In every generation, individuals challenge the status quo, stand up against injustice, and pave the way for others to follow. These trailblazers are often the unsung heroes of our society, their stories woven into the tapestry of our shared history.
They serve as beacons of hope, igniting the spark for change and inspiring countless others to continue their fight. In this post, we celebrate ten Black British activists whose indomitable spirit and relentless pursuit for equality have left indelible marks on the fabric of British society.
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Bernie Grant, a formidable voice in the House of Commons, tirelessly advocated for racial equality. His voice echoed through the halls of parliament, challenging racial disparities and demanding justice.
In 1989, he established and chaired the Parliamentary Black Caucus, modelled after the Congressional Black Caucus of the United States. The organisation was committed to advancing the opportunities of Britain’s ethnic minority communities.
In 1993, Grant co-founded and chaired the African Reparations Movement to campaign for the movement for reparations for slavery and racism. Grant’s approach to reparations included demands for the return of looted African cultural heritage (such as the Benin Bronzes), and the British government should financially support those who wanted to return to their country of origin.
Grant’s relentless pursuit of equality, his unyielding belief in justice, and his unwavering commitment to racial equity have left an indelible mark on the landscape of British politics and society.
Olive Morris was a political activist and key figure in the fight for black women’s rights in Britain during the 1970s. In her short life, Morris raised awareness of inequalities by travelling, writing, organising protests, and setting up support groups.
A fiery activist, Morris co-founded the Brixton Black Women’s Group and played a significant role in the British Black Panther Movement.
Her relentless spirit became a resounding roar for justice, reverberating through the corridors of oppression and shaking the foundations of inequality.
Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, the visionary behind establishing Black History Month in the UK, is our next trailblazer. As the Special Projects Coordinator for the Ethnic Minorities Unit at the Greater London Council, Addai-Sebo played a crucial role in initiating the UK’s yearly celebration of Black History Month, which began in 1987.
His tireless efforts ensured the rich tapestry of black history and contributions became a celebrated part of Britain’s cultural calendar.
Addai-Sebo’s work serves as a constant reminder of the pivotal role played by Black Britons in shaping the nation’s history.
A fiery civil rights activist, Amy Barbour-James was a cornerstone in the League of Coloured Peoples. Inspired by her father, Barbour-James became active in the civil rights movements and was involved in the African Progress Union. In 1942, she became Secretary for the League of Coloured Peoples.
Her advocacy for a society free from discrimination was unwavering. Barbour-James’ activism was a clarion call for equality, her voice a beacon of resistance against the shackles of discrimination.
Rhammel Afflick is a beacon of community activism. His work has set ablaze a passion for change in Britain’s youth. Starting his advocacy journey at 11, Afflick initially concentrated on the interactions between young black men and the police. Later, he delved deeply into local politics within the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.
Afflick took on advisory roles in various local bodies, including the School Admission Forum and Kingston’s Community and Police Partnership. His political involvement extended when he was elected as a UK Youth Parliament member and became the Kingston Youth Council Chair in 2011, voicing concerns on issues like child poverty and public transport.
Afflick campaigns on LGBT rights, racism, hate crime and inclusivity in the workplace in the UK. His grassroots initiatives have been a catalyst for youth engagement and LGBT rights, igniting the flames of change and inspiring a new generation of activists.
Jean Ambrose, with a heart rooted in her community, tirelessly worked to uplift those around her, embodying the spirit of collective progress. During the 1970s and 1980s, she was active with Race Today, a political journal and collective based in Brixton. She was also affiliated with the Black Unity and Freedom Party.
Following the tragic New Cross house fire in 1981, she actively participated in the efforts of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee.
Ambrose wrote the script for the 2020 documentary Race Today, directed by Wayne G. Saunders. She appeared as herself in the 2021 documentary by George Amponsah titled Black Power: A British Story of Resistance.
Her unwavering dedication to community service was a beacon of hope, illuminating the path for others to follow.
Dr. John Alcindor
Next is Dr. John Alcindor, a man whose medical practice was inextricably linked with his political activism. He is known for his role in the African Progress Union, of which he became president in 1921.
In the late 1890s, Alcindor was affiliated with Henry Sylvester Williams and his African Association. This group orchestrated the First Pan-African Conference in 1900, which Alcindor attended in London, representing the Afro-West Indian Society as a delegate. Alcindor became the second president of the African Progress Union in 1921.
Barbara Beese is an emblem of resistance. As a key figure in the British Black Panther movement, she rallied against injustices, challenging the norms of her time and inspiring many to rise against oppression.
Beese garnered public notice in 1970 as a member of the Mangrove Nine, a group who, on August 9 of that year, marched to the Notting Hill police station in London to demonstrate against police raids on The Mangrove.
This restaurant, managed by Frank Crichlow, served as a gathering spot for the local Black community. The activists were arrested. Beese was one of those arrested and charged on several counts, and she was found not guilty of all charges.
John Archer is a man of many firsts and shattered glass ceilings as the first black mayor in London. Archer entered local politics after attending the Pan-African Conference held in London in 1900, where he met leading members of the African diaspora.
He was voted onto the Battersea Borough Council in November 1906. Although he lost this seat in 1909, he was elected again in 1912, 1919 and finally in 1931, becoming deputy leader of the Labour group.
His political tenure was more than just a term in office; it was a testament to the power of representation, a beacon of hope for many who had long been marginalised.
Stella Dadzie is a well-recognised British educationalist, activist, writer, and historian, primarily known for her notable contributions to the UK’s Black Women’s Movement. She was a founding member of the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent during the 1970s, a pivotal group working towards the rights and recognition of black women in the UK.
Her identity as a black feminist is central to her activism. She has discussed her cultural roots and alignment with the black feminist movement, emphasising the distinct concerns and priorities of black feminists compared to white feminists.
In addition to her direct activism, Dadzie co-authored a significant book titled “The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain” in 1985 alongside Suzanne Scafe and Beverley Bryan. This book, which won the 1985 Martin Luther King Award for Literature, is celebrated for exploring black women’s experiences in Britain.
Through her numerous roles – as an activist, a writer, an educationalist, and a historian – Stella Dadzie has made lasting contributions to the discourse around black feminism and the broader civil rights movement in the UK.
Each of these individuals, in their unique ways, has played a significant role in shaping the course of history. They stood against the tide, challenged the status quo, and fought tirelessly for what they believed in. They are the trailblazers, the torchbearers who lit the way for others to follow.