The story of Dr Harold Moody, a man that led the first effective black pressure group in this country, the League of Coloured Peoples.
He was born in Kingston Jamaica on 8th October 1882, the eldest child of a prosperous retail chemist and strict Congregationalist. Moody came to London in 1904 to study medicine at King's College. He was completely unprepared for the colour bar in Edwardian London. He found it hard to find lodgings; after winning many prizes and qualifying as a doctor in 1910 he was denied a hospital house appointment because the matron refused 'to have a coloured doctor working at the hospital'.
Though he was the best qualified candidate, he was rejected for the post of medical officer to the Camberwell Board of Guardians since 'the poor people would not have a nigger to attend them'. In February 1913 he started his own practice in Peckham which became very successful. Later that year he married the English nurse whom he had met and courted as a medical student.
In 1921, Moody was elected to the chair of the Colonial Missionary Society's board of directors, and 10 years later, became president of the London Christian Endeavor Federation. The contacts he acquired while involved in these and other organisations helped him to help the stream of black people who came to him in distress, having experienced at first hand a degrading, or humiliating aspect of the colour bar. They found it hard to get lodgings, or impossible to find work. Moody would confront the employers and plead powerfully on behalf of those victimised. Soon, other middle class black people joined him in this crusade for equal rights, and before long they realised it was time to form an organisation.
The League of Coloured Peoples was born at a meeting at the Central YMCA Tottenham Court Road on 13th March 1931. At first, the League had four aims:
1. To protect the social, educational, economic and political interests of its members
2. To interest members in the welfare of coloured peoples in all parts of the world
3. To improve relations between the races
4. To cooperate and affiliate with organisations sympathetic to coloured people
A fifth aim was added in 1937 - 'to render such financial assistance to coloured people in distress as lies within our capacity'.
Having become a respected and influential doctor in Peckham, Moody was very involved in organising the local community during the Second World War. Historian Stephen Bourne has noted: "In 1944 there was a terrible bombing in south London and he was the first doctor on the scene. He played an important role in these events, saving many lives. Yet this wartime history is not known."
In July 1944 the League organised a three day conference in London to draw up a 'Charter of Coloured People' that in many ways foreshadowed the resolutions of the fifth Pan African Conference held in Manchester the following year. It demanded full self government for colonial peoples at the earliest possible opportunity, and insisted 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'.
After a strenuous five month visit to the West Indies and America, Dr. Moody returned to England a very ill man, and died on 24th April 1947, ten days after his return. The league he founded survived him by four years. His whole adult life he struck blow after blow in the struggle against racism.