Here at London Mutual, we are marking Black History Month by sharing with you some of the stories of local people who changed our communities for the better. Some of these stories will be familiar to those who grew up locally, and some of our members may have been lucky enough to know one or two of them personally! These individuals, along with many others like them, are often overlooked. This month, we believe it is right to share and celebrate the courage, ingenuity and hard work of those who have made our community what it is today.
Peckham’s Fearless Icon: George A. Roberts
Meet George A. Roberts, a Trinidadian who answered the call to serve as a rifleman during World War I. Standing tall at 6ft5, he not only became the first black soldier in the Middlesex Regiment but also displayed unmatched bravery.
As a child in Trinidad, George had thrown coconuts on the beach with friends – a skill he put to devastating use by throwing bombs back at enemy lines. His bravery saved countless comrades and earned him a Meritorious Service Medal.
During the war, he returned to Trinidad to recruit more soldiers, his stirring speeches inspiring 250 new recruits. Post-war, he encountered discrimination in London, spurring him to co-found the League of Coloured Peoples, a pivotal civil rights organization.
At 50, during World War II, he joined the Auxiliary Fire Service in Southwark, saving countless local families and their homes during the Blitz. He received the British Empire Medal for his bravery.
Westminster’s Trailblazing Nurse: Kofoworola Abeni Pratt
Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, hailing from Lagos, Nigeria, overcame adversity to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. She was the first black woman to attend the prestigious Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital.
In an era when racial discrimination was common, and some patients refused to be treated by a black woman, Pratt broke down barriers, leading the way for others in the NHS. Her journey didn’t stop there; back in Nigeria, she was recognized as an influential nurse. She went on to become the vice president of the International council of Nurses. And then later served as the Commissioner of Health for Lagos, receiving accolades like the Florence Nightingale Medal and honorary fellowships.
Camden’s Inspirational Educator: Beryl Gilroy
Beryl Gilroy, originally from British Guiana, developed a passion for reading and writing thanks to her grandparents, who shared folklore and Guyanese proverbs. Despite facing obstacles, including stereotypes against Caribbean immigrants, Gilroy pursued her dreams. She persevered, becoming London’s first black teacher and later, Camden’s first Black Head Teacher. Her influence extended to literature, where she offered early representations of Black London in her children’s books and played a role in founding newspapers that supported Black women in the UK.
Southwark’s First Black Mayor: Samuel King
Born in Jamaica, Samuel King saw an opportunity for a new life in the UK when he spotted an ad seeking help with the Second World War. After serving in the RAF, he faced challenges finding a job that matched his skills, and he decided to return to Jamaica.
It was the HMT Windrush that lured him back several years later, and he settled in Southwark. Samuel worked for Royal Mail as a postman for 34 years and was an active participant in the West Indian community. His contributions included organizing an early version of the Notting Hill Carnival and co-founding the West Indian Gazette, the first Black British Newspaper.
Later in life, he entered local politics and made history by becoming Mayor of Southwark in 1983 – London’s first black mayor. His dedication led to the founding of the Windrush Foundation to preserve the history of the post-war immigrants and those who arrived on the HMT Empire Windrush, earning him the nickname “Mr. Windrush.”
Celebrating London’s Rich Diversity
These stories remind us that greatness is about the courage to stand up for what is right. During Black History Month, London Mutual Credit Union takes pride in sharing these tales of local heroes who have truly shaped our communities.
Join us in celebrating the diversity of our communities and the contributions of all those – with roots that stretch all around the world – who have made their homes and lives here. As a financial institution which is owned by and serves our community, we believe that diversity is key to our strength – and something we are proud to represent.