Black British women have played a significant role in shaping the history of the United Kingdom through activism. Their tireless efforts and unwavering commitment to social justice and equality have paved the way for future generations. This article pays homage to some of the most influential and pioneering Black British women activists who have left an indelible mark on society.
Dame Jocelyn Barrow – A trailblazer in education and equal rights
Dame Jocelyn Barrow is a name that resonates with excellence and leadership. She was the first Black woman to be appointed governor of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). She was also the founder and Deputy Chair of the Broadcasting Standards Council.
She has been a trailblazer in the fields of education and equal rights. Dame Barrow’s journey began in the 1960s when she became actively involved in the fight against racial discrimination. She co-founded the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination and played a pivotal role in the passing of the Race Relations Act in 1968.
In addition to her advocacy work, Dame Barrow made significant contributions to education.
Altheia Jones-Lecointe – A leading figure in the British Black Panther Movement
Dr Altheia Jones-Lecointe is a name synonymous with resilience and activism, as a leading figure in the British Black Panther Movement. During the 1960s, Jones-LeCointe played a key role in prioritising defending black women and girls. To accomplish this, structures were built into the organisation to ensure that men suspected of abusing or exploiting women were interrogated and punished.
She fought tirelessly for the rights of Black people in the UK. Dr Jones-Lecointe was instrumental in organising protests and campaigns against systemic racism and police brutality.
Mavis Best – A pioneering force in politics and community development
Mavis Best is a name that deserves recognition for her groundbreaking work in politics and community development.
Mavis Best was crucial in the ‘Scrap Sus’ Campaign in the 1970s in London. The campaign aimed to challenge and abolish the racist ‘Sus’ law, which allowed police to harass young Black individuals. Best spearheaded the campaign and lobbied the government consistently for three years until the law was finally scrapped. She acknowledged the collective effort of the Black community in achieving this milestone. Mavis Best’s determination and perseverance made her an influential figure in the fight against racial discrimination and injustice.
Alice Kinloch – A champion for women’s rights in the early 20th century
Alice Kinloch was a South African human rights activist, public speaker, and writer who played a significant role in advocating for the rights of the Black community.
She was an influential figure in British politics. She co-founded the African Association in London in 1897, which aimed to promote the interests of Africans and challenge the prevailing racist attitudes of the time.
She was also known for bringing attention to the maltreatment and oppression of African miners. Alice Kinloch’s contributions to British politics and advocacy for the rights of marginalised communities make her a prominent figure in history.
Amy Ashwood Garvey – Shaping the Pan-African movement in Britain
Amy Ashwood Garvey was a prominent figure in the Pan-African movement in Britain. As the first wife of Marcus Garvey, she played a crucial role in shaping the movement’s ideology and organising efforts. Amy Ashwood Garvey was a fervent advocate for the rights of Black people, both in the UK and globally.
Her activism extended beyond the realm of politics. Ashwood Garvey was a talented journalist and writer who used her words to inspire and educate others. She co-founded the first Black-owned newspaper in Britain, The West Indian Gazette, with her friend Claudia Jones. The newspaper became a platform for Black voices and a catalyst for change.
Claudia Jones – The mother of Caribbean Carnival in Britain
Claudia Jones is a name that is synonymous with celebration and resistance. As the founder of the first version of Notting Hill Carnival, she created spaces for Black British communities to come together, celebrate their culture, and challenge societal norms. Claudia Jones was a tireless advocate for racial and gender equality, using her platform to amplify the voices of marginalised communities.
Jones campaigned against racism in housing, education and employment and against the Commonwealth Immigration Act.
She was passionate about journalism and co-founded the West Indian Gazette with her friend Amy Ashwood Garvey. The newspaper was written by and for Black Caribbean people.
Jones played a crucial role in the fight for racial equality in the UK, as well as helping to bring Caribbean culture to prominence.
Stella Thomas – Celebrating many firsts
Stella Thomas was born in Nigeria in 1906. She studied law at Oxford University and was active with the West African Students Union. In 1931, Stella was one of the founding members of the League of Coloured Peoples (LPC). LPC is most commonly associated with Dr Harold Moody, but women like Stella played a crucial role in its founding. Stella became the first Black African woman to be called to the British bar in 1933. A year later, she was the only African woman to participate in a discussion at the Royal Society of Arts, where she criticised African colonialism.
In 1935, he moved to Lagos and set up a law practice. In 1943, she became West Africa’s first woman magistrate.
Gerlin Bean – An advocate for the rights of Afro-Caribbean Women in the UK
Gerlin Bean is a name that deserves recognition for her advocacy work on behalf of Afro-Caribbean women in the UK. As the founder of several organisations aimed at empowering Black women, Bean has been a driving force in addressing the unique challenges faced by this community.
Gerlin Bean was deeply involved in organising and mobilising Black women to effect change. Alongside other influential activists, she co-founded the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) in 1978. OWAAD provided a vital space for Black and Asian women to come together, discuss their shared experiences, and strategise for collective action. The organisation played a crucial role in galvanising Black women across the country and empowering them to challenge systemic inequalities.
Gerlin Bean also founded the Brixton Black Women’s Group. This groundbreaking organisation provided a platform for Black women to unite, share their stories, and collectively advocate for their rights and well-being.
The enduring legacy of Black British women activists
The contributions of Black British women activists have been instrumental in shaping the social and political landscape of the United Kingdom. These women have fought tirelessly for justice, equality, and inclusion, from trailblazers like Dame Jocelyn Barrow to community leaders like Mavis Best. Their enduring legacy inspires future activists to challenge the status quo and strive for a more equitable society.
As we celebrate the achievements of these pioneering Black British women activists, it is crucial to recognise that the fight for equality is far from over. Their struggles and progress serve as a reminder that there is still work to be done. It is incumbent upon all of us to continue their legacy, amplifying the voices of marginalised communities and working towards a future where equality is not just a dream but a reality.
Join us in celebrating and supporting the work of Black British women activists. Educate yourself on their contributions, amplify their stories, and actively engage in the fight for equality and justice.