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Campaigner, Writer, Trainer, Management, Consultant & Director - Working for Equality

Black and Asian History

Ira Aldridge

Ira Aldridge was a well-known and very talented Black actor. He first performed in London in 1825 and later toured all over England. Despite his obvious talent, many Londoners objected to his acting. They felt it wasn’t right for a Black man to touch a white woman, even on the stage. Yet Aldridge continued acting, gaining repute on the continent and receiving honours and medals in Germany, France, Switzerland, Austro-Hungary, and Russia before his death in 1867.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay in Kentucky in 1942. By 1960, he had become the Olympic Light Heavyweight champion in boxing and became professional immediately afterwards. Despite his Olympic victory, on his return to the United States, he was refused a seat in a hometown restaurant because the U.S. allowed segregation. In disgust at U.S. racism, he threw his Olympic medal away.

Following a meteoric rise, he became the world’s heavyweight champion in 1964 and converted to Islam, dropping his “slave name”, which he changed to Muhammad Ali. The political and boxing establishments, run exclusively by white people, saw Ali as a threat. Their hostility came out when Ali defiantly refused to fight for the U.S. government against Vietnam. In 1967, he was barred from boxing and had his heavyweight championship stripped form him. After returning to the boxing ring in 1970 and regaining his world title in 1974, Ali developed Parkinson’s Disease and retired. He is respected throughout the world over for his sacrifice and bravery.

Councillor J. R. Archer

John Archer was born in 1863 in Liverpool. He came to Battersea, London, as a student and set up a photography business. Archer was interested in local politics, particularly in health and Poor Law affairs and served as a councillor for over twenty years. He became the first black mayor in Britain in 1913. During later years, Archer continued to be an active politician, serving on eleven council committees and becoming a governor of several local schools before is death in 1931.

Francis Barber

Born a slave in Jamaica, Francis Barber was brought to England in 1850. When his master, a Captain Bathurst, died in 1852, he gave Barber his freedom. Barber became a servant to Dr. Samuel Johnson in London. When Dr. Johnson died in 1782, he left Barber all of his possessions and property – a substantial inheritance. Having been sent to school by both Bathurst and Johnson, Barber ran a school near Lichfield with his wife, Elizabeth, until he died in 1801. Elizabeth continued to teach for fifteen years.

Samuel Coleridge - Taylor

Famous as the composer of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in 1875, in Holborn. He faced and opposed abuse and prejudice based on his colour. As an adult, he wrote many letters to newspapers arguing that he considered himself to be the equal of any white man who had ever lived. Among his musical works, he composed An African Suite and Touissant L’Overature, which reflected his interest in black identity.

William Cuffay

Born in 1788 on a ship from St. Kitts bound for England, William Cuffay’s father was a St. Kitts slave. In England, Cuffay’s freed family settled in Kent and his father became a cook on a warship. Cuffay became a journeying tailor and was increasingly involved in politics. By 1848, he was elected as a member of the National Chartist Convention. He became a leading member of the Chartists, a group that fought for political rights for working-class men, including the right to vote. Soon after, Cuffay was arrested and transported to Tasmania, where he continued to work for political rights until he died in 1870.

Angela Davis

Angela Davis grew up in Alabama, at a time when racial tension was rife. In 1968 she joined the Communist Party and was active in several committees in support of black people. Most notably, Davis was active in the movement to release the Soledad Brothers, one of whom was George Jackson. In 1969, she was dismissed from her position as a lecturer at the University of California for her ‘radical’ views. She became friendly with George Jackson’s younger brother, who made a failed attempt to secure the release of the Soledad Brothers. Angela Davis became a household name when it was discovered that the guns used in the attempt had been registered in Davis’s name.

She became the nations most wanted woman and a nation-wide hunt for her was launched. She was found two months later and charged with conspiracy, murder, and kidnapping. In 1972, after a four-month trial, Davis was acquitted of all charges. Since then, Davis has travelled all over the world to speak. Her 1981 book, Women, Race & Class, is regarded as one of the most important books examining the triple oppression facing black women.

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano is also known as Gustavus Vassa. When he was about ten, he was taken from the Benin coast as a slave to Barbados. Equiano became a servant to a ship’s captain, Captain Pascal, in Virginia. He accompanied Pascal on naval service to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, North America, and England. While staying with a family in London, he learned to read and was baptised.

Afraid that Equiano was going to assert his freedom, Pascal shipped him to America to be resold. After buying his freedom in 1766 and returning to England, Equiano became a merchant. He was determined to combat slavery, travelling across the United Kingdom to speak against slavery. In 1789 wrote his life story, which was used in his anti-slavery campaign. Unfortunately, Equiano died in 1801, before abolition had been achieved.

Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon was born in the French colony of Martinique in 1925. When he was 17, the Nazis occupied Martinique and Fanon escaped to join the allied forces fighting in North Africa and Europe. In the French Army, Fanon was alarmed by the racism he experienced form the very people he was fighting to protect.

After the war, Fanon moved to Algeria where he became involved in the struggle of the Algerian people to drive the French out. Fanon joined the guerrilla fighters and became one of the main thinkers behind the struggle. His books about the fighting include The Wretched of the Earth, which presented the importance of the colonised to free themselves from psychological, cultural, social, and economic chains. Shortly before he died of cancer in 1961, Fanon wrote, “We are nothing on earth if we are not in the first place the slaves of the cause, the cause of the people, the cause of liberty and justice.”

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Mosiah Garvey is a key figure in the development of anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles. Garvey grew up among working-class people in rural Jamaica. His political awareness developed as he read the writings of Pan-Africans and became involved in struggles for better working conditions in Jamaica and Latin America. He arrived in London in 1912, where he set up Britain’s first black newspaper, the African Times & Orient Review.”

When Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1914, he set up the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.). The aims of U.N.I.A. embodied the spirit of self-help and Black Nationalism that was sweeping across the Caribbean and the Americas at the time. U.N.I.A. opposed the idea of Africa as a “Dark Continent”. It emphasised the unity of all people of African descent and inspired working people to work for their liberation. It provided welfare benefits for its membership, organised supplementary school, and supplemented business enterprises. In 1920, U.N.I.A.’s Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World condemned discrimination of blacks across the world and supported the idea of an independent black nation in Africa. Such activities resulted in harassment from the U.S. government, who suspected U.N.I.A. to be a communist organisation. Eventually, Garvey was arrested and deported to Jamaica in 1927. He died in 1949 and his body was later buried in Kingston with full state honours and Garvey was recognised as a Jamaican national hero.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s name is synonymous with India’s struggle for independence from British rule. He captured the imagination of millions of people in his own country and around the world, with his principles of non-co-operation and non-violence. His ideas later inspired the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.A.

Gandhi studied law in London and went to South Africa where he worked as a barrister for the next 21 years. There he witnessed colour prejudice against all nn-white South Africans, although white people were a minority. Gandhi vowed that he would oppose racial prejudice and discrimination.

Gandhi believed that Indians in South Africa should maintain their self-respect and keep high standards if they were to prove they were equal to whites. He began to see that sometimes it was right to break unjust laws and he developed a philosophy of “truth force”, which said that they ends never justified the means and that all action had to be non-violent.

Gandhi soon emerged as a powerful leader of the India’s movement for freedom, earning him the name “Mahatma”, meaning “great soul”. In 1920, Gandhi launched his campaign of civil disobedience. He said that the only way to drive out the British rulers was total non-co-operation with all government institutions. Gandhi was one of thousands of Indians subsequently arrested for crimes against the British government and he was imprisoned for six years.

In 1942, Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement. He said, “(The Indian National) Congress must win freedom or be wiped out in the effort … we shall either free India or die in the attempt.” Although he and all the other Congress leaders were immediately arrested, the movement had been rooted in the hearts of the people and new leaders sprang up. When India won independence in 1947, Gandhi turned his attention to the problem of communalism, which was tearing India apart.

A Hindu nationalist who blamed him for allowing India to be divided murdered Gandhi in 1948. The world was left to mourn the great man who had brought freedom to his people and who had inspired struggles against injustice around the world.

Dr. Ernest Goffe

Ernest Goffe was born in Jamaica in 1867, of parents who had emigrated there from Barbados in 1823. He came to London in 1889 to study medicine at University College Hospital. After earning his degree, Dr. Goffe worked as a GP and at St. Ann’s Hospital, where he treated many wounded soldiers during the First World War.

C. L. R.. James

Born in Trinidad in 1901, C. L. R. James became one the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, making outstanding contributions in areas from history and political theory to literature and cultural studies.

James was a Caribbean nationalist. The Russian Revolution and the Garvey movement were key events during his youth, but had little impact on him at the time.

Trained as a journalist, James went to England in 1932 to help a friend write a book on cricket. He had the time to talk with ordinary working people and to reflect critically upon what he learnt. His experiences encouraged his belief in the ability of working people to control their own lives.

In 1938, James expressed his concerns about the waves of black protest against poverty and injustice that were sweeping the Caribbean in his book, The Black Jacobins. In 1938, James went to America where he wrote and lectured. James had a central role in discussions about political theory, Black Power, Pan-Africanism and Caribbean nationalism. After World War II, James was deported to Europe because of his radical views. He died in 1989, leaving a vast amount of work that is still analysed and debated the world over.

Claudia Jones

Born in Trinidad, Claudia Jones moved with her family to New York when she was nine, where they were extremely poor. Growing up, Jones saw that many government measures directed against blacks also affected poor whites. When she was eighteen, Jones joined the Communist Party. By 1941, she had become the National Director of the Young Communist League. During the McCarthy period in 1950s, the U.S. government hounded, jailed, and deported many communists for ‘un-American activities’ and Jones was imprisoned four times. She called on the United Nations to intervene. “Our fight is the fight of all opponents of fascists barbarism, of all who abhor war and desire peace” she wrote.

Jones was deported to Britain in 1955. In 1958, she founded the West Indian Gazette, a newspaper for the West Indian Community in Britain, which campaigned for an independent and free West Indies, justice for blacks, and world peace.

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Junior was born in 1929 in Georgia, the heart the America’s deep south, which was a very racist and segregated society. After becoming a pastor and influenced by Gandhi, King decided that civil disobedience, non-violent struggle, was the way forward for American Blacks. He became active in the National Association for the advancement of Coloured People (N.A.A.C.A.P.). King soon became president of an N.A.A.C.A.P. campaign against segregation, saying, “We are tired of being segregated and humiliated, tired of being kicked about. If we are wrong, justice is a lie.” The campaign took its case about the laws of Alabama to the Supreme Court, which agreed that segregation of buses was unconstitutional and therefore illegal.

After this victory, King became one of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, which spread across the South. In 1960, students began holding sit-in protests for equal rights and singing “We Shall Overcome”, which became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement.

Despite violence against them, King urged protesters not to hit back, making the protests legal and winning people to their cause. TV pictures carried pictures of black people being beaten by people and of clashes with the Ku Klux Klan across the world.

During a march to Washington in 1963, King delivered his famous speech: “ I have a dream that that four little children will one day be judged, not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character … I have a dream that one day little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls and walk together as brothers and sisters.”

King later preached in London at St. Paul’s Cathedral and was award the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize in Norway. Some of his campaigns were successful, others were not, but by 1965, black people in the U.S. had won the right to vote although the continued to suffer form poverty and police harassment.In 1968, King was assassinated in Tennessee while supporting black workers who were on strike. Fifty thousand people joined his funeral procession.

Bob Marley

Bob Marley was born in Jamaica in 1945. During the late 1950s, he moved to a shantytown in West Kingston. Marley later teamed up with Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh to form the Weeping Wailers. He became increasingly drawn to Rastafarianism and used its language in his lyrics to express the yearnings of Jamaica’s shanty poor.

With the release in “Catch a Fire” in 1973, Marley began to make an impact outside the Caribbean and his message began to infiltrate the Jamaican political scene. His Rastsafarianism and calls for an end to violence found strong echoes with young people in Jamaican ghettos. Marley’s condemnation of violence led to an assassination attempt where he was wounded. He spent much of the late 1970s touring, travelling to Europe and Africa, where his group performed at the Independence Day celebrations of newly liberated Zimbabwe. In April 1978, he played the One Love Peace Concert, which brought together opposing politicians, Prime Minster Michael Manley and opposition leader, Edward Seaga. He died of cancer in 1981 at age 36 and was given a state funeral in Jamaica.

Nelson Mandela

Born in 1919, Nelson Mandela was born in rural Transkei and studied in Johannesburg. There he met Walter Sisulu, a self-educated fighter against apartheid in South Africa. At 26, in 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) and helped to form it’s Youth League. Later becoming the League’s General Secretary, Mandela’s activities were fuelled by his determination to rid the people of a sense of inferiority that had developed during years of oppression.

By 1949, the ANC had adopted a more militant programme of strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience in support in their vision that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.” From then on, the government harassed Mandela, imprisoning him for his politics, outlawing him, and forcing him into exile. Mandela wrote, “I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for.” In 1956, Mandela and 155 others were arrested and charged with treason. Four years later, the investigation was inconclusive and Mandela was released. During this time, his wife, Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela was subject to frequent restrictions and house arrests by the government.

The Sharpville massacre in 1960 was a watershed in South African politics. After a brief exile, Mandela returned to South Africa and was arrested for inciting Africans to go on strike. He used his court appearances, as opportunities to make political speeches that he knew would be conveyed across the world. By the time he and seven other activists were sentenced to life imprisonment, Mandela had popularised his cause throughout the globe.

After 27 years in prison, Mandela was released at 71 years old in 1990. He returned to the political scene. In 1994, his lifelong dream was achieved when South Africa became a country in which blacks and whites had equal rights and Nelson Mandela was elected President of the new regime. "Let there be peace for all,” he said. “The time for healing has come.”

Dr. Harold Moody

Harold Moody came to England from Jamaica in 1908 to become a medical student at King’s College Hospital in London, special in opthalmics (the study of the eyes). Dr. Moody found difficulty in attaining accommodation because he was black. After qualifying as a doctor, Dr. Moody was unable to get a hospital job, so he became a specialist, eventually establishing himself as a family doctor in South London.

After his experience, Dr. Moody was determined to see that black people had equal rights and opportunities. He established the League of Coloured Peoples, a nation-wide movement of black people. His house in South London became a meeting place for blacks in Britain and visitors to the country. Thousands of people attended his funeral when Doctor Moody died in 1947.

Ignatius Sancho

Born on a slave ship in the 18th century, Ignatius Sancho was a slave in Granada until he was two. Although he was brought to England as a servant, his mistress did not educate Sancho. He later wrote, “It was judged that ignorance was the best security for obedience.” Angered when he was taught to read by the Duke of Montagu, Sancho’s mistress threatened to sell him into slavery. As a result, Sancho sought and attained employment from the now Late Duke’s widow in 1749.

In later years, as a grocer in Westminster, with six children, Sancho was not well off. Yet he mixed with great minds like Sterne, the writer, Garrick, the playwright, and Gainsborourgh, the painter. These men inspired Sancho to write poetry and plays. His letters describing poverty and racism were used to support the anti-slavery movement after his death in 1780.

Mary Seacole

Two women involved in the Crimean War became famous on their return to London in 1857. One, Nurse Florence Nightingale, is still well remembered. The other, Nurse Mary Seacole, has almost been forgotten.

Born in 1805 in Jamaica, Seacole helped her mother nurse British soldiers before moving to London. When she heard that troops she had helped in Jamaica had gone to the Crimea, she decided to follow them. Seacole served in the thick of the fighting, helping the wounded and dying after the Battle of Tchernaya, the assault on Redan, and the fall of Sebastopol, as well as nursing soldiers with cholera.

On her return to London, Seacole found herself famous but poor. Many military men came to her aid and a music festival was held for her benefit in London. Although she completed her autobiography in 1857, Seacole died much later in 1881 and was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in London.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was born a slave on a plantation in Maryland in 1920. From an early age, Tubman longed to escape the injustices of slavery. At 29, she finally made her escape via the Underground Railroad.

The Underground Railroad was a secret network that helped slaves escape to the northern states. It was not a real railroad, but they called their safe houses “stations”, the volunteers “conductors” and the escaping slaves “passengers”. Escaping slaves had to travel by night and hide from patrols with guard dogs that hunted slaves for cash rewards. Tubman found her freedom in Philadelphia. She was determined to help others escape the horrors of slavery. Tubman became the Underground Railroad’s most famous conductor, leading over 300 slaves to freedom. Eventually, there was a reward of $40 000 (£16 000) for her capture. When the American Civil War broke out, Tubman set up a black spy network to report on the movements of the Confederate Army in the South. She led raids and brought back hundreds of slaves and was called the “Moses of her People.”

Before Tubman died in 1913, she truthfully said, “On my Underground Railway I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

Malcolm X

Malcolm Little faced racism and prejudice from childhood. His father was lynched when he was small and his teachers discouraged the bright boy form pursuing a profession in law. Malcolm drifted into a life of crime and was eventually imprisoned for robbery when he was 21. While in prison, Malcolm learned about the injustice of the legal system. The police brutalised black people and the courts dealt with them more severely, despite little or no evidence against them.

After his release, Malcolm became a follower of the Nation of Islam (N.O.I.). He later became a chief spokesperson for the N.O.I. and a minister at one of its largest temples. Malcolm taught that black people must control their own destiny, not asking for favours from white society, but demanding their rights. He was the first person to speak of “Black Power”. He said that black people should defend themselves by “any means necessary.” Although he disagreed with Martin Luther King that black people should “turn the other cheek” and “love their enemies”, both men had a similar vision: equality and justice for their people.

He changed his last name to X to symbolise his unknown African name that had been taken away from his people through the history of slavery. Malcolm left the N.O.I. in 1964 because he wanted to work more actively, instead of just preaching. He formed his own black activist organisations, Muslim Mosques Inc. and the Organisation of Afro-American Unity.

On a pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm was surprised to discover Muslims of all races united for their cause. The N.O.I. had taught him that black and white people were destined to be deadly enemies and could never come together.

When he returned to the U.S., lynching and institutional racism was still taking place. Malcolm wanted to take the U.S. government to the United Nations’ and to charge it with violating the human rights of black people. This did not come about. In 1965, Malcolm was assassinated. The assassin was never convicted, but many continue to suspect the N.O.I. had been involved.