Influential Black British Figures

Written by Aaron Mahoney Jones, Member of The Young People Advisory Board Research Team


The presence of Black people in Britain mainly hailing from the colonies in Africa and the West Indies changed Britain forever. 


Notable figures like Mary Seacole, a nurse from Jamaica who helped soldiers during the Crimean War, have inspired generations of Black Britons.


Seacole, born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805,  used herbal remedies common in the Caribbean and in parts of Africa to care for wounded soldiers during the war. She became a pioneer of medical sciences as well as equality within the health service. 


The murder of  Kelso Cochrane in 1959  in a racially motivated attack in Notting Hill, West London, highlighted the racial tensions boiling to the surface in the country. When Cochrane’s funeral was held people from all across the country gathered to pay their respects and stand up against racism.


Residents within the area organised various activities to help ease tensions, one of those events became what is now known as “Nottinghill Carnival,’ pioneered by the Trinidanian human rights activist Claudia Jones.


Using a mixture of Trinidadian and Antiguan sounds embellished by the sound system culture of Jamaica, the first outdoor festival in Notting Hill took place in the summer of 1966. 


Carnival is now the second largest festival of its kind in the world just beaten by Brazil, it is also the largest street event in Europe; with people from all around the world gathering to celebrate Caribbean culture in the UK.


Although the UK has been influenced by Afro Caribbean culture within the music industry, health care and various other industries, sport has seen thousands of young black men and women garner a plethora of accolades – from two time Olympic Gold winning athlete Kelly Holmes to Paul Ince the first black English football captain. 


Winston Gordon, 3x Olympian and Commonwealth Games Champion is a personal inspiration of mine.


He was one of the greatest Judoka (Judo fighters) to represent Great Britain. I was able to see first-hand how an elite black athlete was able to train at his optimal level and be the captain of Team GB Judo, as well as balance coaching the juniors within the club.


This played a significant role within the school community; young black boys were able to see an older male that was within their reach perform at the highest level of sport. Children that were taught by him were positively affected and inspired to achieve accolades that would be deemed as out of reach for young black males within Urban areas and coming from lower socio-economic backgrounds.


When delving into the topic of Black figures of influence within the UK, people are often susceptible to discussing events and people that are well known by the public. But we must relish the fact that there are black people who are under the radar but still play a pivotal role in the success and the advancement of our community as a whole.