who might otherwise have had to face the brutal reality of being barred from renting rooms. The hostels proved to be very successful, providing practical support and creating a sense of community. However, the Colonial Office viewed the WASU-run hostels as hotbeds of Anti-Colonial activism and opened Aggrey House to monitor and discourage political discussion against the then British Empire and Commonwealth. WASU lobbied against the hostel and successfully convinced African and Caribbean students to boycott it. Aggrey House remained empty for an entire year until a deal was brooked between WASU and the Colonial Office. In his role as warden, Ivor looked after student welfare, including organising meetings and lectures and arranging dances and social events to which he invited the small contingent of black British women in an attempt to make life more pleasant for his almost exclusively male charges. He was clearly politically engaged, with speakers at Aggrey House covering themes such as ‘Present day slavery and the problem of its abolition’ by Anglo-Irish anti-slavery activist Lady Simon and hosting esteemed pan-Africanists such as George Padmore. There continued to be competition between Aggrey House and the WASU run hostels. In August 1937 Cummings even informed the police that two Aggrey residents had taken girls to spend the night at the WASU hostel.  Aggrey House closed in 1940, after reports that communists had come to dominate the House Committee and that one student had brought a sex worker into the hostel. Despite the controversy connected to Aggrey House, this was one of many instances that showed Ivor’s interest in the welfare of Black individuals. Shaped by the racial discrimination he had experienced from his school days and beyond, he tirelessly advocated for Black Britons. Rallying against police brutality, after receiving reports that Black people were being “unduly molested” by officers in the 1930s. He was a prolific press correspondent. The merest hint of a slur against people of Black Britons caused him to lift his pen. He even had an indirect hotline to the monarchy through the good offices of Edwina Mountbatten, a supporter of the 'coloured cause' (a phrase used at the time), who would report back the King's ‘supposed’ displeasure at incidents of discrimination. In their book Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain, authors Mike and Trevor Phillips describe Cummings as “a fastidious, elegant man, with a manner reminiscent of Noel Coward” who “chain-smoked with a long cigarette holder and addressed visitors as ‘dear boy’”. Ivor was gay and socialised in Black queer intellectual circles in the 1930s and 1940s. He enjoyed London’s night life, as a gay member of ‘the group,’ a set of African intellectuals in London which included the American singer John Payne and the British composer Reginald Foresythe, to whose Nigerian family Cummings's father was doctor in Lagos. Like these two and many others in the social and diplomatic circles in which he moved, Cummings was gay at a time when openness about homosexuality was illegal. Despite criminalisation, there was a significant underground gay community in interwar London. Individuals frequented private members clubs and other spaces. Particularly popular with the Black community was the Shim Sham club, a venue that championed jazz music from across the Atlantic. Though we don’t have evidence that Ivor visited such places, it’s entirely possible, as some of his acquaintances were known to. One of Ivor’s closest friends was the gay Guyanese dancer and bandleader Ken Johnson, a leading figure in Black British music in the 1930s. When Ken died in the 1941 bombing of the Café de Paris, Ivor led on the memorial arrangements through his position of influence at the Colonial Office and was able to obtain exemption from munitions work for band members injured in the bombing. Cummings never hid his gay friendships, according to the Conversation he provided emotional support to mixed heritage actor-turned-lawyer Paul Danquah. At Cummings’ memorial service, Paul recalled how Ivor advised him “You must not disparage your father. Your father is a very important person, and you have his heritage.” Which perfectly encapsulates his relationship with his own father and how he saw himself in the world, as a Black man living in Britain. At the onset of the Second World War, Cummings joined the Colonial Office in 1941 becoming the first Black person to obtain the position. Not surprisingly, the Colonial Office’s public relations team tried to spin his appointment as proof that there was no racial discrimination in Britain. He also served as a secretary of a new Advisory Committee on the Welfare of Colonial People in the United Kingdom, a Colonial Office initiative to assume direct responsibility for housing colonial students. And rapidly gained a reputation of someone who would help any person of colour, whatever their social standing. He used his position to fight the colour bar in boxing and prevented African and Caribbean merchant seamen from entering air raid shelters to helping British Honduran foresters in Scotland. With the arrival of the first Caribbean RAF volunteers, his responsibilities grew, and he travelled widely to combat difficulties arising from racial prejudice. Initially minimal, these increased when the segregated US forces appeared. Although both Ivor Cummings and Learie Constantine were both members of the Welfare Office. We don’t know for sure if their paths ever crossed. In 1942, the League of Coloured Peoples commended the increasingly important and visible roles being taken up by Black individuals such as Cummings and Constantine. But they also received backlash for supporting government institutions which were perceived by many to be upholding systems of oppression at home and across the Colonies. After the war, when extra nurses were needed for the National Health Service, he recruited them via his family in Sierra Leone. He continued to work in the Colonial Office and was on close terms with many future political leaders. Like Constantine, he was recognised for his work with the Welfare Office. Ivor was awarded an OBE in the 1948 Birthday Honours. It was following this that Ivor became the official representative for West Indians immigrants arriving on the Empire Windrush. When the Colonial Office was informed of the imminent arrival of 492 job-seeking Caribbean migrants aboard the Empire Windrush via a delayed telegram from the governor of Jamaica. They became the responsibility of the second most senior officer in the Colonial Office – the 35-year-old Ivor Cummings. Cummings replied with apprehensive determination: “Although we shall do what we can for these fellows, the main problem is the complete lack of accommodation and being unable to put in hand any satisfactory reception arrangements.” Though Ivor Cummings’ involvement with Windrush was officially to greet the West Indian arrivals as an envoy of the crown and instruct them on how to find housing and jobs, he continued to support many for as long as they needed. For example, records document Cummings’ dogged efforts to help one Dudley Yapp, 30, secure employment, which Yapp finally did in Warwickshire in September 1948. It was Cummings who, after all other options were exhausted, negotiated the use of a former air raid shelter beneath Clapham Common as temporary accommodation for Windrush arrivals without any prearranged accommodation. The choice of location led to the nearby Brixton becoming a permanent centre for the African Caribbean community in Britain. Despite Cummings huge influence behind the scenes, his name is hardly ever mentioned in the Windrush story. Incredibly, the Independent newspaper revealed that he was omitted from a Brixton History Tour app. So why is Cummings’ name not remembered in the Windrush story? The answer probably lies in his sexuality. Cummings was an openly Black Gay man and consequently, over the years his story has deliberated erased. But activists within the LGBT+ community and people interested in UK Black history are reclaiming and telling his story. Cummings resigned from the Colonial Office in 1958. He’d been offered a high-ranking post in the Colonial Service in Trinidad, but he turned it down. Instead, he accepted an offer from Kwame Nkrumah, then prime minister of the newly independent Ghana, to train diplomats for foreign service. He was widely tipped to be the country’s first Black governor but was posted instead to the Ghana High Commission in London to recruit West Indian professionals, including Ulric Cross. He later worked as a training officer for Yengema Diamond Mines in Sierra Leone and then as a public relations adviser to the London-based distillers Duncan, Gilbey and Matheson. Cummings died of cancer in Westminster Hospital, on 17 October 1992, just shy of his 80th birthday. Sources:

  • Samuel Coleridge Taylor - famed 18th century British composer

    Black History Month UK 2023 'Before Windrush' - exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was a Black British composer, whose father was from Sierra Leone. He rose to acclaim during the 20th century, and his most famous work was Hiawatha's Wedding Feast. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born on 15 August 1875 in Holborn, London. His father was from Sierra Leone who came to Britain to study medicine at King's College London. His father returned to Sierra Leone and he was raised in Croydon, South London, by his mother Alice. Starting at the age of five, Coleridge-Taylor played the violin and sang in his local church choir in Croydon. His talents were noticed and he was sponsored to study at the Royal College of Music in 1890, studying composition under Charles Villiers Stanford. Coleridge-Taylor is considered a pioneer in classical music and an iconic figure in Black British history. His notable works include ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’ (1898), ‘The Death of Minnehaha’ (1899), and ‘Hiawatha’s Departure’ (1900). They received popular acclaim rivalled that of Handel's Messiah’ and Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’. The Hiawatha trilogy was popular with British choirs and orchestras. From 1903 until his death in 1912, he was a professor of composition at the Trinity College of Music and Guildhall School of Music in London. He also judged numerous competitions around Britain, and was the conductor of the Handel Society, the Rochester Choral Society, and many provincial orchestras. The early 20th century saw the formal emergence of Pan-Africanism and Coleridge-Taylor’s music and career embody these influences. Coleridge-Taylor was the youngest delegate to participate in the First Pan-African Conference in 1900, when he was 25. He spent time abroad in both Africa and America, where he developed diasporic connections with leading thinkers and activists fighting for racial equality. In 1904, Coleridge-Taylor visited Booker T. Washington in America, who lead civil rights campaigns for Black empowerment through education and economic advancement. His relationships with Black community across the diaspora encouraged shared experiences and an engagement with Pan-African principles and theories. The Pan-African movement advocated for Black communities to recognise their African heritage and cultural roots. Coleridge-Taylor’s works were also inspired by African American author and civil rights activist W.E. B. DuBois. W. E. B. DuBois’ Pan-Africanist ideologies strongly influenced the liberation and civil rights activism of the 20th century. His prolific essay ‘The Soul of Black Folks’ inspired Black diasporic communities internationally. Coleridge-Taylor also worked closely with another African American, the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar setting some of his poems to music. The cantata, ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ was symbolically adopted by the American civil-rights movement during the early 20th century. Despite Coleridge-Taylor’s popularity amongst British aristocrats he still faced racist abuse in his everyday life and critics often downplayed his achievements as “domesticated” and appeasing his mixed-heritage. Nevertheless, Coleridge-Taylor’s success is undeniable as his works were presented in concerts, orchestras, choirs and theatres. He became one of a new generation of musicians who brought innovation to classic composition. Coleridge-Taylor often proclaimed his own African heritage through his music and sought to draw on African melodies, and saw it is a form of his own expression and exploration. Most notable pieces include ‘Touissant L’Overture’ and ‘Twenty Four Negro Melodies’. In this way, Coleridge-Taylor’s work has been described as demonstrating Pan-African sentiments and the early connection of the Black Atlantic. This composition is a tribute to the Ethiopian victory over Italian forces in the Battle of Adwa in 1896. Italy attempted to invade Ethiopia during the scramble for Africa, but were defeated by the Ethiopian military. The battle of Adwa has since been celebrated as an important turning point in African history and has come to symbolise the possibility of European colonial defeat. Coleridge-Taylor’s work has been used in academic research to exemplify the power of musicology to influence social power, economic dominance and institutional spaces. As academic George Revill notes, ‘music has long served church, state, and aristocracy, accompanying ritual and ceremony, playing a fundamental role maintaining and justifying the power of elites. In the twentieth century, for example, art music has served the causes of imperialism, nationalism, and totalitarianism.’ (Edward Said, 1992). Coleridge-Taylor died in 1912, his death was widely reported across the Black Atlantic with news reports in Sierra Leone Weekly News and The Norwood Review and Crystal Palace Reporter in London. He was considered a beacon of hope and an iconic figure of Black British history for his achievements and success in classical music. Sources:

  • Princess Ademola - the African Princess who served as a nurse during wartime Britain

    Black History Month UK 2023 'Before Windrush' - exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. From Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent to Princess Alice of Greece, princess nurses have gifted their talents to hospitals and medicine, particularly during wartime. However, missing from this history of royal altruism are the African princesses – notably Princess Omo-Oba Adenrele Ademola. (1) Princess Adenrele Ademola or Omo-Oba Adenrele Ademola was born in Nigeria on 2 January 1916. She was the daughter of Ladapo Ademola, the Alake of Abeokuta. She arrived in Britain on 29 June 1935, and initially stayed at the West African Students’ Union's hostel in Camden Town. This space acted as a haven for Ademola, as it did for many other African students and visitors during the early 20th century. It is here that she attended social events and committees, and the Africa Hostel is noted as her residence address until she returned to Lagos temporarily in 1936. (1) During her early career in Britain, Ademola balanced her role as a princess with the demands of her vocation as a nurse. As a princess, she returned to England in 1937 with her father and brother, Prince Ademola III (the future Chief Justice for the Federation of Nigeria) for the coronation of King George, staying at the Grosvenor Hotel, London. (1) While it’s unclear whether Princess Ademola attended the coronation of George VI on 12 May 1937, she attended many royal social events from May to July 1937, including royal garden parties at Buckingham Palace and a royal gathering hosted by her father at the Mayfair Hotel, in May 1937. She also conducted royal visits to the Mayor and Mayoress of London at Mansion House and notably the Carreras cigarette factory in June 1937. It is likely that she continued to attend royal appointments until her father’s departure to Paris in early July 1937. (1) She attended a school in Somerset for two years, and by January 1938 had started training as a nurse at Guy's Hospital. A photograph of Ademola appeared in a 1942 pamphlet about the BBC's international activity. The film ‘Nurse Ademola’ centralised her role as a nurse but is now lost. Made in 1943 or 1944–5, it was a 16mm silent newsreel film in a series for the Colonial Film Unit called The British Empire at War. (2) The Colonial Film Unit was established in 1939 as part of the Ministry of Information to tell “the story of the War with the right propaganda.” During WW2 Britain pumped propaganda into Africa on an unprecedented scale as information offices were established in the colonies and propaganda activities directed and co-ordinated by the Ministry of Information in London. (1) War information and propaganda were communicated via radio broadcasts, touring cinema and loudspeaker vans, the press and through public meetings. The propaganda messages were aimed at keeping Africans war conscious, combatting apathy and ensuring their identification with the allied cause. The Film Unit produced 200 propaganda films on the African continent and closed down in 1955. (1) ‘Nurse Ademola’ played an important part in this as a uniquely feminine perspective. It ‘depicted an African nurse at various phases of training at one of the great London hospitals’, it was said to have inspired many African viewers at its screenings across West Africa. (1) When she arrived with her father in 1937, Princess Ademola was recorded as a ‘midwife’, which epitomises her presence in the historical records after this. In 1939 she was listed as a part of the nursing staff at St Saviour’s ward at Guy’s Hospital, and by 27 June 1941 she was a registered nurse at Guy’s hospital, having passed her nursing examinations after six years of training. (1) From 1941, she moves between hospitals and is recorded at Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital in London before being listed at New End Hospital in Hampstead in December 1942, having passed her Central Midwives Board exam. (1) Ademola's patients apparently called her "fairy" as a term of endearment. "Everyone was very kind to me", she told journalists at the time. At this stage, her last definitive sighting in the archives was in September 1948, before her father’s departure from Nigeria and abdication of the throne. She returned from Lagos with a man believed to be her husband, Timothy Adeola Odutola, a 46-year-old trader. Here she again lists herself as a nurse, residing in Limpsfield, Surrey before moving, accompanied by her husband, to Balmoral Hostel in Queensgate Gardens, South Kensington in 1949. Little is known about her activity after the 1940s, with the last record of her being in 1949, when she was working as a nurse in South Kensington. Despite her royal status, the historical records about Princess Ademola are not detailed or complete. Research on her has been hampered by the haphazard recordings of her personal details such as name and birth dates. For example, The National Archives found five variations of her name whilst researching her. Such challenges are rife when examining Black populations and represent a larger issue: the failure to consider Black people/Black histories a priority. Contemporarily, the lives of Black people were considered ‘second-class’ and therefore detail and accuracy in records were deemed unnecessary. (1) But historians of Black history and community groups such as ourselves and the Young Historians Project, are beginning crucial initiatives to recognise and promote the histories of Black people in the British archives. The National Archives says: African nurses such as Princess Ademola, through their migration, settlement and contribution to British society, hold equal claim to the attentions of historical archives as any Florence Nightingale or Edith Cavell. They must also be recognised for their struggles against social and racial adversity. It is our responsibility to bring forth histories like Princess Ademola’s and transition the narrative of Black women in Britain from the abstract to the celebrated. Sources: The British Colonial Film Unit and sub-Saharan Africa, 1939–1945 by Rosaleen Smyth (1)

  • Kofoworola Abeni Pratt - one of the first Black nurses in the NHS and nursing pioneer in Nigeria

    Black History Month UK 2023 'Before Windrush' - exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. Chief Kofoworola Abeni Pratt Hon. FRCN was born into a wealthy family in Lagos, Nigeria in either 1914 or 1915. She was the second of four children - two girls and two boys - of Augustus Alfred Scott and Elizabeth Omowumi Scott (née Johnson). Her paternal grandmother was the daughter of Chief Taiwo, alias 'Olowo', who became the Olofin of lsheri in Lagos State. Brought up in the Anglican faith, she attended St John's Secondary School and CMS Girls School in Lagos. Kofoworola's desire to work within the nursing profession was fired by a tragic event from her early youth. At the end of the First World War in 1918, an influenza epidemic swept across the globe. The cosmopolitan city of Lagos was ravaged by the infection. One morning, the young Kofoworola wandered into her young sister's room to find her father holding her sister to his chest and crying. Her aunt who was also in the room grasped the young Kofoworola and ordered her to go to the room next door. She later learned that her sister, Ayoka, had died at the tender age of two-and-a-half years from influenza. But Kofoworola's wish to become a nurse was thwarted by her father who felt it wasn't a position befitting of a daughter from the Nigerian elite. At that time, in colonial Nigeria, senior nursing posts were only open to white immigrant British women, with the menial tasks delegated to Nigerians. After passing the Cambridge senior school certificate in 1933, she instead went on to study teaching and returned to her old school to teach British history. From 1936 to 1940, she taught at the CMS Girls School. On 3 January 1941, she married Eugene Samuel Oluremi (Olu) Pratt, a pharmacist for the Colonial Civil Service. Her husband was posted in Enugu, Warri and Forcados, so the couple moved around a lot. Their first son died in infancy and their second son, Babatunde, was born in Lagos in 1943. Unsatisfied with their nomadic lifestyle, her husband moved to London the following year to study to become a doctor. Whilst there Olu Pratt made the introduction for his wife to the matron at St Thomas' Hospital in 1946. The matron accepted her, subject to the arrival of the required documents, which proved to be in order. At that time, it was unusual for a married women from the middle classes to enter the nursing profession. Society norms dedicated that married women stayed at home to raise their family, particularly amongst the middle classes. But Kofoworola’s husband Olu strongly supported his wife’s commitment to nursing and provided an unobtrusive support to her achieving her dream career in nursing. In August 1946, Kofoworola moved to England to study nursing at the Nightingale School at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Her son was left with foster parents in Nigeria while she attended the St Thomas’ Preliminary Training School. Kofoworola arrived to, a London still reeling from the Second World War. St Thomas’ Hospital had been bombed in the war, and so her nursing training took place in temporary quarters across London. During her time at St Thomas’s Hospital, Kofoworola experienced racial discrimination, when a patient refused to be treated by a Black nurse. She was active in the West African Students' Union (WASU), an association of students from various West African countries who were studying in the United Kingdom, and which, in 1942, had called for the independence of Britain's West African colonies. Kofoworola passed her preliminary state exams in 1948 and her finals in 1949, qualifying as a State Registered Nurse on 25 November 1949. Ambitious and driven by learning, she followed her nurse training with a succession of further achievements. She qualified as a midwife (and worked as a midwife), then gained a certificate in tropical medicine. Back in the early 1950s, the Royal College of Nursing ran a ward sister course which she completed before moving into children’s nursing. She worked for the NHS for four years from 1950 to 1954. With the NHS beginning in 1948, she is recognised as one of the first Black women to work in the NHS. Kofoworola is often incorrectly cited as being the first qualified Black nurse to work for the NHS. It seems this first appeared in her biography by Justus A. Akinsanya and was then repeated. Recent research shows that Black nurses worked in the UK prior to the founding of the NHS in 1948, such as Annie Brewster and Princess Ademola. By 1948 trained Black nurses predating Koworola's qualification in 1949, were working for the NHS; however, their stories are under-researched and have only recently come to light such as Lulu Coote. Kofoworola broke through many barriers in her lifetime. She was the first Black student at the Nightingale School for Nurses and later became the first Nigerian-born Chief Nursing Officer in Nigeria. (1) The 1950s also marked another milestone in the lives of the Pratt family with the birth of their third child, a boy they named Olufemi in 1952. He was three months old when his mother decided to take advantage of the Nightingale Fund grant previously offered to her. She completed the Ward Sister’s Day course at the Royal College of Nursing while Femi was cared for by Dr Pratt's cousin, Mrs Akerele. She completed the course and obtained a distinction in the final examination. By now, Dr Pratt had been appointed as medical officer with the Commonwealth Development Corporation and was later posted to the Cameroons. Leaving their family divided between England and the Cameroons. (2) In 1954, Kofoworola returned to a Nigeria still in the grips of British colonial rule. She applied for a post as ward sister at the University College Hospital in Ibadan but was turned down, despite her numerous qualifications and considerable experience as a ward leader in the UK. Colonial Nigeria was managed by the British under a system known as ‘indirect rule.’ Credited to Frederick Lugard who took the idea from the Songhai and Ashanti Empires. Lugard’s interpretation became a political doctrine which held that Europeans and Africans were culturally different to the extent, Africans had to be ruled through the African’s own institutions. In practice, this meant that the African colonies were ruled directly by the Colonial Office in London and an apartheid-style system in which the vast majority of the native populations were condemned to work in menial jobs. At the time, the position of ward sister was only open to white British nurses. Kofoworola fought the decision and with the support of her colleagues at St Thomas’ Hospital got the position. Not surprisingly, the staff weren’t very welcoming and when she arrived at the hospital, she discovered that her accommodation was in a separate block from her white British colleagues. Even more maddening, the professor of medicine wouldn’t let her work on the hospital ward because she was a native Nigerian. However, the matron of the hospital overturned the decision and Kofoworola was moved to a medical ward at the newly built Adeoyo Hospital in Ibadan. When Kofoworola arrived at Adeoyo Hospital was still under construction and she used the opportunity to impose new standards for hygiene, care and nutrition, and reformed the administration of the ward. She was promoted to administrative sister in 1955 and the following year, she returned to London to study for a diploma in hospital nursing administration from the Royal College of Nursing. This transition from white British nurses, doctors, and other professionals and administrators to Nigerians was called “Nigerianisation”. It was a policy of training and posting Nigerians to positions of responsibility previously occupied by white Britons in the public service of the government of Nigeria. The process started and was largely implemented in the 1950s becoming more important as Nigeria marched towards independence in 1960. It was shaped as a fight against racial discrimination and colonialism by Nigerian nationalists. Not surprisingly, when the first independent Nigerian government took power, they had to agree to giving financial compensation to all the white British workers who had lost their jobs to native Nigerians. After becoming the first Nigerian ward sister, Kofoworola, then, successively, the first Nigerian assistant matron, deputy matron, and in 1964, matron, at the top hospital in Nigeria, University College Hospital, Ibadan. Later in 1959, she travelled to the United States, Puerto Rico and Jamaica on a Carnegie Grant to gain broader nursing experience. In the United States, she was impressed by training based at universities. She would later lead in the introduction of university-based training in Nigeria, achieved in 1965. In 1964, Kofoworola was appointed matron at University College Hospital in Ibadan, the first Nigerian nurse to hold that position, which was previously only open to white British nurses when Nigeria was under colonial rule. The following year, she became chief nursing officer in the Nigerian Ministry of Health and was later made commissioner of health for Lagos. (3) Committed to public service and raising the profile of nursing, she helped establish a professional association for nurses in Nigeria and founded a journal, Nigerian Nurse. She led in the establishment of nursing schools and did some of the training herself. There were many broader accomplishments too, which helped cement Kofoworola’s place as a nursing leader of international significance. She led Nigeria’s first delegation to the congress of the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and was the first African to serve as a vice president of the ICN. As an advocate for the rights of women and children, she also headed the Nigerian delegation attending the United Nations’ first world conference on the status of women, held in Mexico City in 1975. (3) And for a decade she was a member of an expert panel that advised the World Health Organization on nursing. (3) In October 2021, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital launched The Kofoworola Abeni Pratt Fellowship for nurses, midwives, and allied health professional from across the Trust who wanted to undertake personal and professional development. The one-year programme and was based in the Nightingale Academy where Kofoworola started her nursing career. Kofoworola has been dubbed the ‘African Florence Nightingale’ and there are certainly many similarities between the two. Both came from middle class backgrounds and were discouraged by their parents to pursue a nursing career. Both fought and overcame the discrimination of the day to pursue their nursing careers and revolutionised the nursing industries in their home countries. Rightly so, Kofoworola is well known throughout Nigeria because of the legacy she left. She’s a role model to the thousands of women who choose to enter the nursing professional in Nigeria each year. And by highlighting her story throughout Black History Month UK we hope that she can inspire Black nurses here in the UK too. In 1979, surely in a full circle moment, Kofoworola was awarded the Florence Nightingale medal by the International Committee of the Red Cross and made an honorary fellowship of the RCN. (3) Kofoworola died in Lagos in 1992. Sources: An African Florence Nightingale by Justus A. Akinsanya (2) (3) (1)

  • Princess Tsehai - Ethiopian Princess who trained as a nurse in the UK

    Black History Month UK 2023 'Before Windrush' - exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. Princess Tsehai Selassie, was the youngest child of Menen Asfaw and Ras Tafari, who would later be known as Emperor Haile Selassie I. She was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 13 October 1919. From age eight, she attended school in England and Switzerland, and during vacations travelled with her royal relatives to France and Germany, learning each country's language as well as English. Ethiopia, one of only two independent African nations (the other being Liberia) at the time, was invaded on 3 October 1935 by Fascist Italy under Mussolini. He wanted to boost his nation’s prestige which was wounded by its defeat to Ethiopia in the Battle of Adowa in 1896, which saved Ethiopia from Italian colonisation. The Italians committed countless atrocities on the independent African state. Poisonous gas, aerial bombardment, flame throwers, and concentration camps were all employed. They also imposed racial segregation and banned mixed marriage. When she was only 15, she gave an impassioned speech at the League of Nations on behalf of her besieged home nation of Ethiopia that had been invaded by Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. It garnered her international fame. (2) The Young Historians Project writes: Prince Tsehai was an irreverent woman who continued to speak on peace and use her status positively. She gave a speech for the Women’s Peace Crusade, and she was the only woman to speak at the Conference on African Peoples, Democracy and World Peace in 1939, held in London. As a sponsor in the creation of the Ethiopian Women’s Welfare Work Association (EWWWA), she worked to ensure the expansion and provision of health and welfare to Ethiopian people. The Princess and her family were sent to the safety of England by the Emperor after Ethiopia was invaded by Italy in 1935. After failing to get the League of Nations to condemn Italy and impose sanctions, he left Ethiopia to join his family in Bath, England where they lived in exile for five years (1936-1941). Princess Tsehai served as an interpreter for her mother and father, and she also became a spokesperson for her country, speaking before both large and small audiences about the plight of her people. At age 17, Princess Tsehai decided that she wanted to gain an education in nursing and build on the work she had started with the EWWWA. Her father gave his consent. Up until that time, no Ethiopian woman had ever trained as a nurse, and no woman of royal blood had ever worked at a profession. She would eventually return to Ethiopia to open medical centres. An interview was arranged for the Princess with the matron of London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, where she began training as a resident student nurse in August 1936. (1) Following three years of training and attaining high marks in her final certificate in December 1939, she qualified as a state registered nurse for sick children. Footage showed the Princess smiling during her training on the ward, a figure treated with kindness by her fellow nurses. (2) Tsehai asked for no favors or special treatment, working alongside the other student nurses for the required 56 hours a week and earning a year's salary of £20. (1) On the 25 August 1939, she graduated as a State Registered Children's Nurse, then received permission to continue her studies at London's Guy's Hospital, with the intention of becoming a State Registered General Trained Nurse. (1) With the outbreak of WW2, the Probationers' School of Guy's had been moved to Pembury Hospital, some 29 miles southeast of London, and it was there that she enrolled in February 1940. The temporary housing for students was primitive, with no central heating and minimal sanitary facilities. The princess accepted a room with five other nurses, and when later offered an opportunity to move to a private nurses' home attached to the main hospital, turned it down. "I would not think of leaving the other nurses," she said. "I must be treated like everyone else." (1) After a year at Pembury, during which time the Nazis made their first mass air bombing on London, the Princess was transferred to Farnborough, another base hospital. In March 1941, she was transferred again, to Guy's Hospital in London. (1) She worked at Guy’s Hospital for two years, but on 5 May 1941, months before she was to take her final state examinations, the Princess was ordered by her father to return home with her mother. Three British Red Cross Nurses volunteered to accompany the royal party to help her continue her nursing work in Ethiopia. (2) On May 5, 1941, just months before she was to take her final state examinations, the Princess was ordered by her father to return home with her mother. Three British Red Cross Nurses volunteered to accompany the royal party to help her continue her nursing work in Ethiopia. The journey home took three months, during which time the liberation was completed. The Princess immediately went to work with the British Red Cross unit, setting up headquarters in the town of Dessie, which had suffered a massive air raid. They kept their London friends assessed of their progress through letters, one of which was published in the Nursing Mirror: We are running three large clinics: the largest is at Dessie, where we have an average of 150 patients. The second clinic is at Lake Haik, sixteen miles away—a most lovely place—and the third is at Bartie on the edge of the desert…. The Senior Political officer here at Dessie is quite sure the Unit has been the greatest thing done to help the people, for they were in grave distress. The Princess works in the morning very hard; we do the afternoons and evenings. She also reactivated the Ethiopian Women's Welfare Work Association, which had been shut down during the occupation. In April 1942, she married Lieutenant-General (later Brigadier-General) Lij Abiye Abebe, a former member of the emperor's imperial guard, whom she had met in England. Before leaving to live in the Welega Province, where Abiye was appointed governor there, she told an English journalist that she intended to carry on her work of establishing hospitals and medical service throughout her country. (1) Princess Tsehai did not have the opportunity to achieve her goals. Less than four months after her marriage, on August 17, 1942, she died from complications during childbirth in Lekempti, Ethiopia. Her baby did not survive. (1) Her patients and colleagues at GOSH would remember her fondly, providing glowing testimonials. Following her death, they led a memorial at the GOSH chapel. One matron reflected on her passion for nursing, "Practically her last words to me were: One day I shall open a children’s hospital: you must come and see it." (2) She was buried in the crypt of the Ba'eta Le Mariam Monastery in Addis Ababa that had been built as the mausoleum church of Emperor Menelik II. Emperor Haile Selassie founded the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in her memory, which also served as a nursing school and received funding from her friends in England. After the 1974 revolution, the hospital was renamed the Armed Forces General Hospital. Sources: (1) (2)

  • Our TV picks for Black History Month UK 2023

    Dreaming Whilst Black Dreaming Whilst Black is a British comedy series written by and starring Adjani Salmon. Originally a webcast series, an award winning television pilot (2021) developed into a series, which was broadcast on BBC Three from 24 July 2023 and is currently airing on BBC iplayer. This hilarious comedy centres around Kwabena (Adjani Salmon) who works in recruitment but dreams of being a film maker with his video producer friend from film school Amy (Dani Mosley) and explores the specific struggles faced by Black creatives in the entertainment industry. It's a smart and incredibly funny show with some amazing scenes - 'Can I just pay for soup please' being one of our most favourite and rewatched scenes. Black and British: A Forgotten History Streaming on BBC iplayer Historian David Olusoga explores the enduring relationship between Britain and people whose origins lie in Africa. The Confessions of Frannie Langton streaming on ITVX This tv adaptation of Sara Well's period novel tells the story of Frannie Langton, a servant and former enslaved person who is accused of murdering a plantation owner and his wife. Moving from Jamaican sugar fields tot he fetid streets of Georgian London, exploring one woman's haunted fight to tell her story. 8 Bar The Evolution of Grime streaming on BBC iplayer Storyville explores the history grime and UK rap. They called it young black kids’ punk rock - a genre that radio stations wouldn’t play and records that labels refused to sell. But grime would not be stopped. With machine-gun lyrics that shred the eardrums and syncopated electronics that pound the chest like a sledgehammer, grime was a product of social unrest, urban culture and disenfranchised youth colliding in early 2000s UK. It didn’t just rouse a grassroots audience, however. Today, grime is surging in popularity all over the globe and widely influencing the music charts. This is the story of the genre’s roots. Champion steaming on BBC iplayer Champion is a British musical drama television series created and written by award winning author Candice Carty-Williams for BBC One. Set in South London, it focuses on the musical rivalry between two up-and-coming musicians, siblings Bosco and Vita Champion, and the ramifications and fallout of which could drive their family apart in their quest for musical stardom. Riches streaming on ITVX Riches is a British drama television series created by Abby Ajayi, and is one of it's most exciting new dramas depicting the glamorous lives of a Black cosmetics dynasty. It's a fabulous over-the-top pulpy drama that will have you glued to your screen for its six episodes. Focusing on black talent.... Black Ops streaming on BBC iplayer Watch the first series of Black Ops - a British television comedy series starring the multi-talented Gbemisola Ikumelo and Akemni Ndifornyen who are also co-creators, writers an executive producers. Set in East London, it focuses on Dom and Kay who are two police community support officers who join the Greater London Police and find themselves working undercover. Rye Lane streaming on Disney+ Rye Lane is the sweet British romcom directed by Raine Allen-Miller in her feature directorial debut, from a screenplay by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia. Set in the South London area of Peckham and Brixton, the film is titled after the real-life Rye Lane Market. It stars David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah who dazzled as two strangers who have a chance encounter, after having both been through recent breakups, and spend the day getting to know each other. Three Little Birds streaming on ITVX Three Little Birds is the brainchild of legendary British comedian Sir Lenny Henry who has written and produced this historical ITV drama. It narrates the adventures of gregarious sisters Leah and Chantrelle, who hail from St Anne’s district in Jamaica, and their virtuous, bible-loving acquaintance, Hosanna as they board a cruise ship heading for a new life in the 'mother country' namely the UK. This six-part series will premiere its n during Black History Month UK. Hijack streaming on Apple TV Idris Alba heads up this tense thriller told in real time. Hijack follows the journey of a hijacked plane as it makes its way to London over a seven-hour flight, and authorities on the ground scramble for answers. They Cloned Tyrone streaming on Netflix British actor John Boyega joins Teyonah Parris, and Jamie Foxx in the pulpy mystery caper They Cloned Tyrone. A series of eerie events thrusts the unlikely trio onto the trail of a nefarious government experience conspiracy. Top Boy streaming on Netflix Check out the final season of Top Boy on Netflix. The series is set on the fictional Summerhouse estate in the London Borough of Hackney and focuses on two drug dealers, Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane Robinson), along with others involved with drug dealing and gang violence in London. The Strays streaming on Netflix Originally released in February this British social horror The Strays explores the intersections of colourism and class. Written and directed by Nathaniel Martello-White, in his directorial debut. In the film, Neve leads an idyllic life with her family. As a socialite in her community and the deputy headmistress of a private school, Neve's privileged life begins to crumble when two strangers arrive in town. Image Credits: BBC, Apple TV, and Netflix.

  • Learie Constantine - was a cricketer, statesman, and Britain's first Black peer

    Black History Month UK 2023 'Before Windrush' - exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. Learie Constantine is the epitome of Black Excellence and a truly modern renaissance man. A gifted sportsperson, civil rights activist, and politician whose life was crammed to the brim with Black Firsts. He was born in the small village of Petit Valley in north-west Trinidad on 21 September 1901, and was the second child of the family and the eldest of three brothers. His father, Lebrun Constantine, was a plantation foreman on a cocoa estate and a famous cricketer who had represented Trinidad and Tobago in the first-class cricket and toured England twice with the West Indian team. All his family loved cricket. His Uncle Victor was also a first-class cricketer who played for both the national and West Indian teams, and a third family member, Constantine’s brother Elias, also played for the national cricket team. Constantine wrote that although his family was not wealthy, his childhood was happy. He spent a lot of time playing in the hills near his home or on the estates where his father and grandfather worked. He enjoyed cricket from an early age, and his family regularly practised together under the supervision of father Lebrun and maternal Uncle Victor Pascall. At school, Constantine showed prowess in several sports and was respected for his cricketing lineage. He played for the school cricket team, which he captained for two years. He developed a reputation as a brilliant all-rounder player but didn’t start playing competitive club cricket until 1920 because his father wanted him to have a professional career. After graduating from school, Constantine joined a firm of solicitors in the Trinidad and Tobago capital city of Port of Spain as a clerk. His father saw this as a possible route into the legal profession for his son. But as a member of the Black lower-middle class, it was unlikely that Constantine would progress far. Since few Black Trinidadians at the that time became solicitors because of the social restrictions they faced due to their ethnicity. The Caribbean (or West Indies as it was known at the time) at the turn of the 20th century was still defined by the racial politics of the plantation slave system. For the millions of people emancipated under the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act their freedom didn’t extend to their political and economic freedom. They were still seen and treated by the state as ‘dependents’ rather than citizens. Restricted from moving up society’s social ladder and forced to eke out a living for themselves. With some even being forced to become wage labourers for former owners. For Constantine, this meant that a possible route into the legal profession didn’t exist. He was destined to be a solicitor’s clerk because he was a member of the Black lower-middle class. Because at the time, few if any Black Trinidadians could become solicitors. Unhappy with the lack of opportunities opened to him because of his colour, Constantine decided to pursue a career in professional cricket and use it as a means of securing a contract with an English cricket team. A talented all-rounder he secured a place on the West Indies Cricket team. And in 1928 he was selected for the team’s tour of England and wowed the crowds with his bowling and batting skills. In one notable all-round innings at the Lord’s Cricket Ground against Middlesex, he took seven wickets and hit 103 runs in just one hour. In fact, he was the first West Indian to take a wicket in a test match and the first person to ever take five wickets in one inning. In his memoirs, Cricket in the Sun (1947), Constantine highlighted the problems of racism in cricket. At that time, West Indies teams were almost invariably captained by a white man and whites-only dances were held after matches with England. It was also widely believed that Lancashire Cricket Club would have offered Constantine a contract was it not for the racial prejudice of some leading members. Constantine’s star performance caught the eyes of several English cricket clubs and whilst still touring he was offered a contract with Nelson in the Lancashire League. He signed an initial three-year contract with Nelson worth £500 per season, plus performance bonuses and travelling expenses. His cricket appearances boosted attendances and gate receipts for all Nelson’s matches and was of great financial benefit to both the club and the League as a whole. In Constantine’s eight seasons at the club, Nelson never finished lower than second, won the league competition six times and the knockout cup twice. “When the Constantine family first came to Nelson in 1929, the rag-and-bone was the only other Black man living in the town. Upon their arrival, they received some welcoming letters from the local people alongside racist and abusive ones. Little kids from the school over the road used to peep in through the windows of Constantine’s house, trying to steal glimpses of their local cricket club’s new pro. They pointed at him in the street, asked him if he’d been working down a mine, whether he could wash it off with soap. While his wife Norma was started at whenever she went shopping.” Constantine rationalised that the main reason for the racism his family experienced was out of ignorance rather than spite. Most, but not all. As he found out when he met Jim Blanckenberg, the South African all-rounder he had replaced. Constantine met Blanckenberg in his first year of playing for Nelson. Thousands of locals had come to watch the talented West Indian play his inaugural match against the East Lancashire side. With everyone looking on, Constantine offered the South African his hand and Blanckenberg turned his back on him. A justifiably furious Constantine then proceeded to take out the entire East Lancashire team in a flurry of deadly spin bowls with Nelson winning the match by four wickets. It was reported that after the game, Blanckenberg stormed into the Nelson’s changing room to complain about the bruises he’d received during the match. Constantine never apologised. By the end of their first summer in Lancashire, Learie was ready to return to the Caribbean, but it was his wife Norma who persuaded him to stay and make a home there. They settled in a prosperous and middle-class area of Nelson, No. 3 Meredith Street, and stayed there for over 20 years, making life-long friends, and becoming part of the community. Constantine went on to play with distinction between 1929 and 1938, while continuing as a member of the West Indies in tours of England and Australia. Sometime in 1933 Constantine published his first of many books, ‘Cricket and I’, with the help of his lodger, the prolific writer and political theorist, fellow Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) national C.L.R. James. James was at the forefront of a growing Caribbean nationalist movement, though Constantine had until then consciously avoided politics. Through James' influence, Constantine realised that his position gave him opportunities to further the cause of racial equality and independence for Trinidad and Tobago. He joined the League of Coloured Peoples, an organisation aiming to achieve racial equality for Black people in Britain. He helped James to get a job with the Manchester Guardian, and in return, James helped Constantine to write his first book. In later years, commentators identified Constantine's book as an important step in Caribbean nationalism, and an encouragement to future authors. For the 1938 cricket season, Constantine played for Rochdale in the Central Lancashire Cricket League, although he continued to live in Nelson. He didn’t enjoy the experience despite performing successfully. The pitches were different from his old league and some of the players were resentful of his earnings. Constantine was paid £812 for a season considerably more than other cricket players at the time. But Constantine was the box office draw who was pulling in the crowds and generating thousands in ticket sales. There was also an incident of racial abuse which Constantine believed the Central Lancashire League committee effectively covered up. This season ended Constantine’s career in the Lancashire Leagues, although during the war he returned to play for Nelson as an amateur. Learie didn’t give up his dream of becoming a solicitor and started studying law by correspondence course while still a professional cricketer. In 1939, he was taken into the family solicitor’s office of Alec Birtwell, a fellow Nelson cricketer. Had the war not intervened he would have become articled to this firm and started his new career in the law. When war broke out in 1939, Constantine choose to stay in Nelson rather than take his family back to the safety of Trinidad. He said: ‘I couldn’t run away. I had got a standard of life in England that I could never have achieved in my country. I had made a lot of friends. England to me stood for something and now that war had started, I would have felt like a little dog to have run away from England.’ At almost 40, he was too old for active service and initially worked as an Air Raid Precautions equipment officer, and a billeting officer for incoming evacuees. Although the war had affectively ended his career in top-class cricket, he continued to play league cricket and appeared in many wartime charity games. In 1941, he was offered the role of Welfare Officer with the Ministry of Labour and National Service, in conjunction with the Colonial Office. He was responsible for looking after the interests of West African seamen in Liverpool, and munitions workers and trainees from the West Indies in the north-west. He was initially based in Liverpool’s famous royal Liver Building and was helped by an assistant, Sam Morris, who was active in the League of Coloured Peoples. During Second World War large numbers of servicemen and women from across the Commonwealth were recruited to help Britain’s war effort. They included RAF pilots from the Caribbean, lumberjacks from Honduras working in terrible, bleak conditions in Scottish forests, and Jamaican technicians who worked in munition factories in and around Merseyside. These new arrivals needed support. Learie Constantine’s long experience of living in England, and his understanding of the prejudices and difficulties they would face, made him the ideal person to help them. Constantine worked closely with trade unions in an attempt to ease the fears and suspicions of white workers. He used his influence with the Ministry of Labour to pressurise companies who refused to employ West Indians, but generally preferred negotiation to confrontation, an approach that was often successful. In a newspaper interview with the Liverpool Echo in August 1954, he recalled how he had to resolve a housing issue between Black and white workers in a gunpowder factory. All the workers at the factory, including the Black workers, were put up in hostels. But some of the white workers ‘objected’ to the Black workers being housed. So, Constantine actually stayed in a hostel to promote understanding between the workers. The ruse worked and the Black workers were ‘permitted’ to stay in the hostels. He also went on to remember a racist incident in which he was accosted in a dance hall of one of the hostels by ‘a man in an American Air Force officers’ uniform. The American officer, who had ‘aggressively shouldered the whole length of the hall’ towards Constantine, yelled at him to ‘get out,’ shouting that ‘where we are’ they did not allow Black people to mix with white. However, it was ‘the aggressor who had to get out.’ Sadly, Constantine was to experience another American fuelled racial incident again in August 1943 when he was booked to play a charity cricket match at Lords. Ahead of the game he booked a four-night stay at Imperial Hotel, London for him and his family. He was reassured in advance that his colour wouldn’t be an issue. Upon arrival, he was denied accommodation for the full stay because management insisted his presence would offend the white American servicemen who were staying in the hotel. The case Constantine v Imperial London Hotels ruled in favour of Constantine and set a precedent on challenging racial discrimination in the court and providing Black people with the legal recourse against some forms of racism. Ironically, the British government had asked Constantine to produce radio broadcasts to West Indies, reporting on the involvement of West Indians in the war effort. As a result, he was often asked to speak on BBC radio about his life in England. His radio performances met with critical acclaim, and he became a frequent guest on radio panel shows; he also took part in a film documentary West Indies Calling in 1943 with Una Marson and Ulric Cross. His wartime experiences caused him to increase his involvement in the League of Coloured Peoples, sometimes referring cases to them. He particularly took up the cause of the children of white women and Black overseas servicemen; these children were often abandoned by their parents. However, plans to create a children's home for them came to nothing, leaving Constantine frustrated. He remained in his post until the summer of 1946, latterly concerned with the repatriation of the West Indian workers at the end of the war. He was awarded an MBE in 1947 for his ‘welfare work’ during wartime. After the second World War, Constantine moved his family to London where he worked as a journalist and broadcaster for the BBC whilst he studied law. To supplement his income and finance his studies, he took a few coaching jobs and wrote several books on cricket including Cricket in the Sun (1947) which covered his career and the racism he had encountered. He qualified as a barrister and was called to the bar by the Middle Temple in 1954. Having turned down an offer in 1947 to return to his old employer, Trinidad Leaseholds, in 1954 Constantine agreed to join the same company as an assistant legal advisor. Before leaving England, he published Colour Bar, a book that criticised not only racial inequality, but also British colonialism and empire. Although not viewed as radical by black audiences, it was aimed at white British readers. The British press gave it mixed reviews and criticised him for unfairness in parts of the book; other critics accused him of communist sympathies. Constantine returned to a country that was clamouring for independence from Britain. Feeling isolated in his job from his largely white colleagues. He gravitated towards the political movement for independence and accepted Eric Williams, leader of the newly founded People’s National Movement (PNM), invitation to become a party chairman and member of executive committee. In 1956, Constantine stood for election and narrowly won the constituency of Tunapuna. The PNM formed a government and Constantine became the Minister of Communications, Works and Utilities. He was a popular and successful politician and played a significant role in securing the country’s independence in 1962. After deciding not to stand for re-election in 1961 he accepted the role of Trinidad and Tobago’s first High Commissioner in London. Constantine returned to England with his wife in 1962. He was knighted the same year becoming Sir Learie Constantine and was given the freedom of the town of Nelson. However, his tenure as High Commissioner ended when he got involved in the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963. Politicians in both Trinidad and Tobago and Britain felt a senior diplomat shouldn’t be so closely involved in British domestic affairs, particularly as he acted without consulting his government. Williams effectively withdrew his support from Constantine, who decided not to continue as High Commissioner when his term expired in February 1964. For the remainder of his life, Constantine lived in London. He returned to legal practice and was elected an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple in 1963. He also resumed work in journalism: he wrote and broadcast on cricket, race and the Commonwealth, and produced two more books: a coaching book The Young Cricketers Companion (1964), and The Changing Face of Cricket (1966) which included his thoughts on modern cricket. By the 1960s, Learie was firmly part of the UK establishment. He was founding member of the Sports Council, sat on the first Race Relations Board constituted under the 1965 Act, was appointed to the BBC's General Advisory Committee in 1966 and became a BBC Governor two years later, and in 1967 was elected Lord Rector of St Andrew’s University. However, he remained a vocal campaigner of racial equality and justice. Whilst on the Race Relations Board, he spoke out against the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, a stance that led to an offer from the Liberal Party, which he declined, to stand as parliamentary candidate for Nelson. Later, he was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate the release, after a military coup, of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the overthrown Prime Minister of Nigeria. In 1969, Learie Constantine became the UK’s first Black peer taking the title ‘Baron Constantine, of Maraval in Trinidad and of Nelson in the County Palatine of Lancaster’. Cementing his place as part of the UK establishment. His life peerage attracted widespread media attention, with Constantine stating: "I think it must have been for what I have endeavoured to do to make it possible for people of different colour to know each other better and live well together." In his last years, Constantine was criticised for becoming part of the Establishment. The new generation of Caribbean immigrants believed he was out of touch and the more radical Black activists disapproved of his conciliatory approach to racist incidents. Even the Private Eye mocked him. Reflecting on Learie Constantine’s impact on British society depends on where you stand; on the cricket field, in a broadcasting studio or in the House of Lords, where Learie was able to sit after becoming a life peer in 1969. Learie Constantine is a towering figure in British Black history. A man of many accolades and achievements. But perhaps CLR James described him best when he wrote of him: "Many doors in England were open to him. That doors were closed to other West Indians seemed more important to him.” Baron Constantine died aged 69 at his home in Hampstead, London on July 1, 1971. He was honoured on both sides of the Atlantic with a state funeral in Trinidad and a memorial service in Westminster Abbey. He was posthumously awarded Trinidad and Tobago's highest honour, the Trinity Cross. Several books have been written about him and he has two Blue Plaques, one erected on his former home in Nelson and an English Heritage Blue Plaque on his former address in Earls Court, London. Sources: Cricket and I by Learie Constantine and CLR James Connie: The Life of Learie Constantine by Henry Pearson Learie Constantine by Gerald Howat Learie Constantine by Peter Mason's%20first%20black%20peer%2C%20Sir,%2C%20Colour%20Bar%20(1954).

  • What is the theme for Black History Month UK 2023?

    Angela M explains Black History Month UK and how to celebrate this October. October marks the start of Black History Month UK – a time to celebrate and remember African and Caribbean heritage peoples' achievements and contributions to the British economy, culture, and history. It's a chance to tell the stories of those lesser well-known Black Britons who we will forget if we don't showcase them. What is Black History Month UK? Black History Month UK began in October 1987 by Akyaaba Sebo, a special projects coordinator of the Ethnic Minorities Unit at the now defunct Great London Council. He wanted to boost the self-esteem of Black British children and young adults by educating them on the long history and achievements of Black people living in the UK. Taking inspiration from Black History Month (also known as African American History Month) in the United States. The first event was held on 1 October 1987 at County Hall and was attended by American historian Dr. Maulana Karenga, who founded the African American holiday of Kwanzaa; and Kenyan women’s activist Wanjiru Kihoro. It has since evolved into a national movement recognised by the British government and observed throughout the UK. It is also recognised in other parts of the world during October in Ireland and the Netherlands. In the US, where Black History Month originated, the awareness month is held in February. It is also celebrated in Canada in February too when it was officially recognised in 1995. Since the 1990s, the significance of Black History Month has gradually increased throughout continental Europe and it is now observed in Germany, Belgium, and Italy in February. What are the origins of Black History Month? In 1926, African-American historian Carter G Woodson started national Negro History Week to advocate for the inclusion of American Black History in the US national public education system. Over time, and with the momentum and support of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the week gradually morphed into the month it is today. In 1976, US Black History Month (or African American Month as it’s now regularly referred to) was officially recognised by President Gerald Ford. Why is it celebrated at different times across the globe? After visiting America in the 1970s, Addai-Sebo created a British version of Black History Month in 1987, but they are not officially linked. In the United States, Black History Month takes place in February to coincide with the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Addai-Sebo choose to celebrate Black History Month UK in October because of the month's importance in the African calendar. More importantly, it was the start of the British academic year. Why should we separate Black History Month celebrations in the US and UK? When Black History Month UK started in the UK, there was a big emphasis on African American history. Over time the focus has moved to celebrating and recognising Black British history and key Black figures in the UK. It’s important also that we focus only on British Black history as the Black British community is a composite of peoples with different cultures and identities. Some individuals with a lineage beginning long before the Windrush generation and others with distinct and very different cultures rooted in the African and Caribbean continents. Why do we celebrate Black History Month UK 2023? In 2021, the National Census revealed that the overall Black population makes up 2.4 million (4%) people living in England and Wales, a steep rise from the 1.9 million (3.3.%) recorded a decade earlier. This growth was powered by a growing Black African population (nearly 3%) while the Black Caribbean population slowed to just 1%. As Britain’s Black population changes, we need to make sure that the stories of the previous generations are not lost and are remembered and honoured by the new generations of Black Britons. ‘[UK] Black history is a series of missing chapters from British history’ said David Olusoga, historian, and we must be involved in the telling of these stories. Black History Month exists to tell these stories in our own voices. It’s our chance to shine a light on individuals who aren’t featured in the mainstream and whose contributions would be forgotten without Black History Month UK. It's a time to celebrate Black Britons who are making history now too. It also provides us with a space to tackle racial discrimination head-on within our society by encouraging government, institutions, and corporations to advocate for diversity, equality, and inclusion. Do we really need Black History Month UK? Some campaigners argue against the existence and usefulness of the month as they believe it marginalizes UK Black history and that it should, rightly, be remembered all year round. Organisations such as The Black Curriculum are working hard to address the lack of Black British history in the UK curriculum through campaigning, training teachers, and delivering Black history programmes. But Black History Month UK, like many other national and international events, provides us with an opportunity to remember individuals and events that would never be included in a racially inclusive national curriculum and would remain forgotten to the annals of time. What are the aims of Black History Month in the UK? Celebrate and recognise the achievements of African and Caribbean heritage people's role in helping to shape UK culture, history, and economic development. Educating the UK population on how the relationships between Britain, Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States helped create modern Britain. To encourage government, institutions, and corporations to embrace and adopt equality and diversity policies. What is the theme of Black History Month UK 2023? The theme of Black History Month UK 2023 is ‘Before Windrush’. This October we’ll be exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. Throughout the month we’ll be shining a spotlight on notable Black Britons such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, Learie Constantine and Princess Ademola. We’ll also exploring Black doctors and nurses working in healthcare before the NHS and the 18th century Black prisoners of war at Portchester Castle in 1796. Not forgetting that Black History Month is also about documenting history in the making. We'll be asking the UK Black Community to commemorate the month by sharing their own family histories using the hashtag #bhmfamilies How can I celebrate Black History Month UK 2023? Black History Month is an excellent opportunity for people from all backgrounds to educate themselves on Black Britain’s history and familiarise themselves with the lesser-known Black Britons who have made a difference to the country. There are a variety of ways you can observe the month: Attend any of the hundreds of events taking place up and down the country to commemorate Black History Month. Check out our Events page for more information. Take on the #BHMFamilies selfie challenge Attend the #BHMUK23 launch event and Play our Big Fat Black History online quiz Why not watch our '10 ways to celebrate Black History Month UK' video for more ideas? How should educational organisations and business corporations recognise the month? The theme of Black History Month UK 2023 is ‘Before Windrush,' and we advise any schools and colleges interested in exploring the topic in greater detail to visit The Black Curriculum website, which has an extensive range of educational resources relating to the theme. We encourage business corporations to provide a safe space for all individuals who wish to commemorate the month in which stories can be shared – personal experiences and/or inspiring stories. But to also remember that not everybody may want to be involved in your Black History Month UK planning simply because of their ethnic background. Such assumptions place the burden of responsibility on them, and if they’re a visible minority in your workplace, they might feel tokenized about their role in your workplace. Remember, for best results, you should be recognizing all your employees, all year round! Companies are also advised to run a DEI (diversity, equality, and inclusion) audit of their business. Surveys make it easier to understand the current state of DEI at your company, pinpoint focus areas, and run intersectional analyses that can guide companies towards meaningful action. Who is the International Black History Month UK (IBHM-UK) organisation? The International Black History Month UK (IBHM-UK) was created in June 2020 by a group of Black Britons with a passion for investigating and curating the hidden and forgotten stories of Britain’s black past. We’re committed to raising the profile of the month amongst the African, Caribbean and Black British community in the UK. As one of our young volunteer interns explains: “Neither my primary or secondary schools celebrated Black History Month UK and I had to learn about UK Black History myself. So, I think it’s important that an organisation like this exists to fill the gaps in knowledge that many people in the UK’s African and Caribbean community may have about Britain’s black past. Our community is not a monolith, and we all have different lived experiences. BHMUK allows us all to reflect and celebrate on all the different aspects of British Black history from finding out about awe inspiring individuals like Dr Harold Moody and John Blanke to the legislative changes in UK law championed by the Windrush generation." For too long, Black History Month UK has lacked direction and focus. We decided to step into that space to ensure that this important month has a clear message and theme. Our CEO, Angela says: “I have a young son who was tasked with choosing a notable Black Briton for a school assignment and I was shocked to learn that the only resources available was a listings website with poorly researched articles and filled to the brim with job adverts. We set up this organisation to ensure that quality information and free resources are available to everyone who wants to learn about UK Black History. And more importantly, that the stories of Black Britons are told in an authentic voice that belongs to us and not someone masquerading as one of us!“ We are a local community group that provides free resources on UK Black History and hope to run themed Black UK history events in 2023 and beyond.

  • The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963

    Bristol in the early 1960s had an estimated 3,000 residents of West Indian origin, some of whom had served in the British military during the Second World War and some who had emigrated to the UK more recently. In common with other British cities, there was widespread racial discrimination in housing and employment at that time against Black and Asian people. Despite a reported labour shortage on the buses. Black and Asian people were only offered employment in lower paid positions in workshops and canteens. Because the Bristol Omnibus Company operated a colour bar that prevented Black and Asian people from working as bus crews. Four young West Indian men, Roy Hackett, Owen Henry, Audley Evans and Prince Brown, formed a campaigning group, later to be called the West Indian Development Council to fight the blatant discrimination. This new West Indian Development Council (WIDC) soon joined forces with Paul Stephenson, Bristol’s first youth officer. Stephenson set up a test case to prove the colour bar existed by arranging an interview with the bus company for Guy Bailey, a well-qualified and well-spoken young man for the role of a bus conductor. But when the bus company realised realised that Bailey was a Black Jamaican, the interview was cancelled, and the boycott began. Taking inspiration from Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the US the WIDC organised their own bus boycott. They organised a local press conference and announced their boycott of the Bristol buses on 29th April 1963. the next day, no Caribbeans used the buses. They organised pickets of bus depots and routes, along with blockades and sit-down protests on routes throughout the city centre. There cause was further bolster by Bristol University students who organised a protest march to the bus station and the local headquarters of the local TGWU and they were heckled by passing bus crews according to the local press. Local newspaper, The Bristol Evening Post criticised the TGWU for not countering racism in their own ranks while opposing the apartheid system in South Africa. While former councillor and Alderman Henry Hennessey spoke of collusion between the bus company and the TGWU over the colour bar, and was threatened with expulsion from his local Labour group as a result. The boycott soon attracted national and international attention. An array of big names entered the fray including the left wing MP Fenner Brockway and local Labour MP Tony Benn. The latter, contacted the then Labour Opposition leader Harold Wilson (later Prime Minister), who spoke out against the colour bar at an Anti-Apartheid Movement rally in London. Learie Constantine, the High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago, also lent his support the campaign. He wrote letters to the bus company and Stephenson, and spoke out against the colour bar to reporters when he attended the cricket match between the West Indies and Gloucestershire at the County Ground, which took place from 4th to 7th May. The West Indies team refused to publicly support the boycott, saying that sport and politics did not mix. During the game, local members of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) distributed leaflets urging spectators to support the boycott. The local branch of the TGWU refused to meet with a delegation from the West Indian Development Council and an increasingly bitter war of words was fought out in the local media. Ron Nethercott, South West Regional Secretary of the union, persuaded a local Black TGWU member, Bill Smith, to sign a statement which called for quiet negotiation to solve the dispute. It condemned Stephenson for causing potential harm to the city's Black and Asian population. Nethercott launched an attack on Stephenson in the Daily Herald newspaper, calling him dishonest and irresponsible. This led to a libel case in the High Court, which awarded Stephenson damages and costs in December 1963. The union, the city Labour establishment and the Bishop of Bristol, Oliver Stratford Tomkins, ignored Stephenson and tried to work with Bill Smith of the TGWU to resolve the dispute. Meanwhile, Learie Constantine continued to support the campaign, meeting with the Lord Mayor of Bristol, and Frank Cousins, leader of the Transport and General Workers Union. He went to the Bristol Omnibus Company's parent, the Transport Holding Company and persuaded them to send officials to talk with the union. The company chairman told Constantine that racial discrimination was not company policy. Negotiations between the bus company and the union continued for several months until a mass meeting of 500 bus workers agreed on 27 August to end the colour bar. On 28 August 1963, Ian Patey announced that there would be no more discrimination in employing bus crews. It was on the same day that Martin Luther King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the March in Washington. On 17 September, Raghbir Singh, a Sikh, became Bristol's first non-White bus conductor. A few days later two Jamaican and two Pakistani men joined him. In 1965, the UK parliament passed a Race Relations Act, which made 'racial discrimination unlawful in public places'. This was later followed by the Race Relations Act 1968 which extended the provisions to housing and employment. It's clear that the Bristol Bus Boycott paved the way for these Race Relations Acts. Fenner Brockway had tried to introduce a bill to stop racial discrimination several times between 1956 and 1964. But it was the nationwide profile of the Bristol Bus Boycott which helped get Britain's first racial discrimination law to be finally legislated. Without it, Harold Wilson's Labour government would have struggled to get the bill passed. The Boycott showed that racism didn't just exist over there in the States, but in Britain too. The bravery and the steadfastness of these men remained forgotten outside of Bristol until the early 2000s. In 2009, Paul Stephenson, Guy Bailey, and Roy Hackett were awarded OBEs for their part in organizing the boycott. Over a decade later, they were honoured with a plaque in the Bristol Bus station in 2014. In February 2013, Unite, the successor to the Transport and General Workers Union, issued an apology saying their stance at the time was "completely unacceptable".

  • Celebrating Global Black History Month(s) and UK Pride Month

    The first of February marks the start of Black History Month in several countries including the USA, Canada, and Germany. And the start of Pride month in the UK too! This February, we want you to join us in exploring the history behind the country that started Black History Month and learn about the Black Britons who have led the way in LGBT+ history in the UK. ​ Remember, you can explore Black British History beyond a designated month and we’re committed to helping you on your journey of learning more about UK Black History throughout the year. Start your journey now by checking our any of the Bio Short articles below or reading our features our features. Alternatively, why not play our Global Black History quiz with your friends too! Check out our social media accounts or subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter for regular updates!

  • Justin Fashanu – the first openly gay male professional footballer

    Justinus Soni ‘Justin’ Fashanu was born on the 19 February 1961 and was the son of a Nigerian barrister living in the UK and a Guyanese nurse called Pearl. He and his younger brother John Fashanu were placed into a Barnardo’s children’s home when their parents split up. When Justin was six, he and his brother were fostered by a couple called Alf and Betty Jackson and were brought up in Shopham, Norfolk. Justin excelled at boxing as a youth and for a time considered becoming a boxer before turning his attention to footballing. He was spotted by a Norwich City football club scout whilst playing in a school football match in 1974. Soon after, Fashanu joined the Norwich City football academy and turned professional in December 1978. He made his league debut on 13 January 1979, against West Bromwich Albion, and became a regular fixture of the team. In 1980, he won the BBC Goal of the Season award, for a spectacular goal against Liverpool that has been described by football pundits as one of the greatest goals ever scored at Norwich City. He managed a total of 103 senior appearances for Norwich, scoring 40 goals. While at the club Fashanu was capped six times for the under-21 England team, scoring five goals in eleven games. In August 1981, he signed for Nottingham Forest, becoming Britain’s first £1 million Black footballer. But he struggled to replicate his form at the club, partly because of the strained relationship with Nottingham Forest manager Brian Cough over his sexuality and lifestyle. Clough barred him from training with his teammates after learning of Justin’s homosexuality. Fashanu was frozen out of the first team and sent on loan to Southampton. He was eventually sold to Nottingham Forest’s rivals Notts County for just £100,000. Justin went on to play for a variety of clubs until retiring from the game in 1997. In October 1990, fearing that he was about to be outed by a national newspaper, Justin Fashanu came out as gay via an interview with the tabloid newspaper The Sun. In doing so, he became the first openly gay professional footballer in the UK until Jake Daniels in 2022 (yes, that long!). Although Fashanu claimed that he was generally well accepted by his fellow players, he freely admitted that they would often joke maliciously about his sexual orientation, and he also became the target of constant crowd abuse because of it. Justin committed suicide in May 1998. In 2017, Netflix released a film about him called ‘Forbidden Games: The Justin Fashanu Story’ and was inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2020. His legacy lives on through the work of LGBT+ campaigners, the Justin Campaign and The Justin Fashanu Foundation, founded by his niece Amal Fashanu. Sources:

  • Pearl Alcock - the outsider artist who provided a queer safe space for London’s Black gay community

    Pearl Alcock was born Pearlina Smith in 1935, in the Caribbean island of Jamaica. Little is known about her life before she came to England, but it’s thought that she grew up in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, and that she was married to a French-Canadian man. At the age of 25, she migrated to Leeds as part of the Windrush generation with just five pounds in her pocket. She initially worked as a maid and then found factory work until she saved up £1000 to be able to open her own shop in London. Sometime in the early 1970s, she launched a bridal shop on Railton Road in Brixton, London. Within a few years, she had opened a sheeben – an unlicensed bar – in the shop’s basement. Pearl’s sheeben became the only queer safe space for London’s Black gay community in the 1970s. At the time when the community experienced racism within the predominately white gay scene. In a Gal-Dem article on Pearl Alcock: “Longtime friend of Pearl, Dirg Arab Richard, described her as ‘kind and generous’ person, always ‘full of laughs.’ When Dirg knew her, she was very much out and proud – he remembers her proudly proclaiming “I’m bisexual ya know!” to a straight friend of his. She was forced to close her sheeban after the police started targeting them following the election of the Thatcher government in 1979. By 1981, Pearl’s shop had ceased trading because of the reduced number of customers due to the first Brixton Uprising. Undeterred, Alcock opened a café next door at 105 Railton Road in a building owned by relatives of hers. “The cafe wasn’t particularly grand or fancy, but that was part of its charm; it was a “safe haven”, according to Dirg Aab Richards. You’d be there, packed in like sardines with a bunch of other people from the local community who were mostly West Indian.” The 1985 Brixton uprising brought more financial hardship culminating to a period of the cafe running by candlelight as the electricity was shut off. The café eventually shut down at the end of that year. Pearl’s journey with art began that same year when she was unable to afford a birthday card for a friend, so she drew one, using crayons and packaging from women’s tights. Spurred on the positive reaction from her friend, she started making bookmarks and selling them for a pound each using any free materials she could find. In an interview with Mark Kurlansky in 1991, she told him that: “Everything I [got], I was scribbling on. The receipts at the cafe. Everything… I couldn’t stop working.” Alcock started to gain recognition from the art world in the late 1980s with the support of her friends, who brought her art materials and purchased some of her early work. “As Pearl’s work got more attention, she moved onto bigger pieces. She flitted between the abstract style of her paintings that were beginning to be shown in galleries, and a more commercial aesthetic, like making postcards to sell under railway arches.” By the late 1980s, her art was being exhibited in the 198 Gallery, the Almeida Theatre and the Bloomsbury Theatre. Then in 1990 her work was included in the London Fire Brigade calendar. But it wasn’t until a year before her death in 2006 that Pearl’s work started to gain mainstream recognition, being shown in the Tate Britain as part of their ‘Outsider Art’ exhibition in 2005. Monika Kinley, one of the country's leading advocates of Outsider Art, describes her as "a visual poet". In 2019, she was the subject of a year-long retrospective at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. Pearl Alcock is an important figure in both Black British art and Britain’s Black LGBTQ+ community. A fearless, pioneer who provided a safe haven to queer Black Britons in the 1970s. Pearl kept making work until she died aged 72, on 7 May 2006 in St George’s Residence Housing Co-op – coincidently not too far away from where her infamous sheeben was. Sources:

bottom of page