Sheffield: Sheffield Timeline – Equality and Justice

Sheffield is a diverse city with a history of social justice activism. This timeline documents key moments in its history, and the stories of Black and minority ethnic individuals who lived there.

African and Jewish immigrants were recorded, living and dying, in Sheffield from the early 18th century. Anti-racist activism has ranged from protests against the slave trade in the 1780s to 20th century anti-Apartheid campaigning, opposition to racism in football and anti-racism demonstrations. Notable strikes in Sheffield included the union-led coal miners’ strike of the 1980s and the rent strike of the 1960s.

Sheffield has also had its share of racist incidents. Evidence of institutional racism can be found in newspapers and reports which ultimately triggered the social justice movements of the 20th century.


Thomas Pompey, native of Guinea, was buried at Harthill Church.


Protest against the slave trade

The first recorded mention of a person of African descent in Sheffield.


Olaudah Equiano (known as Gustava Vassa at the time) visited Sheffield as part of a nationwide speaking tour, as reported in The Sheffield Register.

Over 100 copies of his autobiography were sold to local people, many of whom came to hear him speak in favour of the abolition of the slave trade. It is likely that this took place at Thomas Bryant’s ‘New Methodist’ Chapel on Scotland Street.


At an open-air meeting at Castle Hill, the largest ever against slavery in Britain, a petition against the slave trade was signed by 8,000 Sheffielders.

c. 1825

Sheffield Ladies Anti-Slavery Society

Mary Anne Rawson

Mary Anne Rawson of Wincobank Hall was the main driving force behind the newly set up Sheffield Ladies Anti-Slavery Society, until her death in 1887.


Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves meeting

A meeting of the ‘Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves’ was chaired by Master Cutler Moorhouse. It called for an end to slavery and, for the first time ever, a boycott of sugar-related goods from the Caribbean to see this goal achieved.


Frederick Douglass met James Montgomery ‘The Bard of Sheffield’. Douglass was an American fugitive from slavery who later became a leading abolitionist in the USA. He spoke at the Quaker Meeting House, gaining confidence from a well-received address.

Frederick Douglass by Samuel J Miller 1847. Credit: Samuel J. Miller; Art Institute of Chicago Public Domain


Sheffield was the first place to pass a resolution calling for female suffrage to be enacted by Parliament, via a meeting of the Sheffield Female Political Association.


Henry ‘Box’ Brown from America spoke about his escape from slavery as a ‘human parcel’ in a wooden box, at the Adelphi Theatre.


 Pablo Fanque
Credit: Unknown, Public Domain

Pablo Fanque, circus manager, performed at the Adelphi Theatre. He is referred to as a ‘man of colour’. His second wife was from Bradfield.


Edward Carpenter, 1905.  
Credit: Unknown, Public Domain

Edward Carpenter came to Sheffield and lived as an openly gay man in Totley and Hunter’s Bar. In 1887 he opened the Commonwealth Café, perhaps the first vegetarian restaurant in the UK, on Scotland Street.


Rabbi Howell
Credit: A & G. Taylor, Wikimedia Commons

Rabbi Howell, a professional footballer of Romani descent, joined Sheffield United. He later played and scored for England, the first person from a Roma background to do so. Howell was born in 1867 in a tent in Dore to a father who was a besom (broom) maker.


Ida B Wells.
Credit: Mary Garrity Public Domain

African American journalist Ida B. Wells spoke at the Quaker Meeting House against the evils of lynching, on her first tour of Britain.


Arthur Wharton signed for Sheffield United. He was the first person of colour to play professional football.


An Ashanti Village made up of 100 structures was set up at the Artillery Drill Station, Edmund Road for public viewing for 2 weeks. Large crowds flocked to the event which included Ashanti craftsmen (from modern-day Ghana) making rings, weaving baskets, carving wood and ivory and performing war dances.


Paul Robeson, 1942.
Credit: Grodon Parks, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Public Domain

Paul Robeson’s first performance at City Hall. People sat on the steps and queued for two hours to get a seat. Robeson sang what became his signature tune: Old Man River from the musical Showboat.


Eric Baker’s press card
Credit: John Baker

Whilst at Nether Edge Grammar School, Eric Baker became a member of the Society of Friends. He was later a co-founder of Amnesty International with Peter Berenson in 1961-2 and a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament  in the 1950s.


Black G.I.s were stationed at Wortley Hall, Ecclesfield. The US army was still segregated during the war. Whilst the white officers stayed in the house, the Black troops lived in tents in the grounds of the hall. The Black GIs played baseball on Ecclesfield Common on May Day 1944.


The 2nd World Peace Congress was held at the City Hall, visited by the artist Pablo Picasso, 50,00 signatories and 4,500 delegates. Paul Robeson was refused a visa to travel to Britain because his passport had been confiscated by the US government. MI5 were also fearful of an impact on the colonies.


Pelé, 1962
Credit: Bilsen, Joop van /Anefo

World famous Brazilian footballer Pelé’s team Santos played an exhibition match at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday. Afterwards there was a dinner at the Grand Hotel.


Malcolm X
Credit: Ed Ford Library of Congress Public Domain

Malcolm X came to Sheffield in 1964 and addressed the Sheffield Students’ Union, speaking about human rights and his stance against exploitation and racism.

The following year, the Motown Tour at the City Hall included The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. The concert was mainly due to the efforts of Dave Godin, who lived in Sheffield. He later coined the phrase ‘Northern Soul’.


Sheffield Black CARD was founded with links to Martin Luther King. On 23 October  Preston King, a ‘political refugee’ from the USA and a black professor at Sheffield University, addressed a public meeting of the Camping Against Radical Discrimination, organised by the West Indian Association.


A Race Relations project called STAND (Sheffield Takes Action No Discrimination at Northern College) was organised  by sixth formers from 21 Sheffield schools at the Masonic Lodge, Surrey St. Music was provided by the ‘Kinfolk’ and the Detroit Soul Sound.


Olive Morris
Credit: Fawcett Society Fair Use

The Black Liberation Conference held at the behest of Martin Flannery MP included British Black Panther Party members from London: Darcus Owusu or Howe, Althea Jones and Olive Morris. Sheffield input was from the Black Arts Workshop, Frank Girling and Mike McColgan, Sheffield University.


Pedro Fuentes (1910-1975) fleeing Chile, 19 October 1975.
Credit: Pedro Fuentes

President Allende of Chile was overthrown by the Chilean army in a violent coup. The Sheffield Labour Party and trade unions invited refugees to come to Sheffield. Many Chilean exiles came to the city and were warmly welcomed on arrival.


Anti-Apartheid single protestor
Credit: Paul Blomfield

The Anti-Apartheid Movement (Sheffield) was set up by David Blunkett, Clive Betts and Paul Blomfield (secretary), later to become MPs in the city. Members included Dorothy Dixon-Barrow and Guy Lambert.


Asian Youth Movement in Sheffield
Credit: Matloub Hussain

A march through Burngreave to the city centre by the Asian Youth Movement (Sheffield): members included Matloub Husayn Ali Khan and Muhktar Dar.7


Anti-Iraq war demonstration and the first Peace in the Park event.

Stop the War demonstration in Sheffield
Credit: Stop the War Coalition


Myra Davies founded ASSIST Sheffield to support asylum seekers.


The Occupy Sheffield campaign began.


Credit: Occupy Sheffield

Following the financial crisis of 2008, several groups have been established in Sheffield to address the growing inequality around us. These include the Sheffield Equality Group, My Fair City, and the Equality Commission.

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