A lot of the things we enjoy in our society today had to be fought for by people and women were fundamental in making this happen. Yet, women are not often credited enough for their historic strides in liberating, empowering, inspiring and fighting for our rights – be it on matters that bother on race, women’s rights, human rights, education, children, poverty, health, lgbtq+ and so much more.
For black activists it’s a different matter entirely. Not only have the efforts of some women been overlooked in history but so many black women activists have often been almost eradicated from history. Kids grow up often not knowing the black women who played huge roles in our history today. Some black girls are not even aware that women who look like them went through similar experiences they encounter and did their part in using activism to fight for them in such areas. It’s only in recent times, due to activism, that there has been some education and awareness on the efforts of these pioneering black women.
In UK, there are a lot of black women who fought tirelessly for the rights of black people. These women should not be forgotten. It is important that we educate ourselves in knowing our history correctly and educating our kids, ourselves and each other. Below are some Black British women activists who changed the course of history and who you should know.
While, this list is in no way an exhaustive list of Black British women activists in history, it is a starting point.
A Nigerian-Sierra Leonian who was recognised as the first female lawyer in the whole of west Africa.
She was the founding member of LCP (League of Coloured Peoples) and used her skills, influence and legal practice to fight institutional and systematic racism in UK.
She was also the first African woman called to bar in England and Wales; and the first west African female magistrate.
DAME JOCELYN BARROW
She is the founding member of CARD (Campaign Against Racial Discrimination).
One of the objectives of CARD was the outlawing of color bar. The race relations act 1965/1968 were significant statues created as a result of the work of CARD and its associates.
She was also the first black person to serve as a governor of the BBC.
Founded and organised campaign against ‘sus law’ to repeal the law which empowered police officers to arrest, stop and search suspected criminals targeting black and brown people who were harassed and assaulted by the officers due to this law.
Founded the brixton black women’s group and fought tirelessly for the rights of black people in UK until her death at the age of 27 due to cancer.
Before Florence Nightingale, there was Mary Seacole. She was the first black woman to make her mark on British public life.
She funded going to the war by herself despite being rejected by the British War Office to be sent as an army nurse. She risked her life to help, treat and comfort wounded and dying soldiers during the crimean war.
In 2016, a statue of her was created outside St Thomas hospital London. Her statue is believed to be UK’s first in honour of a named black woman.
She is a six time olympian in the javelin.
The first black British woman to win an olympic gold medal.
The first and only brit to win at an Olympic throwing event in LA 1984.
She was a jazz singer who earned the tile of th highest paid female entertainer in Britain in 1941.
She founded Noting hill carnival. She worked endlessly against racial inequality and discrimination and worked with organisations to support and campaign against racist immigration policies, housing, workplace discrimination nd amore.
She founded the West Indian gazette, an anti-racist newspaper. This was the first British commercial black newspaper.
She is recognised as Britain’s youngest and first female publisher.
She is and has been an advocate for literary activism and diversity in art.
She consistently ensured that the memoriam of Mary Seacole was not overlooked in history. She founded the Mary Seacole memorial association. She also advocated for the significant role of women in war.
She was a social, environment and political activist. She is the first African woman win a Nobel peace prize.
DAME LINDA DOBBS
She was the first black female high court judge in England and Wales.
A 23 year old black British wan fighting and working and to ensure that black British history is taught in and out of schools.
The first black singer to be played on BBC radio.
DR SHIRLEY THOMPSON
The first woman in Europe to compose and conduct a symphony in the last 40 years.
The first black woman to write and publish an autobiography in Britain in 1831.
She was also the first woman to present an anti-slavery letter to the parliament having worked with the anti-slavery society.
This article has been updated and was originally published on 24th September 2021.