Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

011: Dr John Alcindor (1873-1924)

Alcindor photograph ca 1924

John Alcindor was born in Trinidad in July 1873, studied at St Mary’s College and was awarded one of the four Island Scholarships which funded him for three years’ study. He  went to Edinburgh University 1893-1899, graduating M.B., B.Ch. in July 1899 and moving to London where he worked for several doctors and hospitals. He set up his own practice in the Harrow Road, Paddington, and also worked as a Poor Law medical officer. During the war he served the Red Cross and was awarded their medal.

Married in 1911, he had three sons. He played cricket for a hobby, and conducted medical research, publishing three papers in the medical press. He was in contact with other black people in Britain, attending the 1900 Pan-African conference organised by Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams, was a friend of the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (born in London in 1875, son of a doctor from Sierra Leone) and befriended his American friends including violinist Clarence Cameron White and baritone Harry T. Burleigh in 1908-9.

Alcindor letter 1901Among Dr Alcindor’s work before he established his own medical practice were periods with Dr Little (letter, left), being a superintendent at Paddington Infirmary (1899), assistant medical officer at St Mary’s Hospital for Women and Children in Plaistow (1900), and in 1902 the acting assistant physician at the Hospital of St Francis in south west London. Add to his studies and periods at Glasgow and Edinburgh hospitals, by 1902 he had a very useful professional experience.

 In 1921 Dr Alcindor took over the black-rights group the African Progress Union on the resignation of chairman John Archer. He attended both the 1921 and 1923 Pan-African Congresses in London, and renewed his friendship with W.E.B. Du Bois. His contacts included many black people in London, and he corresponded with Trinidad, Cameroon, and Kenya as well as white-run liberal groups in France and Britain. He was a guest at the Croydon wedding in 1924 of Gwendolen Coleridge-Taylor to Harold Dashwood – the same year he went to Paris on behalf of his West African lawyer friend Charles Coussey whose daughter Anne Marie had fallen in love with a future giant of African American literature, poet Langston Hughes. Two years later she married the Trinidadian lawyer Hugh Wooding – and Hughes wrote about his Paris experience in his The Big Sea autobiography (1940).

The funeral of the “Black Doctor” of Paddington was noted in the local press, which said he had been a “familiar figure in the neighbourhood” and was “of kindly and sympathetic disposition” (Paddington, Kensington and Bayswater Chronicle 1 November 1924) and in the African World (London), 8 November 1924, p 73 where he was described as having led a life that was “a shining example of the extinction of racial prejudice by high character, and the fact that a coloured man can earn the esteem and respect of all classes of the English people, both for charming personality and sterling character”. See page 025 of this site.

In 1946 the coffin of his son Captain Cyril Alcindor, an infantry officer who had been a regular infantryman in the 1930s, was interred in the same plot.

Dr Alcindor had died at the age of 51. There can be little doubt that had he continued to run the African Progress Union then the better-known League of Coloured Peoples, founded by Jamaica-born Dr Harold Moody in London in 1931, would not have been needed. That both doctors worked with John Barbour-James shows continuity. Alcindor’s replacement was the Ghanaian merchant Kwamina Tandoh.

Alcindor, Barbour-James, Moody and Tandoh all have entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. For the fullest study of Alcindor see Jeffrey Green, “John Alcindor (1873-1924): a Migrant’s Biography” in Immigrants and Minorities Vol 6 No 2 (July 1987) pp 174-189. There is also Jeffrey Green, “West Indian Doctors in London: John Alcindor (1873-1924) and James Jackson Brown (1882-1953)”, Journal of Caribbean History Vol 20 No 1 (June 1986) pp 49-77. Percy Chen’s China Called Me (New York: Little, Brown, 1979)  is an overlooked account of life for a youth of colour in London in the 1910s.

 

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