Black History Month 2019
As Black History Month comes to a close this week, we would like to highlight some of the amazing Black and Asian health workers that have made a difference in and out of healthcare throughout history.
Mary Seacole 1805- 1881
Born and raised in Jamaica, Mary came to England in 1854 after the start of the Crimean War to join the British War Office to go and help wounded soldiers in Ukraine. She was flatly refused despite her valuable education in Caribbean and African medicine.
Instead, she decided to raise money for herself to travel to Balaclava, Ukraine and set up the British Hotel where she could tend to the injured soldiers. She also visited the battlefield to treat the wounded and became known as ‘Mother Seacole’.
She returned to England after the war penniless and in ill health. The newspapers discovered her story and in 1857 Queen Victoria’s nephew hosted a benefit in her name attracting thousands of people and raised plenty of funds for her. Mary later published her memoir, ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands’. In 2016, a statue of Mary Seacole was built outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London. The statue completion followed a 12-year campaign which raised £500,000 to honour her.
Dr John Alcindor 1873-1924
Dr John Alcindor, born in Trinidad in 1873, came to the UK after winning a medical scholarship to attend Edinburgh University. On graduating in 1899, he went on to work in several London hospitals before establishing his own general practice in Paddington 1907.
Dr Alcindor was a black equal rights activist and did much for the cause during his time in the African Progress Union and was one of those behind the first Pan-African Conference in 1900 in London.
He also carried out research and published articles on cancer, influenza and tuberculosis and worked to prevent syphilis and tuberculosis in Great Britain. His research set the ground work for the correlation between poverty, low quality food and unbalanced diets in poor health.
In 1914, John was rejected in his attempt to join the First World War effort by the Royal Army Medical Corps, despite their desperate need for good doctors. Instead, he joined the British Red Cross as a volunteer and helped wounded soldiers at London railway stations on their return from the front line. He was later awarded a Red Cross medal for his life-saving work.
In 2014, a blue-plaque was placed on the site of his Paddington practice.
Dr Charles Drew 1904-1950
Dr Charles Drew was an African American surgeon whose research and work into blood transfusions and methods for storing blood plasma are still used by the medical world today. It was in 1938 while at Columbia University in New York that he developed a way of persevering blood plasma allowing it to be ‘banked’ for longer.
His work into blood banks helped to save the lives of thousands during the Second World War and he even assisted the British to establish their own blood bank in the ‘Blood for Britain’ programme.
In 1941, Charles spearheaded the American Red Cross’s blood bank programme. He later that same year became the Chief Surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital and also the first African-American examiner for the American Board of Surgery.
Since his death in 1950, numerous schools and health-related facilities, as well as other institutions across America, have been named in honour of Dr Drew.
Dr Harold Moody 1882-1947
Dr Harold Moody came to England from Jamaica in 1904 to study medicine at King’s College. Despite graduating at the top of his class, racial prejudice stopped him from securing a hospital position leading him to set up his own practice at his house in 1913.
Before the time of the NHS, Dr Moody offered a free health service to poor families. In 1922 he moved to 164 Queens Road where he worked and lived and opened it up to ‘travelling black people who couldn’t find a room or a meal elsewhere.
In 1931, Dr Moody set up the League of Coloured Peoples, an organisation that fought trade unions, the Civil Service and Parliament for the improvement of race relations.
Princess Tsehai (1918-1942)
Princess Tsehai was the daughter of Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, born in Addis Ababa. She joined her father in exile in London and trained as a state registered nurse in 1939 at Great Ormond Street for Sick Children. After the restoration of her father in 1941, she returned to Ethiopia to work in Dessie Hospital. Sadly, Princess Tsehai in 1942 died from complications during childbirth, her baby also did not survive. Emperor Haile Selassie founded the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in her memory which was also funded by British admirers that were very moved by her death. The hospital was also created to serve as a nursing school.
Denzil Nurse was born in Barbados and after studying there he left before taking his exams, intending to apply to join the British Air Force. Deemed too young he opted for nursing and in 1963, aged 19, travelled to Britain. He studied nursing at the Stanley Royd Hospital in Yorkshire, specialising in psychiatric nursing, working as a staff nurse for 23 years. In 1986 he moved into community development, working with the Afro-Caribbean community in Huddersfield and developing a range of health and social care projects. Denzil Nurse still helps people in his local community and even ‘adopted’ an African village a few years ago, where he set up community projects.
Dr Franklyn Jacobs
Dr Franklyn Jacobs was born in St Vincent, where he attended primary and secondary school at the University of the West Indies to study medicine. He left university in 1968 and worked as a doctor in Trinidad. In 1974 he travelled to Britain to obtain further training in anaesthetics. In 1977 he went into general practice within the NHS, working in a predominantly Greek community in North London. Since 1982 he has run his own general practice. Dr Jacobs is one of the founders of the African Caribbean Medical Society (together with Lord Pitt and Dr Eddie Simon), which has helped to raise awareness and campaign for greater understanding of health issues within the black community. Franklyn Jacobs said in Many Rivers to Cross: the history of the Caribbean contribution to the NHS when beginning his role as a GP consultant, “It was truly exciting, which I enjoyed immensely. About 18 months after officially joining the practice, I remember looking at myself in the car mirror while driving to work one morning and thinking “My God! I’m really enjoying my work. I was born to be a GP.” I have enjoyed work ever since”.
Find out more about Black History within the NHS: www.leadershipacademy.nhs.uk/blog/personal-story-black-history-within-nhs/
Celebrating equality and diversity at Care UK
Watch Ade Adeniyi, Medical Director and Consultant Urologist at our Emersons Green Treatment Centre, deliver a powerful speech on the importance of equality as part of our 2019 Black History Month celebrations.