Let Us Dive Into Black British History: Who Was Harold Moody…?
By Chrystalle Brade
22 October 2020
Not having been born and raised in the United Kingdom, I was not sure who the Black British icons were. Growing up I did hear a lot about influential Black American figures such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X and so many more (which I’m sure a lot of you know about as well), but I was never taught about Black British icons and/or history.
This was particularly strange as I grew up in the Caribbean, more precisely on a British Territory Island. It was even stranger having to find out that my son being born here would not learn more about Black British history and icons in school. I was saddened that year after year this wasn’t the case. So, we both embarked on trying to learn more together and came upon Harold Moody….
Interestingly enough, Harold Moody was not born in the United Kingdom. He was born in Jamaica on the 8th October 1882 but arrived in the UK on the 1st September 1904. He came here to study medicine and pursue a career in the medical field after having gained some experience working in his father’s pharmaceutical business. At the age of 28, he graduated from King’s College London in 1910, facing the reality of what it was like to live as a Black man in an Edwardian London. He faced difficulty finding accommodation, was denied hospital appointments and was rejected for the post of medical officer due to the colour of his skin - despite graduating at the top of his class, winning numerous academic prizes and qualifying as a top doctor.
Against all odds, Harold Moody persevered and opened his own private medical practice at his home in Peckham in 1913, treating poor children for free and opening his home to Black travellers who were denied accommodation. After WWI, he quickly noticed that racial tensions were rising even more due to unemployment. He was elected as chair of the Colonial Missionary Society’s board of directors and became president of the London Christian Endeavour Federation, acquiring contacts to help Black people who were finding it difficult to find work or even find a home because they were being discriminated against. It was during this time he founded the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP) on 13th March 1931.
The LCP was always labelled as the UK’s first civil rights group. As its president, he worked tirelessly and dedicated his life advocating to improve race relations and disband the colour bar system. He was eventually appointed to the government advisory committee on the welfare of non-Europeans in 1943 and demanded ‘the same economic, educational, legal and political rights be enjoyed by all persons, male and female whatever their colour. All discrimination in employment, in places of public entertainment and refreshment, or in other public places, shall be illegal and shall be punished'.
Dr Harold Moody died on the 24th April 1947, ten days after he returned from a five-month visit to the West Indies and America, where he had contracted influenza. The LCP dissolved four years after his death, but his work during his lifetime was key to the passing of the Race Relations Act in 1965, which created the offence of ‘incitement of racial hatred’.
He has been hailed as Britain’s Martin Luther King Jr. This year, on 1st September 2020, he was celebrated by Google with a doodle published to mark the 116th anniversary of his arrival to the UK.
Harold Moody is one of many Black British icons that are a part of Britain’s history but do not get spoken about in schools or in the news often. My son and I wanted to share this blog on Harold Moody and we hope to see more Black British icons such as Mary Seacole and Henry Sylvester-Williams being discussed in schools and mainstream media.
Throughout the month of October, as part of our practice-wide Black History Month activities and celebrations, we're publishing a series of blog posts written by Black members of our practice. You can read all of our BHM2020 blog posts here.