Dr Harold Moody commemorative blue plaque outside Central YMCA Club

Dr. Harold Moody

Jamaican Doctor, Humanitarian and British Civil Rights Activist

Dr. Moody, a Jamaican-born physician, formed 'The League of Coloured Peoples' with 70 other Central YMCA Club members on 13th March 1931. The organisation, which primarily sought to establish racial equality around the world, also aimed to address the persecution of the Jews ahead of World War 2. 

Born in Kingston Jamaica in 1882, he travelled to the UK in 1904 to study medicine at London’s King’s College after early exposure to medicine through his father’s pharmaceutical business. 

Despite graduating at the top of his class in 1910, during his time as a student he faced unexpected racism, as students often only spoke to those who shared the same skin colour. This experience continued in his search for employment and Dr Moody was told he would be unsuccessful in his profession as people did not want to be treated by a Black man. 

After an unsuccessful three-year search for employment, in 1913 Dr Moody established his own GP practice in Peckham. At this time healthcare was costly and many were forced to go without, but Dr Moody treated children in the area for free and opened his home to Black travellers denied lodgings elsewhere. 

After WW1, race relations in the UK grew evermore tense and Dr Moody became increasingly mindful of the discrimination going on throughout the country. This is when the League was formed. The League’s stated aims were to: 

  • To promote and protect the Social, Educational, Economic and Political Interests of its members;
  • To interest members in the Welfare of Coloured Peoples in all parts of the World;
  • To improve relations between the Races;
  • To cooperate and affiliate with organisations sympathetic to coloured people

In 1937, a fifth aim was added:

  • To render such financial assistance to coloured people in distress as lies within our capacity.

His work included fighting for the lifting of the colour bar in the British Armed Forces, fair wages for Trinidadian oil workers and employment rights for black seamen. Dr Moody was eventually appointed to a government advisory committee on the welfare of non-Europeans in 1943. 

"Before the colour bar (racial segregation) was disbanded in the UK, before the British Race Relations Act was instituted and amended, before the Commission for Racially Equality was formed, there was an organisation in Britain founded by Dr. Harold Moody which fought for the civil rights of people of colour. That organisation was the League of Coloured People, founded by Dr Harold Moody at Central YMCA in 1931.”

Dr Jak Beula, CEO of Nubian Jak Community Trust

Although he died in 1947, Dr Moody’s campaigning is credited as having been key to the passing of the landmark Race Relations Act in 1965, which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of colour, race, ethnicity or nationality, and created the offence of “incitement to racial hatred”. 

In March 2019, on the 88th anniversary of the formation of the League, a blue commemorative plaque was unveiled outside the YMCA Club to honour Dr Harold Moody. The plaque is now a permanent reminder that Britain’s first civil rights organisation was born at the Central YMCA Club in a bid to fight racial inequality and injustice. 

The event, which was organised by the Nubian Jak Community Trust, was attended by a host of prestigious guests including David Ball - the great nephew of Dr Harold Moody. He was joined by Tony Warner – the Founding Director of Black History Walks, Mark Wadsworth – the Founder of Anti-Racist Alliance, Universal Poet – Raoul Dero, Tracey Blackwood – Minister Counsellor for the Jamaican High Commission and former Central YMCA CEO – Rosi Prescott. 

Today, most of Dr Harold Moody’s relatives live in Auckland, New Zealand, but Nubian Jak Founder, Jak Beula, managed to track down David Ball whose great uncle was Dr Harold Moody.

“I’m honoured to be the only Moody representative here today. My mum, Pamela, was daughter of Ludlow Moody, Harold’s brother. Harold was so ahead of his time and to form this league before anybody else, is just amazing. I’ve been to his house in Peckham and read about how he looked after coloured people when they had no representation whatsoever. It’s very important in our diverse society (particularly London) for people to understand what happened in the past – recognising those people who were trying to make a change. I’m incredibly proud and humbled by what Harold achieved 88 years ago – phenomenal!”

David Ball

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The best way that we can honour his memory today is to live by the values he did, to always fight for equality and against injustice, and to improve the lives of the communities around us.