‘A people needs a voice’

When I was a teenager and I decided I wanted to be a journalist my role models were Kate Adie, Martin Bell and John Simpson – this was primarily because I was interested in being a television war correspondent and also because I admired their courage, their story telling techniques and their ability to find the stories that would otherwise never see the light of day.

Obviously I realise now that most of the journalists I admired were white, which is fine, but there were two leading high-profile Caribbean journalists on TV at the time – Trevor McDonald who was born in Trinidad and Moira Stuart who had a Dominican mother and Barbadian father and was the first African-Caribbean female newsreader on British TV.

I think I must have taken the presence of Trevor McDonald and Moira Stuart for granted and I certainly never thought much about the challenges they might have faced to get to where they were or anyone who may have gone before them.

However if I’d considered it more carefully and known more about some of the obstacles facing black people trying to forge a career in the British media, I think my role models would have definitely included one particular person – Claudia Jones.


Claudia Jones was a ground breaking civil rights activist, feminist, political campaigner and journalist.

She was born in Trinidad in 1915 and moved to America when she was eight years old. After a harsh, poor upbringing Claudia became politically active and joined the communist party. In 1955 she was deported from the US for her communist beliefs during the controversial McCarthy hearings and after serving time in prison she was given asylum in England.

Claudia came to the UK when race relations between the West Indian community and white English people were at boiling point.

People from the Caribbean had been coming over in large numbers since the Windrush arrivals in 1948 and primarily at the invitation of the NHS and London Transport, but their presence was resented by some of the white population and they began to target black people on the street with verbal and physical abuse.

Race discrimination was the norm and signs saying ‘No Irish, Blacks or dogs’ were commonplace in the windows of shops and rented accommodation.

Claudia immediately recognised a need to inform and unite the black community in Britain and she realised the best way to do that was through a medium that would highlight the issues affecting them and provide a way for them to communicate with each other. So in 1958 she founded and edited the West Indian Gazette which was Britain’s first black newspaper.


The West Indian Gazette, which was published weekly, covered race issues which were prevalent at the time, provided news from the Caribbean and encouraged input from young, black writers who were not able to breakthrough into mainstream media because of racism.

The paper became an important tool to inform and educate the Afro-Caribbean community and it encouraged them to galvanise and unite against racism which was threatening to rob them of their right to seek a better life in the UK.

A few months after launching the paper Claudia also conceptualised and organised, along with others, the first Notting Hill Carnival which was held in St Pancras Town Hall in January 1959.

The event was developed in response to violent race riots in Notting Hill in 1958 and again the aim was to bring together the Afro-Caribbean community and enable them to celebrate their culture and positive aspects of West Indian life.

Claudia died on Christmas Eve in 1964 at the age of 49. The West Indian Gazette, which had always struggled financially, only produced four more editions after her death but its legacy, and the legacy of Claudia Jones, can certainly be seen in the British media today.

Soon after Claudia’s death, the actress, activist, and writer Ruby Dee wrote in the West Indian Gazette that she “made of her life a fury against poverty, bigotry, ignorance, prejudice, war, oppression — for all our sakes.”

I certainly believe that I have benefited from Claudia’s determination and drive to contribute to the UK – she made sure black people in Britain were represented in the media, given a chance to hold the mic and make their voices heard.

References / further reading:






A Barbadian on the buses

In the 1950s and 1960s London Transport, just like the NHS, began a major recruitment drive in the Caribbean to deal with a chronic shortage of staff after World War Two.

Barbadian Joe Straughn was one of many recruited to work on London’s buses and he came to the UK in 1965 and stayed for 23 years.

Joe spoke to Black Union Jack about his contribution to the UK after working for London Transport for 10 years including three years as a bus conductor.

Further reading:


A revolutionary politician

“Some black people regard me as an Uncle Tom, while some whites regard me as a Black Power revolutionary. So I imagine I got it about right.” – Lord David Pitt

If someone asked you who was Britain’s longest-serving black Caribbean parliamentarian I suppose you wouldn’t have a clue.

I didn’t either until I started this blog and researched it and that is why I think it is so important for people to know their history and to learn about influential figures from the past who faced trials and challenges but never let that stop them from making a contribution.

The answer, by the way, is Lord David Pitt.


Lord Pitt was probably not much different from any other person of Caribbean birth who moved to the UK in the early 20th century, hoping for a better life, but he was obviously filled with a passion to use his talents to help others and that is what he did in the spheres of medicine and politics.

Lord Pitt was born in Grenada in 1913 and he came to Britain at the age of 20 after winning a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. As a student he worked hard but he also actively took part in political debates and societies and in 1936 he joined the Labour movement mainly driven by a desire to help the poor working class.

When he finished studying Lord Pitt went to Trinidad and Tobago, started his own medical practice and got married. But he also continued his interest in politics and in 1941 was elected to the San Fernando Borough Council. Two years later he became a founding member and leader of the influential West Indian National Party.


In 1947 Lord Pitt returned to England and set up a practice in Euston, London. In the 1950s he was involved in local politics and in 1957, after he gave a speech at the Labour Party conference, he was asked to stand as the party’s candidate in the 1959 General Election for the north London constituency of Hampstead.

As one of the first black political candidates in the UK, Lord Pitt received death threats and abuse and the campaign became more about his colour than real issues, so it was no surprise when he lost the vote to the white Conservative candidate.

But he did not let defeat deter him and he continued to play an active role in politics, and in 1961 he was elected to the London County Council (which later became the Greater London Council or GLC) as member for Hackney. He was deputy chair of the GLC from 1969 to 1970 and in 1974 he was the first black person to chair the GLC.

Despite all that he had been through Lord Pitt decided to run for parliament one more time in 1970 as the Labour candidate for the ‘safe’ seat of Clapham. The outcome was inevitable at a time when Enoch Powell was stirring up racial hatred and discrimination and Lord Pitt lost the seat to the Conservatives.

In February 1975 Lord Pitt’s long-standing and immense contribution to politics in Britain was recognised by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson who gave him a life peerage in the Lords and he was created Baron Pitt of Hampstead in Greater London and of Hampstead in Grenada. As a peer he continued to play a significant role in politics especially in shaping the 1976 Race Relations Act and in condemning apartheid in South Africa.

City of London Corp

City of London Corp

In 1985 Lord Pitt was made president of the British Medical Association, which he described as his most valued honour, and this underlines the high esteem he must have been held in by his peers in the medical profession. He died in 1994.

Lord Pitt’s political career could have been very different if people had been prepared to look beyond his skin colour but what his achievements over the course of a lifetime ultimately highlight is how important it is not to let other people tell you what you can and can’t do.

I have learnt so much from reading about Lord Pitt’s remarkable life but most of all his response to setbacks and knock downs demonstrates to me how important it is to keep moving forward and to use your God-given talents to try to make the world a better place – if not for yourself then for people like you who will come afterwards.

References / further reading:





Politics and race in the UK

A General Election is just around the corner and as poll after poll seems to suggest that this result could be one of the tightest ever, people from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) communities are set to play a huge part in who takes power in May 2015.

The major parties are jumping on the diversity bandwagon so it’s hard to cast your mind back to May 1987 when the face of British politics was changed forever and four Black MPs were elected to the House of Commons for the first time.

Two of those MPs had Caribbean origins – Bernie Grant was born in Georgetown,Guyana and Diane Abbott was the daughter of Jamaican immigrants.

Grant was the Member of Parliament for Tottenham from 1987 to his death in 2000 and Abbott, who was also the first Black woman MP, has represented Hackney North and Stoke Newington for 28 years.

But before these trailblazers took their seats in the UK parliament they were preceded into senior public office by two lesser known Caribbean pioneers, Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns and John Archer.


Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns

Dr Minns was born in Inagua in the Bahamas in 1858 and was educated at Nassau Grammar School before moving to the UK to train as a doctor at Guy’s Hospital, London. The records show that Dr Minns’ paternal grandfather John emigrated from England to the Bahamas in 1801 and married a former African slave called Rosette.

Dr Minns moved to Thetford in Norfolk after his medical training and worked as the medical officer at Thetford workhouse and the Cottage Hospital before seeking election to the town council.

In 1903 he became the first person of Caribbean descent to reach public office in the UK when he was elected as a councillor. A year later he became Britain’s first Black Mayor and kept that position for two years.

He moved to Dorking in 1923 and died in 1930.


John Archer

Born in Liverpool in 1863, John Archer was the son of a Barbadian ship’s steward and an Irish woman.

After moving to Battersea with his Black Canadian wife Margaret in the early 1890s, Archer tried his hand at many different careers including professional singer and medical student before opening a small photographic studio.

Archer regularly took part in open air public meetings and debates and around 1900 he joined the Battersea Labour League.

In 1906 Archer was elected as a councillor on Battersea Borough Council. He lost his seat in 1909 but was elected again in 1912 and was promoted to leader of the council or Mayor of Battersea in 1913 – he served in that position for a year before the outbreak of WWI.

John Archer died in July 1932 in St James Hospital, Balham, after a brief illness.

Archer’s biographer Sean Creighton had this to say about his achievements:

“He is a key figure in the story of the Black contribution in Britain in the early part of the twentieth century; not only was he active in black politics, arguing for social justice and more rights within the African and West Indian colonies, but he represented Battersea’s white working class on the Council and the Board of Guardians, and he championed the rights of the poor, the unemployed and First World War ex-servicemen.”

References / further reading:





Stepping stones and milestones

Since November 29th 1978 through to the match against Scotland on November 18th 2014, 76 black players of either African or Caribbean descent have pulled on a white shirt and played for England’s international football side.

Below is a timeline of some of the major football highlights achieved in the UK by players who were either born in the Caribbean or are of Caribbean descent between 1881 and 2013.

1881 – Andrew Watson (born in British Guiana / Guyanese mother) won three international caps for Scotland


1909Walter Tull (Barbadian father) signed professionally for Tottenham Hotspur for a signing fee of £10 (pictured above)


1921 – Jack Leslie (Jamaican father) was the only professional black player in England during his time with Plymouth Argyle (pictured above)

1937 – Alfred Charles (born in Trinidad) was the first black player to sign for Southampton but only made one appearance

1948 – Lloyd Lindbergh “Lindy” Delapenha (born in Jamaica) joined Portsmouth


1951 – Giles Heron (born in Jamaica) became the first Afro-Caribbean player to play first team football for Celtic (pictured above)

1960 – Tony Collins (black father – origin unknown but likely Barbadian) was the first black manager in the English Football League, taking charge at Rochdale A.F.C. from June 1960 until September 1967

1968 – Clyde Best (born in Bermuda) one of the first black players in First Division football and was awarded a MBE in 2006 for services to football and Bermuda


1971 – Brendon Batson (born in Grenada) was the first black player to play for Arsenal’s first team and was awarded a MBE in 2000 and OBE in 2015 for services to football (pictured above)

1977 – Laurie Cunnigham (Jamaican parents) became one of the first black Caribbean players to play for England at any level when he turned out for the U21s v Scotland


Nov 29th 1978 – Viv Anderson (Jamaican parents) became the first Black footballer to play as a full international for England and was awarded a MBE in 1999 for services to football (pictured above)


1981 – Justin Fashanu (Guyanese mother) was the first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee with his move from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest (pictured above)


May 1981 – Garth Crooks (Jamaican parents) became the first Black Caribbean player to score in an FA Cup final (pictured above)

1982 – Luther Blissett (born in Jamaica) was the first black player ever to score a hat-trick for England

1988 – Garth Crooks (Jamaican parents) became the first black chairman of the Professonal Footballers’ Association (picture see above)

1990 – 2010 Dwight York (born in Tobago) jointly holds the record number of participations in different World Cup competitions, including qualifying stages – six in total

1991 – Aslie Pitter (Jamaican parents) founded Britain’s first and most successful gay football club Stonewall FC (in 2010 he was appointed a MBE for his work against homophobia


June 1993 – Paul Ince (Barbadian parents) became England’s first black captain (pictured above)

1997 – Uriah Rennie (Jamaican parents) became the first Black referee in the Premier League


May 1998 – Sol Campbell (Jamaican parents) captained England at international level (pictured above)

1998 – Robbie Earle (Jamaican parents) scored Jamaica’s first ever World Cup finals goal in a 3–1 defeat by Croatia


1998 – John Barnes (born in Jamaica / Trinidadian father / Jamaican mother) was awarded a MBE and in 2006 he was voted by Liverpool fans at number five in their poll of 100 players who shook the Kop (pictured above)


2000 – Ian Wright (Jamaican parents) who was one of England’s most capped players was awarded a MBE for services to football (pictured above)

2006 – Shaka Hislop (Trinidadian parents) took part in Trinidad’s first ever World Cup finals appearance in 2006

Mar 2008 – Rio Ferdinand (St Lucian father) captained England at international level

June 2008 – Paul Ince (Barbadian parents) became the first black British manager in England’s Premier League

May 2013 – Ashley Cole (Barbadian father) captained England for one night only to mark his 100th England appearance


2013 – Paul Elliott (Jamaican parents) became the first Black footballer to be awarded a CBE. The honour was for services to equality and diversity in football (pictured above)

An officer and a gentleman

Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in Kent in 1888 – his father was Barbadian and his mother was English. He became an orphan at the age of eight and was brought up at a national Methodist children’s home in Bethnal Green.

Tull became the second mixed race person to play in the top flight Football League when he joined Tottenham Hotspur in 1909. In 1911 he joined Northampton Town where he made over 100 appearances before WWI cut short his promising career.

Tull died on the battlefield in France after a military career that was as distinguished as his time as a footballer. His life is a unique, educational and moving story that is an inspiration to every person of Caribbean descent.


References / further reading:





A 19th century black footballer

When it comes to the contribution of black Caribbean people to Britain I think most people would agree that sport seems to be where we have been most successful in making our mark, and this is especially evident in terms of the national game – football.

If you asked any fan who follows English football to name three inspirational players with Caribbean roots, past or present, I don’t think they would find it too difficult.

It certainly doesn’t take too much research to find footballers of Caribbean origin playing now at the very highest levels of the game which is why I think we take it for granted that this was always the case. But the fact is there had to be someone who was first, and that person undoubtedly suffered some discrimination and prejudice to get the chance, and then finally the recognition, they deserved.

I was amazed to find that the first black Caribbean footballer who is believed to have played professionally in the UK actually started his career in Scotland and his name was Andrew Watson.

Copyright: Scottish Football museum

Copyright: Scottish Football museum

Watson actually had a Scottish father, Peter Miller Watson, and a black mother, Hannah or Anna Rose, who was from Guyana (or British Guiana as it was known before 1966) which is where Watson was born in May 1856.

According to research Watson left Guyana with his wealthy father when he was quite young and moved to Britain where he was schooled at Kings College in London. He is said to have excelled at his studies, but nothing matched his skills on the football pitch, and he soon made a name for himself as a strong, dependable full back.

When his father died in 1869 Watson was left a small fortune and moved to Scotland sometime around 1875 where he joined his first amateur football club Maxwell FC. In 1876 he played for Parkgrove FC where he also became the club’s administrator organising their fixtures among other duties.

Copyright: Scottish Sporting History

Copyright: Scottish Sporting History

In about 1880 he joined what was the biggest club in Britain at the time, Queens Park FC, and also became the club secretary.

A year later he gained his first International cap for Scotland and played on winning teams against England and Wales. He moved back to England to find work, which made him ineligible to be picked for Scotland, and became the first black player to play in the English Cup when he turned out for a side called Swifts. He would later play for another English team called Corinthians and also return to Queen’s Park for a brief period.

In 1887 Watson played for Bootle, who were based in Liverpool, and as they were known to pay their players wages and a signing fee it is believed that this is when he became the first black professional football player although unfortunately there are no records to prove it.

Watson was married twice and had four children and despite the belief that he died after moving to Sydney in Australia, he is actually buried in Richmond cemetery in Surrey.

There is no doubt that Watson would’ve suffered racism during his life and career but it is testament to his spirit and skill that he has a place in the history books. His story shows how far people of Caribbean ancestry have come in Britain, especially in the world of sport, and how much they have had to endure to earn a place on the field.

References / further reading:





Lover’s Rock

I think the Lover’s Rock phenomenon deserves its own page because it really was a defining moment when black Caribbean culture in Britain gave birth to a musical genre of its own.

Lover’s Rock initially grew out of reggae music and by the 1970s it had developed a distinctive British and London twist that set it apart from anything else around at that time.

Set against a background of racial tension and turmoil the genre was designed to give the people who were listening, especially black inner city youth, a chance to breathe and escape.

It was a romantic, soft, soulful, calming brand of music that particularly appealed to women and demonstrated the unique creativity of the black British community while opening the eyes of the world to a new crop of singers, songwriters, and producers, who all had Caribbean ancestry.

Lover’s Rock defined a generation with songs that sold thousands and many also did well in the mainstream or reggae charts including a song in 1975 by teenager Louisa Mark with her version of ‘Caught You in a Lie’ and Janet Kay with ‘Silly Games’, which reached number two in the UK Singles Chart in 1979.

The Lover’s Rock label itself was created in south east London by Dennis Harris, John Kpiaye and Dennis Bovell and these pioneer producers along with others began to put black British music on the map.

The genre catapulted and moulded the careers of several leading UK bands and solo artists who are still producing music today such as Aswad, UB40 and Maxi Priest. It also influenced white British acts at the time including The Clash who produced a song called ‘Lover’s Rock’ on their seminal album London Calling and the Police who had several reggae based tunes.

By the 1990s Lover’s Rock had lost some of its strength but it is still popular today among some young artists especially in Japan (for some unknown reason) and it is impossible to talk about the Caribbean influence on British music without mentioning it.

In 2011, when I was living in Barbados, I went to see a documentary called ‘The Story of Lovers Rock’ by director Menalik Shabazz who was born on the island. The film documented and encapsulated just how significant, important and necessary this British music genre became and why it is known as the black soundtrack for its era.

My infographic on the evolution of Lover’s Rock is below –

The evolution of Lover's Rock (1)

References / further reading:




London is the place for me

I suppose you could argue that Black Caribbean people really began to influence music in the UK when they started arriving in large numbers on the famous Windrush voyage in 1948. Before this historic event I can’t find much information on British artists incorporating music which originated in the Caribbean into their work.

When the Windrush arrived a Trinidadian calypsonian was on board called Lord Kitchener and he was reportedly filmed singing ‘London is the place for me’ when he got off the ship (it was finally released as a single in 2003 – three years after he died!). Lord Kitchener’s singing was probably the first time many people in England had even heard calypso music.

After the arrival of thousands of Caribbean people during the 1950s the sound of the islands permeated into the English charts and featured as samples on records.

In 1959 Claudia Jones and others conceptualised and organised the first Notting Hill Carnival in St Pancras Town Hall, it was televised by the BBC and featured artists who were flown over directly from the Caribbean including calypsonian the ‘Mighty Terror’ and steel pan bands.

By the 1960s reggae artists began to make an impression on the British music scene. Eddy Grant who was born in Guyana in 1948 and grew up in Brixton reached number one in 1968 with the song ‘Baby Come Back’ with the multi-racial group ‘The Equals”.

Shortly afterwards the first Jamaican performers Desmond Dekkar and the Aces also reached number one with the ‘Israelites’.

Caribbean music, produced by artists who had emigrated to the UK, was breaking down barriers as it appealed to both a black and white audience and this was set to culminate with Lover’s Rock in the 1970s.

References / further reading:





A Barbadian teenager in England

Marcia Rollins is from Barbados. She always wanted to be a nurse but opportunities were limited on the island so when the UK needed new recruits she joined thousands of other Caribbean people and left for the ‘mother country’.

Marcia was just 19 when she arrived in England and intended to return to Barbados soon after her training finished. She actually ended up spending 40 years in the NHS making a unique and valuable contribution as a Registered Nurse and gaining a diploma in health care. She retired in 2008 and moved back to Barbados.