Exploring Windrush is vital to diversifying history in schools

22 Jun 2021, 14:30

On National Windrush Day, Stephen Bourne reflects on the history curriculum and the importance bringing black British civil rights heroes into the classroom

In June 1948, the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury in Essex. The ship carried over 800 people who had left their homes in the Caribbean, and her arrival marked a historic moment that would change the fabric of Britain forever.

Many teachers in schools across the country will be exploring this important event with their students, not just because its National Windrush Day, but because they have a revived passion to ensure their learners are getting a better understanding of Britain’s diverse history.

Since the Black Lives Matter movement swept through Britain last year, far more attention and focus has been given to remarkable people of Black, Asian and minority ethnicity and their important contributions to our history.

In fact, in a report released this year by Pearson into diversity in schools, two-thirds of teachers said that the Black Lives Matter movement had prompted them to think about the diversity of their curriculum and what they teach. Four in five also believe that more can be done to celebrate diverse cultures, people and experiences in our schools.

We must build on this momentum and look to celebrate the countless other events and people who should also have their contributions recognised in Britain.

We are all well-versed in the details of the American civil-rights movement – for good reason too – but have you heard of the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP), often considered one of Britain’s first civil rights groups, or its heroic founder? Possibly not.

In education as in popular culture, a certain bias remains towards the African-American experience of fighting structural racism. Yet our own is equally important and equally uncomfortable. We can and should turn our attention to it.

Where Dr King has been a staple in British schools, Dr Moody has been largely omitted

As a historian who is passionate about Black History, for example, it has always saddened me that Jamaican-born physician, Dr Harold Moody is missing from so many people’s understanding of British history. In my opinion, he is as important as Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and every young person in this country should have the opportunity to learn about him.

And yet, where Dr King has been a staple in British schools for decades, Dr Moody – our very own civil rights hero – has been largely omitted.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Moody was a popular family doctor in Peckham, well-known for treating those in need free of charge. But he was far more than that too. He was an ambassador for Britain’s Black community and an important figurehead, who founded the LCP and campaigned tirelessly to improve the situation for Black people in Britain and across the world.

Thousands of Black workers and military personnel came to Britain from colonies in West Africa and the Caribbean to support the war effort, and Moody fought to protect them and their rights – from the lifting of the colour bar in the British Armed Forces to fair wages for Trinidadian oil workers and employment rights for Black seamen.

Ultimately, he was a figure of influence who elevated the issue of race relations in Britain, dealing with trade unions, diplomats and even Her Majesty the Queen – gaining respect from black and white alike.

He and the LCP are viewed as being key to the passing of the landmark Race Relations Act in 1965, which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of colour, race, ethnicity or nationality, and created the offence of “incitement to racial hatred”, shaping society today.

Of course, Moody is just one of many BAME figures who deserve their place on the curriculum. But in the fight to champion diversity in education, we can make great progress, one forgotten hero at a time.


Stephen Bourne’s free e-book exploring the life and achievements of Dr Harold Moody can be accessed here


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