Celebrating the Queer contribution to Black British History
The BLKOUT_UK ICONS range celebrates the queer contribution to Black British history.
We have chosen four icons who have also inspired BLKOUT’s work plan for 2021/2 – addressing public policy, arts and culture, entrepreneurship, and health/wellbeing.
Ivor Gustavus Cummings (1913 – 1992) was a British civil servant of Sierra Leonean ancestry, in 1941 he became the first black official in the British Colonial Office. He has been dubbed the ‘gay father of the Windrush generation‘ An activist for racial equity, he was tasked with inviting nurses from West Africa to staff the NHS in its early days, he exposed the existence of a colour bar among the expat colonial administration in Nigeria that caused a riot and brought together a movement for Nigerian independence, in 1948 he welcomed the SS Windrush and found accommodation and jobs for those who needed them, he was warden of Aggrey House – home to many emerging leaders of African and Caribbean independence movements at the University of London – and left the Colonial Office to support Kwame Nkrumah in establishing the Ghanaian state.
Berto Pasuka 1911-1963
Born Wilbert Passerley in Jamaica, Pasuka ignored his family’s wishes for him to become a dentist, instead following his own desire to dance. He studied classical ballet in Kingston, where he first saw a group of descendants of runaway slaves dancing to the rhythmic beat of a drum. Feeling inspired to take black dance to new audiences, he moved to London in 1939, enrolling at the Astafieva dance school to polish off his choreography skills. Following his work on the movie Men of Two Worlds he and fellow Jamaican dancer Richie Riley, formed their own dance company. Les Ballet Negres was born in the 1940’s bringing traditional and contemporary black dance to the UK and Europe with sell-out tours. In 1953 after the disbandment of the company he moved to Paris, where he continued to perform and to work as an artist model. He also trained as a painter, in 1959 exhibiting at the 70th exhibition of the Société des artistes indépendants at the Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées. He then returned to London in 1960 where he exhibited twenty-eight pieces of his work in a solo exhibition in autumn 1960. Pasuka died in London in 1963.
Alcock moved to the UK from Jamaica at the age of 25, initially settling in Leeds, before moving to London and setting up as a seamstress in Railton Road, Brixton. By the mid 1970s Pearl, who identified as bisexual, had established a shebeen in the basement of her store that attracted a Black LGBT clientele. The clandestine bar was particularly popular with Black gay men and operated successfully until the uprisings of the early 1980s.
She turned her hand to drawing and became recognised as an ‘outsider’ artist, her art being exhibited at the 198 Gallery, the Almeida Theatre and the Bloomsbury Theatre. Then in 1990 her work was included in the London Fire Brigade calendar. She gained mainstream recognition a year before her death, in 2005, when she was shown at the Tate Britain in their ‘Outsider Art’ exhibition. In 2019 she was the subject of a retrospective exhibition of her work at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester.
Justinus Soni “Justin” Fashanu was an English footballer who played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997. He was known by his early clubs to be gay, and came out publicly later in his career, becoming the first professional footballer to be openly gay. He was also the first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee, with his transfer from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981, but had little success as a player afterwards, although he continued to play at senior level until 1994.
After moving to the United States, in 1998 he was questioned by police when a seventeen-year-old boy accused him of sexual assault. He was charged, and an arrest warrant for him was issued on 3 April 1998, but he had already left his flat. According to his suicide note, fearing he would not get a fair trial because of his homosexuality, he fled to England, where he killed himself in London in May 1998. His suicide note stated that the sex was consensual. In 2020, Fashanu was inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame.