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Amazing black women making a difference, part 1


IN THE first of our Black History Month special, Rianna Raymond-Williams profiles black women from the diverse worlds of politics, music and more.

Part 2 of this piece will be published tomorrow at 5pm GMT.


Diane Abbott is a British Labour Party politician who was appointed Shadow Home Secretary in October 2016. She was first elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Hackney North and Stoke Newington at the 1987 general election, when she became the first black woman to hold a seat in the House of Commons. Born in Paddington, London, Abbott studied history at Newnham College, Cambridge. She worked in the Civil Service and as a reporter for Thames Television and TV-am before becoming a press officer for the Greater London Council. Abbott was elected to Westminster City Council in 1982 and as MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 1987. She has appeared frequently in the media, articulating key areas of Labour party policy as well as appearing on other programmes such as Have I Got News for You and Celebrity Come Dine with Me.


Baroness Ros Howells – formally known as Rosalind Patricia-Anne Howells, Baroness Howells of St. Davids, OBE is a Labour member of the House of Lords, a trustee of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and the Jason Roberts Foundation in addition to being the first black woman to sit on the GLC’s Training Board; the first female member of the Court of Governors of the University of Greenwich, and was the vice chair at the London Voluntary Services Council. In 1994 she was awarded an OBE, then made a life peer as Baroness Howells of St Davids, of Charlton in the London Borough of Greenwich in 1999. The name St Davids refers to the parish in Grenada where she was brought up, to the south east of the island. Prior to her work as a Baroness she was the director of the Greenwich Racial Equality Council as well as a community and equal opportunities worker.

CLASSIC: Joan Armatrading MBE


Joan Armatrading MBE is a three-time Grammy Award-nominee, in addition to being nominated twice for BRIT Awards as Best Female Artist. When she was 14, Armatrading began writing songs by setting her own limericks to music on a piano that her mother had purchased as “a piece of furniture”. Shortly afterwards, her mother bought her a £3 guitar (equivalent to £52 in 2015) from a pawn shop in exchange for two prams, and the younger Armatrading began teaching herself the instrument. Although she left school at the age of 15 to support her family, she went on to have a hugely successful career, being one of the few artists to have a career in the music industry spanning four decades during which she released 18 studio albums, as well as several live albums and compilations. In 1996, she was awarded the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contemporary Song Collection.


Mary Seacole OM was a Jamaican nurse, who set up her own hotel to care for sick and wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. She described this as “a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick officers”. The knowledge of herbal medicine she acquired in the Caribbean enabled her to set up the hotel. Initially, Seacole applied to the War Office to assist the injured, but her application was refused.

BRAVE: Mary Seacole

She became extremely popular among service personnel, who raised money for her when she faced destitution after the war. After her death, she was largely forgotten. That changed when, in 1991, more than 100 years after her death, she was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004, Seacole came top in a poll to find the Greatest Black Briton. Today, she is celebrated as a woman who successfully overcame racial prejudice. Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), is one of the earliest autobiographies of a mixed-race woman, although some aspects of its accuracy have been questioned. In June 2016, a statue of her was erected at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London describing her as a “pioneer nurse”.

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