October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom - a time to look back and celebrate the huge contributions people of African and African Caribbean heritage have made to our rich and diverse Borough and beyond.
We cannot celebrate Black History Month without acknowledging the contribution of some key individuals and the hundreds of unsung heroes in our communities. The abolitionist Olaudah Equiano (c.1745-1797) lived in Blackheath. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Freeman of the Borough, was one of our more notable residents in Grove Park in the 1970’s. Former Civic Mayor and Freeman of the Borough Mrs Sybil Phoenix OBE, The late former Civic Mayor, Chair of Council and Freeman of the Borough Les Eytle and present Chair of Council Obajimi Adefiranye have contributed much to Civic life in Lewisham. Likewise, the late Asquith Gibbes MBE, the first Principal Race Equality Officer in the Borough who chaired Lewisham Community Police Consultative Group for 18 years. Asquith worked closely with the late Andy Hawkins former Civic Mayor, Council Leader and Freeman of the Borough, to progress good race relations in Lewisham.
The Labour Party has a proud history of promoting representation of our diverse communities in both local government and in Parliament. In 1987 Diane Abbott, the late Bernie Grant, Keith Vaz and Lord Paul Boateng were elected as MPs for the Labour Party, representing an historic leap forward. Lord Boateng later became the first black Cabinet Minister in history when he was appointed as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health in 2001, Labour’s Baroness Amos became the first black woman to be a Cabinet Minister when she was appointed as International Development Secretary, in 2007 she became the first ethnic minority person to lead the House of Lords.
Labour has a proud history locally too. In 1957 the Labour MP for Deptford Sir Leslie Plummer introduced the Racial Discrimination bill to Parliament, the bill aimed to make discrimination on racial ground illegal. Leslie Plummer said in a debate in the House of Common on May 10th 1957 “Surely our responsibility… is to take the necessary steps to see that that injustice ceases, and ceases immediately.” And this belief is still as strong in the Lewisham Labour Party as it was in 1957. More recently, Dame Joan Ruddock, the ex-Deptford MP worked tirelessly with the New Cross Fire parents and families in their quest for justice.
There has been much progress towards equality in recent decades. Cllr Joyce Jacca (pictured above) states however, “There is much more to do. Labour has in the past been at the forefront of pushing for equality and diversity, for representation across all communities, and in tackling discrimination. But there is much more that we can do - to celebrate not just the historic achievements of the Black community - but the current achievements as well as embracing the future ones”.
Lewisham Labour will continue to champion fairness and equalities. If you care about this too, get involved and join us.
Lewisham has a great series of events on for Black History Month including children’s craft days, special film showings, quizzes, book readings and talks.