Friday, February 26, 2021

Harold Moody & W.E.B. Du Bois - Queens Road SE15 as international anti-racist clearing house

A blue plaque at 164 Queens Road, Peckham, commemorates its status as the one time home of Dr Harold Moody (1882-1947). Moody moved from Jamaica to London to become a doctor, and established his first GP practice at 111 King’s Road (now King’s Grove), Peckham, in 1913. In 1922 he moved to nearby 164 Queens Road, where he lived and worked until his death in 1947.

 An information board outside the house includes further details of his life, including his work as an anti-racist campaigner. Moody founded the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931 to  oppose discrimination. They published a journal, The Keys, and organised social events as well as campaigning against the 'colour bar' in the workplace, the military, housing and elsewhere. Its 1944 'Charter for Coloured Peoples' demanded that: 'The same economic, educational, legal and political rights shall 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'.

While the main focus of the League was on discrimination in Britain, it also aimed to promote the 'Welfare of Coloured Peoples in all parts of the World' and maintained contact with similar organisations internationally such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the USA.  According to historian Stephen Bourne 'In the 1920s and 1930s, Dr Moody’s home on Queens Road became a popular meeting place for famous Black people who visited London. They included the American singer and activist Paul Robeson; the Trinidadian historian and novelist C.L.R. James; Kwame Nkrumah, who later became president of Ghana; Jomo Kenyatta, who later became the founding president of the Republic of Kenya; and the popular cricketer Learie Constantine, also from Trinidad' (The Life of Dr Harold Moody).We know too that Moody met Kenyan independence leader Jomo Kenyatta at Sylvia Pankhurst's house in Woodford Green. The League's Una Marson - a sometime lodger at Queens Road and editor of The Keys - met Haile Selassie when he arrived at Waterloo station in 1936 on a visit to rally support following the Italian fascist invasion of Abyssinia/Ethiopia.

The League's international signficance is attested to in some of the Harold Moody material available in the online W.E.B. Du Bois archive hosted by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Du Bois was a founder of the NAACP and the pre-eminent American Black intellectual of his time. His correspondence with and about Moody largely concerned plans for a Pan African Congress to be held in Britain at the end of World War Two. The Congress went ahead in Manchester in 1945 bringing together opponents of British colonial rule and campaigners against racism in the USA and elsewhere. Moody did not personally attend, but does seem to have been involved in formulating and developing the idea. 

In April 1944, Du Bois  wrote to singer and actor Paul Robeson seeking his support, stating ''I have had within the last month two interesting communications. One was from Amy Jacques Garvey, widow of the late Marcus Garvey living in Jamaica; the other was a telegram for Dr Harold Moody from London. Dr Moody as perhaps you know is a black West Indian, long resident in London and recently elected Chairman of the old and celebrated London Missionary Society. Both these communications asked for my cooperation looking toward a post-war conference to consider needs and demands of Negroes'. In the same month Du Bois wrote to Moody in Peckham about plans for the Congress:

A Letter from Moody to Du Bois (July 27 1944) signs off ''We are successfully negotiating the flying bombs on this side, although they do cause some inconvenience'. In November 1944, Moody was to be one of the first doctors on site of the V2 explosion in New Cross Road, when a German rocket hit Woolworths killing 168 people.

There is a also a letter from Amy Jacques Garvey to W. E. B. Du Bois  (January 31, 1944) in which the widow of Marcus Garvey recommends Moody to Du Bois and provides his address. This is a remarkable letter in many ways - Marcus Garvey and Du Bois did not get on, but Amy Garvey saw the bigger picture: 'Why should I above all people, write to you as I do? Because personal feelings must be forgotten in the unity of effort that is being forged for Africa, and our people...  My people you are no longer Negro rings to strengthen the fingers of your exploiters; you are no longer Negro studs to cover the sinful breasts of alien persecutors. you are precious African links of a mighty chain'.

164 Queens Road was not the only house on a south London residential street that functioned as a significant international anti racist/anti-colonial clearing house. Listening recently to an  interview with Leila Hassan Howe (on the Surviving Society podcast), she recalled how the Race Today collective HQ (at 165 Railton Road SE24) performed a similar function in the 1970s and 1980s. C.L.R. James was living upstairs, and people like the Grenadian revolutionary Maurice Bishop and Walter Rodney from Guyana would pop by for a chat.  Of course C.L.R. James is the common thread as he is of much of 20th century radical history in Britain, the Caribbean, African and the United States - he also knew Moody and wrote an article in 1936 for The Keys about “Abyssinia and the Imperialists”. 

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