David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead

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David Thomas Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead (3 October 1913 – 18 December 1994) was a British Labour Party politician, general practitioner and political activist. Born in Grenada, he was the second peer of African descent, to sit in the House of Lords.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in St. David's, Grenada,[1] 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.[2] He went on to graduate with honours. He was always concerned for broader social issues. He witnessed the poverty of the working classes in the slums of Edinburgh and saw similarities to the rural poverty he witnessed as a child. Nicholas Rea, in the British Medical Journal, said of Pitt: "it was in the slums of Edinburgh as much as in the Caribbean that he became convinced of the links between poverty, disadvantage, and ill health".[3] In 1936, he joined the Labour movement.

He returned to the Caribbean to begin his medical career, founding his own practice, and in 1943 married (Lady) Dorothy (née Alleyne).[1] His passion for social justice continued alongside his medical career. In Trinidad in 1941, Pitt had been elected to the San Fernando Borough Council and then in 1943, he became a founding member and leader of the West Indian National Party (WINP) – a socialist party whose main aim was to deliver political autonomy across the Caribbean. Under Pitt, the party demanded self-government for Trinidad and Tobago, constitutional reform and the nationalisation of commodities industries such as oil and sugar.[4]

After decades of campaigning, the people of Trinidad and Tobago were granted universal adult suffrage by the British Parliament in 1945. The first elections took place in 1946. WINP and others formed the United Front with Pitt as one of the candidates. He was not successful but he continued his activism and in 1947 led a group of WINP members to Britain to lobby the Clement Attlee government for Commonwealth status for a Federation of the West Indies.[4]

In 1947, Pitt 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[edit]

In the 1959 general election, he was the first person of African descent to be a parliamentary candidate,[citation needed] standing as the Labour Party candidate for the north London constituency of Hampstead. From the mid-1950s, Pitt had become involved in local politics. After delivering a speech at the 1957 Labour Party Conference, he was asked by Roy Shaw OBE, the then treasurer of the Tribune, if he would stand for Parliament.[4] The issues of race were injected into the campaign, and Pitt was defeated by the Conservative Party candidate, Henry Brooke. During the course of the campaign, Pitt received racist death threats, as did his family; however, despite the racist abuse, he refused to withdraw from the contest.[5] He subsequently founded the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, Britain's first civil rights organization.[6]

Two years later, in 1961, he was elected to the London County Council (LCC) as member for Stoke Newington and Hackney North and served on the LCC and its successor, the Greater London Council (GLC), 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 to 1970, and in 1974 he was the first black person to become chair of the GLC.[7][8]

Pitt's second attempt to be elected as an MP came in 1970, when he was the Labour Party candidate for Clapham. Although this had been seen as a safe seat for Labour,[9] the Conservative William Shelton was elected. Racism was a factor in this election defeat as well, with an anonymous leaflet circulated during the campaign featuring the slogan: "If you desire a coloured for your neighbour vote Labour. If you are already burdoned [sic] with one vote Tory."[10][11]

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 on 3 February 1975,[12] the second peer of African-Caribbean heritage after Sir Learie Constantine.[13][14] As a member of the House of Lords, he played a leading role in campaigning for the Race Relations Act 1976. He was outspoken on issues such as Immigration Policy, and in a debate on 24 June 1976 he noted, in part:

"...it is a myth, that the fewer the numbers [of black immigrants] the better the quality of race relations. That is a myth, and it is a myth that has inspired the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, the Immigration White Paper of August 1965 and the Immigration Acts of 1968 and 1971. It is designed to placate the racialists, but it is a fallacy; for to the racialist or the anti-semite the only acceptable number is nought. The proof of what I am saying can be seen in the fact that the National Front admit that their major support lies in areas near to but not in areas of high coloured concentration. The reason for that is that ignorance leads to fear. Thus, when a person fears that his next door neighbour will in future be coloured he wants immigration stopped. However, you will find that the least hostility to coloured people is found among the whites who live next to, shop with, travel with, work with and play with coloured persons."[15]

Pitt was a leader in the movement against apartheid in South Africa, with protest meetings being organised from the basement of his surgery in North Gower Street, London.[16]

He was described as a black radical for suggesting that more ethnic minorities should apply to become police officers; this, ironically, angered many in the black community who felt that the police were institutionally racist. Lord Pitt is quoted as 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."[1]

From 1985 to 1986, Pitt was the president of the British Medical Association, which he described as his most valued honour.[17]

In 2004, he was named as one of "100 Great Black Britons",[7] as part of Black History Month.

Legacy[edit]

In 2009, the annual "Lord David Pitt Memorial Lecture" at City Hall in London was initiated by Jennette Arnold in collaboration with the British Caribbean Association.[18][19]

A plaque at 200 North Gower Street in Camden, London, commemorates the building where Pitt worked as a doctor from 1950 to 1984.[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Joan Lestor, "Obituaries: Lord Pitt of Hampstead", The Independent, 20 December 1994.
  2. ^ Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Lords. 24 November 1976. col. 11.
  3. ^ Nicholas Rea, British Medical Journal, Vol. 310, No. 6971 (7 January 1995), p. 54.
  4. ^ a b c Jennette Arnold, "Echoes of our past: A series of reflections by prominent black people".
  5. ^ "UK Negro Candidate Threatened", Montreal Gazette, 22 September 1959.
  6. ^ Thomas A. Johnson, "British Civil Rights Group Acts to Bar New Black Power Fight", The New York Times, 20 January 1969.
  7. ^ a b "100 Great Black Britons - Lord David Pitt". www.100greatblackbritons.com.
  8. ^ "Race issues: Down the decades", The Guardian, 25 November 2001.
  9. ^ Muhammad Anwar, Race and Politics: Ethnic Minorities and the British Political System, Tavistock Publications, 1986, p. 99.
  10. ^ Deakin, Nicholas; Bourne, Jenny (October 1970). "Powell, the minorities and the 1970 election" (PDF). The Political Quarterly. 41 (4): 399–415. doi:10.1111/j.1467-923X.1970.tb01181.x. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  11. ^ Bloom, Clive (2010). Violent London. London. p. 396. ISBN 978-0-230-27559-1.
  12. ^ "No. 46485". The London Gazette. 6 February 1975. p. 1661.
  13. ^ Ric Greaves, "Grenada Heritage: Capture Grenadian Faces – Notable Grenadians". The Website of the National Archives of Grenada, 3 October 2013.
  14. ^ "David Pitt (1913-1994)", House of Lords Reform, UK Parliament Website.
  15. ^ Immigration Policy debate, Hansard, vol. 372, 24 June 1976.
  16. ^ Frank Dobson, "Gut politics key to defeating the evil of apartheid regime", Camden New Journal, 25 June 2009.
  17. ^ Leyla Keough, "Pitt, David", in Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr (eds), Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 399.
  18. ^ Arnold, "Echoes of our past", p. 6.
  19. ^ "Home - British Caribbean Association". www.britishcaribbeanassociation.org.uk.
  20. ^ "Plaque: Lord Pitt of Hampstead", London Remembers.

External links[edit]

Civic offices
Preceded by
Arthur Wicks
Chair of the Greater London Council
1974–1975
Succeeded by
Evelyn Denington