Moses Whyte - Walsall’s first Brit-African Caribbean Councillor
Written by Mkuu Amani
"Black History Month is a good thing because it reminds us of where we are coming from. If you're coming from somewhere, you must also be going somewhere.
"Black History Month has opened the eyes of thousands of people. It's an eye-opener that says we must celebrate where we've been and share this with our offspring - helping them to take our aspirations as members of the community even further."
Welcome to this unique Walsall Black History Month 2020 feature.
In 1996 Moses Whyte created history by becoming Walsall's first Brit-African Caribbean Councillor.
It was a historical event that occurred thirty-four years after he’d moved to England from the Caribbean.
And here, as part of our 2020 Black History Month celebrations, we are proud to be able to share and celebrate his story.
The Early Years
Moses Whyte was born in 1942 in the north-western parish of Trelawny, Jamaica. He spent his early years there, with his parents and siblings.
As he grew up, people around him recognised his kind nature. He would later share that his grandmother's influence played a part. She often reminded him to “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you."
He disliked seeing his friends go hungry, and it wasn't unusual for young Moses to invite a friend home for a meal.
It was these qualities that his mother had in mind when one day she told him that the name 'Moses' suited him well.
Moving To England
Whyte arrived in London, England in 1961 aged 19.
Travelling first by air to the U.K. capital, and then by taxi from London Victoria to Walsall, he joined his aunt at a house on Wednesbury Road.
England was, at times, very wet and bitterly cold. The harsh conditions, so different from what he'd been used to in Jamaica, alongside the racial hostility he soon experienced, especially whilst looking for work, made life extremely challenging. Despite this, he persevered and managed to get a job at Gill and Russell, a local metalworking tubes manufacturer.
Although he was grateful, that type of work wasn't what he'd envisaged for his career. He'd set his sights on becoming "A policeman, a soldier or a manager,"
In Jamaica, he'd also taken a keen interest in photography. This pastime would often feature as his life progressed.
Living and Learning
Whyte realised a career ambition by joining the Prince of Wales's Division of the British Army in 1967.
One of the few Black soldiers in the battalion, he served for around six years including three months on tour in Northern Ireland. Despite the many challenges he faced, which included no small degree of racism, he achieved the rank of Corporal.
"Anyone that goes in the Army - when they come out - they should have respect for humanity," he later said.
He finally settled in Walsall in 1980 having by now gained some invaluable life experience.
He'd spent much of his time in London - especially in Hackney; a district he grew to love. Before this, he'd also worked several jobs in Walsall including a role at Walsall Corporation the public transport service, and for an enjoyable period, at a Lithographic company.
Bolstered by the glowing references he received after leaving the Army, he also pursued various careers in London, gaining further skills and experience working in the legal profession and as a freelance journalist for the Caribbean Times.
By 1980 however, his keen interest in politics had become a driving force.
The Moses Whyte that returned to Walsall in 1980 was determined to see the Brit-African Caribbean community better supported by the local politicians.
His growing network of key contacts up and down the country would serve him well as he began to get involved with groups and organisations in and around the region.
They welcomed his input. For many, his election to a critical position within their ranks soon followed.
A.G.M. Elections in 1986 saw him become chair of the Community Relations Council (C.R.C.), a post he held for six years.
He also became vice-chair (and co-founder) of the African Caribbean Social & Economic Regeneration Group (A.C.S.E.R.G.) and the Afro Caribbean Youth Council (A.C.Y.C.).
In London, he'd become acquainted with several key figures. Amongst them was Bernie Grant who by that time, had become Labour Councillor in the London Borough of Haringey.
Grant would go on to become (alongside Diane Abbott) the U.K.'s first 'Black' Member of Parliament. He'd also, at Whyte's request, visit Walsall at a later date to speak at an event.
For many years Whyte had been an active member of the Labour Party, often supporting his colleagues during their campaigns.
In 1996, the Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council Elections provided the opportunity for him to contest a seat by standing as Labour Party candidate for the St Matthew's ward.
He gained an impressive 1,597 votes. It was enough to beat his 2nd placed rival by 587 votes. His campaign had attracted a 52.3% majority of the votes cast.
"My aim is to serve all the people of Walsall, and all the communities living in the St Matthew's ward, for which I am a member, to the best of my ability," Whyte said following his historic election success.
As an elected Councillor, over the next four years, he chaired several Walsall Council Committees including the Community Services and Equality of Services Committee.
Through the work of the Trelawny Overseas Relief Association U.K., a not-for-profit agency, Whyte organised Jamaica's medical services in his native town of Trelawny medical equipment and supplies from the U.K.
The provision included large shipments of beds, bed-linen and wheelchairs.
Today - The Lasting Legacy
Moses Whyte's name will forever be synonymous with Walsall history and with the town's celebration of Black History Month.
Today he continues to live in the borough as a much-respected figure and remains active as a Community Advisor.