Greater Manchester's Black Pioneers

Take a journey through Greater Manchester history through the stories of these key black pioneers

We Love Manchester (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

History Makers

Too often in history the achievements of black people have been overlooked because of the colour of their skin. To celebrate Black History month we tell the stories of some of the key black figures in Greater Manchester's history - the people who helped to shape our city region.

Arthur Wharton Tameside MBC (19th Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Arthur Wharton (1865 - 1930)

Arthur Wharton, who was born in Ghana, was the world's first black professional footballer. He originally came to England aged 19 to train as a Methodist missionary but soon decided to become an athlete instead.  Team photo provided by Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council.

Football Career

Arthur played for a number of English football teams, including Preston North End, Rotherham Town and Sheffield United. Arthur has strong Greater Manchester connections playing for both Stalybridge Rovers and Ashton North End before ending his career at Stockport County.

Arthur Wharton Poem (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

All Round Sportsman

As well as playing football, Arthur Wharton was also a professional cricketeer and was likely the first black player in the Yorkshire and Lancashire leagues. He was an all-round sportsman, holding the world record for the 100-yard sprint and a keen cyclist.   


Although he was buried in an unmarked grave in 1930, recent campaigns have led to further recognition of Arthur's contribution to sport. In 2003 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame and in 2014 a statue was unveiled at St George's Park National Football Centre.

Caribbean by Michael RougierLIFE Photo Collection

Louise Da Cocodia MBE (1934 - 2008)

Born in Saint Catherine, Jamaica, Louise Da Cocodia MBE overcame prejudice to be appointed as the first black senior nursing officer in Manchester. Her experiences fuelled her determination to strive for equality by becoming a community activist and anti-racism campaigner.

The White Queen (1950-04) by Margaret Bourke-WhiteLIFE Photo Collection

Nursing Role

In 1955, Louise moved to Britain aged 21 as part of the government's overseas recruitment drive to staff the newly formed NHS. Louise progressed to become Assistant Superintendent of District Nurses. A title which saw her become Manchester’s first Senior Nursing Officer.

Louise Da Cocodia (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce


Louise Da Cocodia was not only an inspirational figure in the world of healthcare. She also became an inspirational figure for the wider black community as she used her position to campaign against institutional racism. Something which she had experienced in her own career.  

Manchester 1 (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Bridging the Gap

Louise Da Cocodia once said “deep in my mind is my commitment to bridge the gap which has led to black people being treated as inferior.” In the 1960's & 70's she served on the Race Relations Board, where she handled complaints brought forward under the Race Relations Act 1965.

Louise Da Cocodia MBE (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce


After a remarkable career, Louise Da Cocodia was nominated to the Manchester Magistrates Bench in 1990, serving for 14 years. 9 years later she was appointed Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Manchester prior to receiving an MBE in 2005.

By George SilkLIFE Photo Collection

Len Johnson (1902 - 1974)

Leonard Benker Johnson, commonly known as Len Johnson, is widely regarded as one of the best middleweight boxers to have existed in the years between the World Wars. Born in Clayton, Manchester, Len Johnson became the first non-white boxer to hold a major title. 

Walcott-Louis Fight (1947) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection


Len Johnson’s talents saw him have an exceptional career with him winning over 70% of his professional fights. On 20th February 1926, Len Johnson won The British Empire Title on points, becoming the first non-white person to hold a major title.

Uncrowned Champion

Due to racial discrimination Johnson was unable to contest for other titles. However he defeated many champions of the time -  British Middleweight Champion Ronald Todd, European middleweight champion Leone Jaccovacci and European light-heavyweight champion Michele Bonaglia. 

By Vernon Merritt IiiLIFE Photo Collection


After retiring from boxing, the racial injustice faced by Len Johnson  motivated him to become a political activist. He co-founded The New International Society campaign group in Moss Side - committing to campaigning locally and internationally to end racial discrimination. 

Yomi Mambu European Parliament (20th Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Yomi Mambu

Yomi Mambu was the first black person to hold the title of Lord Mayor in England, (1989-1990). Born in Sierra Leone, she was also the first person born outside of the UK to be Lord Mayor of Manchester. 

Yomi Mambu One (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Equal Opportunities

Yomi was councillor for the Rusholme area of Manchester and was an equality champion for women. She became chair of the Equal Opportunities and Anti-Discrimination Panel in 1994.

Yomi Mambu 5 (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce


Yomi Mambu's pioneering role in politics is commemorated by a sculpture in the Manchester Town Hall. The sculpture was carved by Sol Garson, a local  artist from Levenshulme, who wanted to mark the historic period of office of the first black Lord Mayor. 

Arthur Lewis One (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Sir William Arthur Lewis (1915 - 1991)

Sir Arthur Lewis was born in Saint Lucia, a small island in the Caribbean which produced one of the 20th century's most powerful minds. In 1947, Sir Arthur became the first black lecturer in the UK and in  1979 he became the first black person to win a Nobel Prize.

New South (1949-06-06) by Margaret Bourke-WhiteLIFE Photo Collection

Academic Success

He showed great promise from a young age. He was advanced two years ahead in school, which meant he finished high school at the tender age of 14 years old. In 1932 at the age of 18 he was granted a Government scholarship to attend the London  School of Economics.

London School of Economics

At LSE he enjoyed further attention and admiration. He was offered an Assistant Lecturer role, a great achievement at the time though it came with restrictions such as limitations on hours he could work and groups he could work with.

University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester (0020-05) by Dave MacLeod, Historic EnglandHistoric England

University Days

Through his resolve and determination, Sir Arthur was selected to be a full-time lecturer at The University of Manchester in 1947, where he made history by becoming the first black lecturer in the UK, a year later becoming full professor.

Developing Countries

Sir Arthur recognised that developing countries having recently gained independence had a predicament; as demand grew in the cities, labour supply would grow at a faster rate resulting in a labour surplus in more lucrative sectors while leaving other sectors deprived.     

Arthur Lewis Two (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Economic Development

From here, Sir Arthur wrote an article called ‘Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour’. In this article he produced the Dual-sector Model, commonly known as the Lewis Model, which is widely seen as the most influential contribution to Developmental Economics.

Jamaica Independence by Arthur RickerbyLIFE Photo Collection


The reputation of Sir Arthur led him to serve as an economic advisor to numerous African and Caribbean governments, including Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Barbados. When Ghana gained independence in 1957, Lewis was appointed as the country's first economic advisor.

Arthur Lewis Three (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Nobel Prize

In 1979, Sir Arthur Lewis’ prestige and contribution to economics was recognised with the highest award; The Nobel Prize. He was the first black person to win this honour. The Nobel Prize is a fitting award to commemorate Sir Arthur Lewis’ life work.

Credits: Story

Arthur Wharton Foundation
Matthew Wareing (Unsplash)
Working Class Movement Library
London School of Economics and Political Science
University of Manchester
Manchester Metropolitan University 
European Parliament (Reference1990C316_C320) Copyright© European Union 1990 - EP
Cariocca Enterprises 
Nobel Foundation
Tameside Local Studies
Christine Clough (Tameside Local History Forum)
Manchester City Council 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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