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Dr Harold Moody's plaque

The blue plaques honouring Black and Caribbean history in London

In this guest article, Tony Warner, the founder of Black History Walks and author of Black History Walks Volume 1, explores some of the blue plaques unveiled by the Nubian Jak Community Trust, honouring the history of Black and Caribbean people in London.

Blue Plaques are associated with English Heritage but according to their own research only 18 (4%) of their 900 London plaques represent Black and Asian people. The percentage of Black and Asian people currently living in London is 40%. English Heritage was set up in 1983. Their budget is around £180 million.

The Nubian Jak Community Trust, established in 2006, has unveiled 75 blue plaques and two statues honouring African and Caribbean people on a budget numbered in the thousands. They aim to redress the massive under-representation in street furniture.

Set up in 2007, Black History Walks organises walks, talks, films, bus tours and river cruises on London’s Black history. Black History Walks published Black History Walks Volume 1 in 2022, a collection of 15 guided walks throughout London.

Black History Walks also identifies, researches, negotiates and fundraises for plaques in association with and support of Nubian Jak. Here are a few notable plaques:

Dr. Harold Moody: The 'British Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’ - YMCA, Great Russell Street

Dr. Harold Moody was a Jamaican scholar who studied at Kings College London in the 1910s. He came across racism when trying to get accommodation. Even when he graduated with top honours, he was repeatedly refused hospital roles and called racial slurs. As a result, he set up his own surgery and became the first Black doctor in Peckham.

In 1931, long before the 1948 Windrush arrival, he set up the 'League of Coloured Peoples' at the YMCA in Great Russell Street. The group continually challenged racism in housing, health provision, employment and childcare. They successfully overturned the colour bar in the military, which stated that officers had to be of ‘pure European descent’, prior to the start of World War II.

Moody, aside from being a Black British Civil Rights leader, was also a preacher with his own congregation in Camberwell. Martin Luther King Jr. came to prominence in America in 1955 with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He is part of the curriculum in British schools, but Harold Moody is not.

Emma Clarke: The first Black female footballer in Britain - Campsbourne Primary School, Tottenham

Emma Clarke played football for the British Ladies Football Club in Crouch End in 1895. She later toured Scotland with her sister who also played football. The Emma Clarke plaque was unveiled in 2019 and was of huge interest to the football community, women in sport and social historians.

Campsbourne Primary School, which hosts the plaque, now has an annual football tournament named after Emma thanks to the workshops Black History Walks ran for the students.

Emma Clarke's Blue Plaque

Phyliss Wheatley: The first published Black female author - Dorsett City Hotel, Aldgate

In 1773, Phyliss Wheatley published her book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. An African American originally from Senegal, her achievement was remarkable as during the time of slavery, Europeans believed that Black people were incapable of reading and writing. In fact, she had to prove she could write poetry by doing so in front of an audience.

She came to England because she could not get her book published in America. Phyllis is now an icon of women’s literature, American literature and African American literature, and her work is taught in schools and universities across the USA.

Phyliss Wheatley's Blue Plaque

Darcus Howe: Leader of Britain’s biggest civil rights march - Brixton Advice Centre, Brixton

Darcus Howe was one of the main leaders of the Black People’s Day of Action on 2nd March 1981. The march was triggered by the New Cross Fire on 18th January that same year. The fire was widely suspected to be a racially motivated arson attack. Fire-bombings of Black people’s homes and businesses were common in the 1980s. Even in 1997, Michel Menson was burned to death in an Edmonton phone box by a gang of racists.

The New Cross Fire led to the death of 14 young Black people. The police tried to blame the victim and the case still has not been solved to this day. Darcus Howe alongside, John La Rose, Laila Hassan Howe, Sybil Phoenix and other community leaders, organised for 15,000 people to walk from New Cross to central London to protest for equal rights and justice.

Darcus Howe's Blue Plaque

Frank Crichlow: The Mangrove Nine - All Saints Road, Notting Hill

Frank Crichlow was a Trinidadian who owned a restaurant in Notting Hill called the Mangrove. The venue was popular and attracted high-profile celebrities like Diana Ross, Muhammad Ali, Marvin Gaye, Vanessa Redgrave, Bob Marley and Sarah Vaughn.

Crichlow also sponsored the British Black Panthers and was an avid campaigner against racism. Police regularly raided the restaurant to disrupt his activities and business. The Black community decided to protest against this behaviour and arranged a march on 9th August 1970

The march was monitored by Special Branch and nine people were arrested and charged with serious offences. The idea was to end local activism by getting rid of the leaders.

The Mangrove Nine were Frank Crichlow, Darcus Howe, Rhoden Gordan, Althea Jones-Lecointe, Barbara Beese, Godfrey Miller, Rupert Glasgow Boyce, Anthony Carlisle Innis and Rothwell Kentish.

In a trial that generated international publicity, they defended themselves, beat the charges and were able to illustrate police dishonesty and corruption.

In 2011, Kensington Tenant Management Organisation and Black History Walks sponsored a Nubian Jak blue plaque on the site of the restaurant.

Frank Crichlow's Blue Plaque

The next Nubian Jak blue plaque to be unveiled is in honour of Dr. Cecil Belfield Clarke. Dr. Clarke was a Barbadian scholar who attended Cambridge University during World War I and went on to become a major leader of the Black British Civil Rights movement.

He was also the inventor of the ‘Clarke Rule’, a mathematical equation that is used to calculate the proper dosage of medicine for children. The plaque will be unveiled on 12th April at London South Bank University.