The Opening of Burgh House, 1979 (1998.47.1)
Our Object of the Month is this photograph of Lord David Pitt of Hampstead (1913-1994), who officially opened Burgh House to the public on 8th September 1979. October marks the birth month of Lord Pitt, who was born on 3rd October 1913, and we are also celebrating Black History Month which commemorates the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK. Lord Pitt was a GP, Labour Politician and Life Peer, who dedicated his adult life to campaigning for equality and social justice.
Lord Pitt was the first person of African descent to run for Parliament, standing as the Labour Party candidate for Hampstead in the 1959 general election, and the second to sit in the House of Lords. Born in Grenada, he won the island's only overseas scholarship to study medicine at Edinburgh University in 1932 and graduated with honours. He joined the university Socialist Society and in 1936 he joined the Labour movement. He initially returned to the Caribbean to begin his medical career, but eventually settled in London and opened his GP surgery in Euston in 1950.
During the 1959 general election, Pitt and his family were the target of racist abuse and death threats, and the building housing Pitt’s surgery was firebombed. During his first speech on the steps of Hampstead Town Hall, Pitt’s campaign was targeted by Oswald Mosley who had returned to Britain to stand for the London constituency of Kensington North on a platform of anti-immigration, calling for forced repatriation of Caribbean immigrants. Mosley’s march on Hampstead lead to what became known locally as the “Battle of Hampstead Town Hall”.
Although he did not win the election, Lord Pitt’s achievements in politics were considerable and he went on to become a member for Hackney for the London County Council. In 1965 he helped form and chaired the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination which highlighted racial prejudices whilst lobbying the British government for reform. In 1975, Pitt became a member of the House of Lords upon the recommendation of Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Through this position he became a leading figure in the formation of the Race Relations Act of 1976, which prohibited discrimination upon the grounds of colour, race or ethnic or national origin.
Despite the racial discrimination and prejudice he experienced throughout his political career, Lord Pitt dedicated his life to fighting for equality for all citizens regardless of their background. He is remembered for his commitment to and interests in social services, health, welfare and education.