top of page

Discover the latest insights, advice and opinions with our blog

Changemakers of the Past

This year, our theme for Black History Month (BHM) is black Changemakers in medicine of yesterday, today and tomorrow. This blog factfiles esteemed doctors of the past born in the 19th century, serving as a bitesize Black British history lesson!

Dr James “Africanus” Beale Horton (1835-1883)

Dr Horton graduated from Edinburgh University in 1859, attributed as the second person of Nigerian descent to qualify as a doctor. He served in the British Army as a Staff Assistant Surgeon in West Africa (predominantly Sierra Leone and Ghana). This experience inspired multiple acclaimed medical publications based on tropical medicine - notably, “The Diseases of Tropical Climates and Their Treatment” is accredited for describing key symptoms of sickle cell disease contributing to its discovery. He also lobbied for higher education and medical training for West Africans.

Dr John Alcindor (1873 - 1921)

Dr Alcindor, of Trinidad descent, also graduated from Edinburgh University in 1899 and established his own general practice in London, becoming known locally as the celebrated ‘black doctor of Paddington’. He was rejected by the British Army to serve during World War 1 but despite this prejudice, he went on to be awarded a Red Cross Medal for his work helping soldiers at railway stations through signing up as a Red Cross Volunteer. He is also known for his research particularly in cancer and correlating poverty and diet with poor health. Additionally, he was a great advocate for racial equity and became president of the African Progress Union.

Dr Cecil Belfield Clarke (1894-1970)

Dr Clarke was born in Barbados after winning an island scholarship, he graduated from Cambridge University in 1918, also certified as a surgeon. He similarly opened his own practice in south London and later on in the 1950s, Clarke was elected to the BMA Council as representative for the West Indies, as well as Senior Medical Advisor to Ghana. He is renowned for being the inventor of Clark’s rule - still used globally to calculate pediatric drug dosages based on weight. He is also known for his civil rights activism working alongside Dr Harold Moody founding the League of Coloured People.

Seeing as the national theme for this year’s Black History Month is “Saluting our Sisters”, it is important we pay homage to black women as well. Whilst there has been recognition of Black pioneering nurses in Britain such as Mary Seacole (1805-1881) and Annie Brewster “Nurse Ophthalmic” (1858-1902), there is little known about black female doctors during this era, if any. This is most likely due to the compounded barriers for women in the UK gaining a medical qualification. It was only in 1865 the first (white) female doctor Elizabeth Garett Anderson was openly qualified after private education with professors. However, we recognise that in 1864, Dr Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler (1831-1895) became the first Black woman in the United States to earn a medical degree after serving as a nurse - an inspiration for us all across the globe. Unfortunately no photo of her has survived (she is often mistakenly adjoined to a portrait of Mary Eliza Mahoney - the first African-American nurse).

We hope you have found these historical insights informative.

What stood out to you about their profiles?

What does being a Changemaker mean to you?

We will explore this further in part 2 where we will celebrate Changemakers of the present and future who are bringing fresh perspectives to what the world of medicine and surgery can offer.

Happy Black History Month! (though we should all be celebrating it all year round!).

Dr Ellen Nelson-Rowe,

Melanin Medics Blog Lead


(All photos used - taken from public domain with unknown authors)

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page