By Lucy Silver
Dr Harold Moody was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on 8th October 1882. He came to London in 1904 to study medicine at Kings College London, where he struggled at first to find lodgings and employment, contending against the racial prejudice the time.
The Peckham medical practice
Having graduated top of his class, Dr Moody persevered and set up his own medical practice in Peckham in 1913. In this year, he also married Olive Tranter, a white nurse, and the couple went on to have six children.
Dr Moody was a popular and widely respected doctor in his South London community. Guided by a powerful Christian faith, he was renowned for never turning a patient away, at a time long before the establishment of the NHS and when healthcare was not free or accessible to all. In a poor borough, Moody’s deep humanity provided a lifeline for people struggling in the economic turmoil of the First World War.
Following the success of his practice, Dr Moody moved his family and surgery to a larger house on Queens Road. By the 1930s, Dr Moody’s reputation helping those in need had spread nationally to members of Britain’s Black community, and his support was vital at a time when fascism and racism were simmering throughout Europe. Black people facing discrimination travelled from around the country to ask for his help, and his Peckham home became a hub for visitors, artists and activists.
The founding of the League of Coloured Peoples
Increasingly frustrated by the treatment of Black people in the UK, Moody called a meeting of friends and associates at the YMCA in Tottenham Court Road. From this meeting, The League of Coloured Peoples was born. The LCP became a powerful force for the advancement of Civil Rights in Britain, working to end the discrimination of the colour bar which could be used to deny Black people accommodation, hospitality service and employment.
Throughout its lifespan, the LCP was joined by many celebrated Black activists, journalists and artists, including C. L. R. James, Jomo Kenyatta, and the poet Una Marson. As a result of these powerful collaborations, the British civil rights journal The Keys was founded, giving a publishing space for progressive thought about race relations.
Dr Moody’s voice and role in World War II
In 1944 when a V2 rocket fell on the shopping centre in New Cross, Dr Moody was the first doctor on the scene to help and attend the injured. Historian Stephen Bourne has noted that Dr Moody ‘played an important role in these events, saving many lives. Yet this wartime history is not known.’
Bourne explains that throughout the War, Moody’s voice became ever more important in raising awareness of the vital contribution that Black people were making in the war effort. In his life and writings, Dr Moody believed that education was key in tackling racism, and that it should be part of the classroom conversation. For Moody, children should be taught to ‘disclose the fact that the evil [of racism] is there and look it squarely in the face.’
Death and legacy
Throughout his life, Dr Moody burned the candle at both ends and worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Black people. Following a fundraising tour of the West Indies to raise money for a cultural centre in London, Dr Moody fell seriously ill and died soon after his return to England in 1947, aged 64.
His funeral in Camberwell was attended to by thousands, and to this day he is remembered and memorialised in plaques, street and park names in the Southwark area. However, his name is largely missing from our national curriculum, despite campaigners stating he ‘ought to be thought of as Britain's Martin Luther King. With his life-long commitment to civil rights, putting people before profit and his personal commitment to providing accessible healthcare, Dr Harold Moody is a figure that deserves our national recognition and respect.
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