Which Black Briton should appear on a British bank note?

22 July 2013 by Dickie


In 2016 Winston Churchill is set to replace Elizabeth Fry as the face on our fivers. It’s also been reported that Jane Austen is “waiting in the wings” to make her bow on a note sometime in the future. Which Black Briton do you think should appear on our bank notes? Dr Richard Benjamin, Head of the International Slavery Museum has made his choice.

Since 1970, various historical figures have been placed on the rear of £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes. To date, a Black person has never appeared on a British bank note. Journalist Jane Merrick asks isn’t it time we consider Black Britons for such a prestigious role? Merrick suggested English football legend John Barnes.

Dr Richard Benjamin, Head of the International Slavery Museum, has now come up with five Black Britons of his own that he’d like to see considered for inclusion on a bank note.

They might not be household names. Which says something about how the achievements of great Black Britons may have been historically hidden from view:   

 Dr Benjamin’s five great Black Britons:

1/ Walter Tull – sporting pioneer and war hero

Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888. He was brought up in an orphanage in Bethnal Green. He became Britain’s first Black outfield professional footballer when he signed for Spurs in 1908 and later Northampton. When the Great War broke out Till abandoned his football career to fight in the Battle of the Somme. His courage and leadership skills made him the first Black officer in the British Army. He was the first Black man to lead white men into battle. Tull  was killed in action in 1918 aged 29.

2) Samuel Coleridge-Taylor – composer of Hiawatha’s Wedding

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in London in 1875 and was an English composer once dubbed the “African Mahler”. Edward Elgar regarded Coleridge-Taylor as a genius. He composed Hiawatha’s Wedding which went on to be a massive success. Coleridge-Taylor made three tours of USA and was welcomed to the White House by President Roosevelt. He died in 1912 aged 37 through pneumonia.

3) Mary Seacole – hero of the Crimean War

Mary Seacole (1805 to 1881) was Jamaican-born and of Scottish and Creole descent. She went to the Crimean War to nurse and look after injured soldiers. Posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991, she was later voted the greatest ever black Briton. Soldiers called Mary ‘Mother Seacole’ and her famous portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. 

4) John Richard Archer – first Black mayor to be elected in London, born in Liverpool

Born in Liverpool in 1863, Archer became London’s first Black mayor. In 1918 he became President of the African Progress Union working for black empowerment and equality. He was a founding father of the British Labour Party. He died in 1932 aged 69.

5) Olaudah Equiano – author of The Interesting Narrative and abolitionist

(pictured at the top of this article – Engraving of abolition campaigner Olaudah Equiano from the 1793 edition of his autobiography (originally published in 1789)

Olaudah Equiano was born in 1745 and died in 1797. He was a prominent African involved in the British movement for the abolition of the slave trade.  He was enslaved as a child, purchased his freedom, and worked as an author, merchant, and explorer. His autobiography depicts the horrors of slavery and influenced the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

 What do you think? who would you have featured on a bank note?

Dr Richard Benjamin will be on Twitter Tuesday 23 July from 1pm-2.30pm to discuss this issue. He’d love to hear your suggestions @SlaveryMuseum


  1. Kelley Deetz says:

    EQUIANO, hands down!

  2. Kwaku says:

    Not a bad selection!

    I’d have had William Kofi (Cuffay) in there, and if it were open to living persons, Paul Stephensons!

    • Richard says:

      Thanks for the suggestions Kwaku. I like the idea of Paul Stephenson, especially as it’s 50 years since his civil rights activism led to the Bristol Bus Boycott.

  3. Donna Berry Thibodeau says:

    Olaudah Equiano

  4. John Cole says:

    Nice to see Walter Tull listed…..especially as his anniversary is only 5 years away – and this will coincide with events to mark the centenary of the end of the first World War.
    Other names I would put up for consideration would be………..
    John Blanke
    Dr Harold Moody
    Gordon Stretton
    Lord David Pitt
    ….and, to broaden the defination to include other people who have been forgotten or overlooked,
    Jem Mace

  5. Chris says:

    I would also choose Equiano.
    What a wonderful idea. I hope it happens.

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