Commemorating London´s diverse history: Blue Plaques and Colonial History


Compared to the rest of Britain, London features an above-average percentage of ethnic minorities, which make up almost 20% of the population (4.2% Caribbean, 6.6% Indian, 7.0% African).[1] However, only 4% of London’s approximately 900 Blue Plaques are dedicated to people of Asian or Black descent. The charity English Heritage, which manages the Blue Plaque Scheme, therefore set up a working group to augment Blue Plaques of people of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic heritage in 2016.[2]

Blue plaques are awarded to people whose “achievements should have made an exceptional impact in terms of public recognition or their achievements deserve national recognition” and have been dead for at least 20 years. They must have spent a significant period of their lives in London and the building they lived or worked in should have survived to the present day. [3]

Out of the existing Blue Plaques commemorating influential people of colour several have been dedicated to London based influential politicians and activists that represented minorities during the “London Moment”. This gives testament to the diverse background of London´s political scene during the Second World War.

The Blue Plaque of Jomo Kenyatta at 95 Cambridge Street in Pimlico.

Jomo Kenyatta was the leader of the Kenyan independence movement and, later, the first president of the Republic of Kenya. Living in London from 1929 to 1946, Kenyatta frequently moved homes and changed his addresses. However, his Blue Plaque is mounted where he lived the longest – from 1933 to 1937 – at 95 Cambridge Street in Pimlico. During his time in London, Kenyatta acted as the secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), which was London`s mouthpiece of the indigenous population of Kenya. Embodying this role, Kenyatta openly and vehemently criticized British presence in Kenya. In 1940, the British authorities officially banned the KCA as an anti-colonial trouble spot. However, Kenyatta remained in correspondence with the former leaders of the Association based in East Africa during the Second World War and represented their interests as their delegate to the Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945.[3]

The Blue Plaque of Marcus Garvey at 53 Talgarth Road, Hammersmith.

Marcus Garvey founded the Pan-African group “Universal Negro Improvement Association” (UNIA) in 1914 in his native Jamaica. Garvey expressed pride in his dark skin colour and in his origins. During his time as an activist in the U.S., he called on African-Americans and Caribbeans of African origin to return to Africa as their ancestral continent. The UNIA was especially popular on the East Coast of the USA and in the Caribbean. In its heyday in the early 1920s, it counted more than 100,000 members. After serving a prison sentence for embezzlement, Garvey was deported to Jamaica in 1927 but moved to London in 1935. In Britain, he never rose again to the popularity he previously held as president of the UNIA in the USA, but he was a frequent speaker at Hyde Park Corner in London. His often critical relationship to other black leaders, in particular to the exiled Ethiopian King Haile Selassie, complicated his standing in the community. His Blue Plaque is at 53 Talgarth Road in Hammersmith, where he lived until his death in 1940.[4]

The Blue Plaque of Harold Moody at 164 Queens Road, Peckham.

The Jamaican physician Harold Moody founded and presided over the League of Coloured Peoples from 1933 to 1947. The organisation worked against the discrimination of black people and for “harmony between the races”[5]. In response to Winston Churchill’s proclamation that the right to self-determination, set out in the Atlantic Charter, did not apply to the British colonies, Moody published his own Charter for the Coloured Peoples in 1943. In it, he demanded an end to colour discrimination in the British Empire and self-government for the African territories at the earliest possibility.

Moody´s Blue Plaque is at 164 Queens Road in Peckham, where he lived from 1922 until his death in 1964.[6]

Kwame Nkrumah was a prominent leader of the independence movement in the British colony Gold Coast and, later, served as the first Prime Minister of the subsequently independent country of Ghana. He lived in London from 1945 to 1947, where he co-organised the fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester. During his time in London, he became a spokesperson for several groups that were criticizing the British Empire, such as the West African Students Union or the International African Service Bureau, where he worked closely with Kenyatta.[7]

His Blue Plaque is at 60 Burghley Road in Kentish Town, where he lived from 1945 to 1947.

The Blue Plaque of Kwame Nkrumah at 60 Burghley Road, Kentish Town.

[1] Office for National Statistics: Ethnicity and National Identity in England and Wales, London, 2011:

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/ethnicity/articles/ethnicityandnationalidentityinenglandandwales/2012-12-11 (28.10.2019).

[2] English Heritage: New Diversity Initiative for London Blue Plaques, as Footballer Laure Cunningham Honoured, 21.09.2016, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about-us/search-news/diversity-blue-plaques/ (28.10.2019).

[3] English Heritage: Propose a Blue Plaque, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/propose-a-plaque/ (30.10.2019)

[3] Cf. Adi, Hakim: Pan-Africanism: A History, London, 2018, chapter 6: From Ethiopia to Manchester.

[4] Cf. Adi, Hakim, Sherwood, Marika: Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787, London, 2003, chapter on Marcus Garvey, p. 71-81.

[5] Rush, Anne Spry: Imperial Identity in Colonial Minds: Harold Moody and the League of Coloured Peoples, 1931-50, in: Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 13, No. 4, 2002, p. 356-393, p. 365.

[6] Cf. Rush, Anne Spry: Imperial Identity.

[7] Cf. Sherwood, Marika: Kwame Nkrumah and the Dawn of the Cold War: The West African National Secretariat, 1945-1948, London, 2019, chapter 2: Campaigns for Independence, Unity and Pan-Africanism in the U.K., the U.S.A and Africa, 1930s-1945.



You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search