David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead
David Thomas Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead (3 October 1913 – 14 December 1994) was a civil rights campaigner and was one of the first persons of African descent to sit in the British House of Lords.(The first person of colour to become a British Life Peer was Learie Nicholas Constantine, Baron Constantine (21 September 1901 – 1 July 1971) was a West Indian cricketer, lawyer and politician who served as Trinidad's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and became the UK's first black peer in 1969 ).Lord Pitt was made a life peer in 1975.
Born in Grenada, Pitt won a scholarship to come to Britain in 1933 to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where he was an active member of Edinburgh University Socialist Society. After graduating, he returned to the Caribbean to practise medicine in Trinidad, where he helped found the West Indian National Party, which campaigned for West Indian self-government. In 1947, he again travelled to Britain and settled in London. He opened a medical practice in the Euston area of London, and he treated both white and black patients.
Political career in Britain
In the 1959 general election, he was the first person of African descent to be a parliamentary candidate, standing as the Labour candidate for the north London constituency of Hampstead. In this election, issues of race were injected into the campaign, and he was defeated by the Conservative candidate, Henry Brooke. During the course of the campaign, Pitt received racist death threats, as did his family; however, despite the racist abuse, Pitt refused to withdraw from the race. He subsequently founded the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, Britain's first civil rights organization.
Two years later, in 1961, he was elected to the London County Council as member for Hackney and served on the LCC and its successor, the Greater London Council, until 1975; he was the first minority candidate to be elected to this position in local government. He was deputy chair of the GLC from 1969–1970, and in 1974 he was the first black person to become chair of the GLC.
Pitt's second attempt to be elected as an MP came in 1970, when he was the Labour candidate for Clapham. Although this had been seen as a safe seat for Labour, the Conservative William Shelton was elected. Enoch Powell was simultaneously campaigning on ending immigration; consequently, many believe that racism was a factor in this general election defeat as well.
In 1975, the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, recommended Pitt's appointment to the House of Lords as a life peer, and he was created Baron Pitt of Hampstead, of Hampstead in Greater London and of Hampstead in Grenada. As a member of the House of Lords, he played a leading role in campaigning for the Race Relations Act 1976. He was a leader in the movement against apartheid in South Africa.
Pitt was described as a black radical for suggesting that more ethnic minorities to put themselves forward to become police officers, which ironically, angered many in the black community who felt that the police were institutionally racist. Lord Pitt is quoted saying "Some black people regard me as an Uncle Tom, while some whites regard me as a Black Power revolutionary. So I imagine I got it about right."
From 1985 to 1986, Pitt was the president of the British Medical Association, which he described as his most valued honour.
- I knew both of these great men personally during the 1960's in the U.K.and I am also grateful to the writer or writers of this study for preserving the precious legacy of our two great heroes of this era.
- "24 November 1976". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) (House of Lords). col. 11..
- "UK Negro Candidate Threatened", Montreal Gazette, 22 September 1959.
- Thomas A. Johnson, "British Civil Rights Group Acts to Bar New Black Power Fight", New York Times, 20 January 1969.
- 100 Great Black Britons.
- Muhammad Anwar, Race and Politics: Ethnic Minorities and the British Political Systemll, Tavistock Publications, 1986, p. 99.
- Lewiston Daily Sun, 19 June 1970.
- Joan Lestor, "Obituaries: Lord Pitt of Hampstead", The Independent, 20 December 1994.