Black history plays an important part in our business heritage

Black history month logoBlack men and women have been crucial in history to many careers sectors

Throughout history, the black women and men below have been very important in their career area. Despite facing many difficulties in their chosen path, they have not only been very successful but have been a power for change in their professional field and in society. In 2020 there are many black and minority ethnic people (BAME) who are important in their field and in the success of the UK economy. Check out BAME equality and diversity LMI facts 52some of the statistics on the right to find out why equality and diversity matters.

Find out more about Black History Month

Important black people in history and in the history of careers

Bruce Oldfield, OBE (1950-present)

Bruce is a world-famous fashion designer, with his own fashion label. He was one of the first big British names in fashion and has created couture (one-off) outfits for royalty and celebrities and also redesiged the McDonald’s uniform.

Mae Carol Jemison (1956-present)

Mae is an American engineer, physician (doctor), and former NASA astronaut. She is the first black woman to travel into space - she was a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Before that, Mae was a doctor in the Peace Corps in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Since then she set up her own technology research company. She also set up a not-for-profit educational foundation and is the principal of the 100 Year Starship project.

Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka, aka Wole Soyinka (1934-present)

Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright, poet and essayist. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first sub-Saharan African to be honoured in that category. As well as having a major input in the world of literature, he also took an active role in Nigeria’s political history and its struggle for independence from Great Britain.

Creola Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

Katherine was an American mathematician. Without her calculations of orbital mechanics, NASA's spaceflights would not have been successful. She was exeptional at complex manual calculations, which she used to calculate trajectories, launch windows, and emergency return paths.

Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

Ali was an American professional boxer, activist, and philanthropist. He was one of the greatest boxers of all time and probably the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. He used his great popularity in the US and Britain to help people and to promote racial integration.

Mary Jackson (1921-2005)

Mary was an American mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Mary worked for many years at the Langley Research Center in Hamptin, Virginia, before becoming NASA's first black female engineer. She was influential in the hiring and promoting of women in the science, engineering and maths jobs in NASA.

Claudia Jones (1915-1964)

Claudia Jones was a Trinidadian journalist and activist who founded the West Indian Gazette, an anti-racist newspaper with a focus on social equality. Not only was she a pioneer for journalism, she also fought back against racial inequality, keeping her stance despite facing hostile attitudes and prison sentences. In 1958, she launched the Notting Hill Carnival, which celebrates West Indian culture and heritage, an event which is still popular today.

Alice Ball (1892-1916)

Alice Ball was an African-American chemist who developed the first successful treatment for those suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy). She was also the first African-American and the first woman to graduate with a degree in chemistry from the college of Hawaii.

Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

Mary Seacole was a British-Jamaican nurse who set up the ‘British Hotel’ behind the lines during the Crimean war, caring for wounded servicemen on the battlefield and nursing many of them back to health. She was a pioneer for the nursing profession, showing immense bravery and courage by setting up the hotel, despite not being allowed to work with the other white nurses on the battle field.

Lewis Latimer (1848-1928)

Lewis Latimer was an engineer who made Thomas Edison’s original inventions of the telephone and lightbulb even better by the use of filaments. His contribution was key in the development of electric light, as his improvements meant it became popular for everyday use.

Why not search to find more about some of the people below:

  • Dame Sharon Michele White, the chair of the John Lewis Partnership; previously chief executive of the British media regulator Ofcom and was Second Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury
  • Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, former member of the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and deputy chief medical officer to the UK government
  • Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, UK space scientist
  • Bernardine Evaristo, an author and first black British person to win the Booker Prize
  • Sir Steve McQueen, an artist, winner of the Turner Prize, producer and film director
  • Christine Ohuruogu, Olympic and world champion track and field athlete
  • Marcus Rashford, MBE, professional footballer for Manchester United and England, and social campaigner
  • Moira Stuart, OBE, the first female newsreader of African-Caribbean heritage on British television
  • Lord Adebowale, social care charity administrator and member of the House of Lords
  • Brandie Deignan, the managing director, Marco Pierre White Restaurants, the only black female MD in the branded restaurants industry
  • Naomi Campbell, the first black model to appear on the front cover of the September issue of American Vogue
  • John Sentamu, the former archbishop of York
  • Diane Abbott, the first black female MP (member of parliament)
  • Sarah-Jane Bampoe-Addo, a senior program manager behind Amazon's expansion
  • Mariolla Baffour, the vice president in the securities division of Goldman Sachs (finance)
  • Gavin Lewis, the managing director and head of the UK Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) at BlackRock. He is in charge of the UK Local Government Pension Scheme


Page updated October 2020

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