The latest ‘black plaque’ in London, unveiled on Windrush Day (Tuesday 22 June), remembers the life and work of Val McCalla, founder of The Voice newspaper.
Born into a poor community in Kingston, Jamaica, Val McCalla travelled to Britain in 1959 aged just 15, making him one of the Windrush generation.
McCalla soon found his vocation working on the East End News in Bethnal Green, but keen to raise awareness of Black issues and to tell the stories of Black life in Britain, he founded The Voice newspaper in 1982 and nearly 40 years later, the publication continues to be a pillar in Black British community.
McCalla’s contribution to the Black community has led to the honour of receiving the accolade from The Black Plaque project. Black plaques are modelled on London’s famous blue plaques which have served as a permanent tribute to Britain’s notable men and women since 1866. However, only 1.6% of those honoured in this way were of African or Caribbean descent.
To raise awareness of the imbalance that still exists and to do something visible to address it, The Black Plaque Project was specifically created to celebrate the lives of some of London’s many notable Black residents – who, despite their achievements, continued to be officially overlooked.
Other plaques already in place across London include Winifred Atwell’s, described by Elton John as his first hero on the piano and the first Black person to reach number one in the UK singles chart. Last November, Len Dyke, Dudley Dryden and Tony Wade, the fathers of the Black hair care and beauty industry in the 1960s and among Britain’s first Black millionaires, also received a black plaque.
In total, permissions for 27 black plaques are being secured, with an interactive Black Plaques map at www.blackplaqueproject.com allowing the public to find the locations of the commemorations as they are installed and to learn more about the men and women they celebrate.
Dr Jak Beula, founder of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, a platform which highlights Black achievement, said: “We are thrilled to raise awareness of pioneer Val McCalla through a black plaque, which we are looking forward to turning permanently blue in August. Val was a significant personality, and his life’s work led to greater awareness of the experiences of the Black community in Britain. Even after his death, his influence continues to be felt.
“It is all the more poignant that this installation is taking place on Windrush Day 2021. The Windrush generation have made, and continue to make, extraordinary contributions to this country, and it is vital that they are not forgotten in the history we teach future generations.”
Sam Adio & Ken Abalos, the Havas London creative team behind The Black Plaque Project, said: “Val McCalla is exactly the type of man Londoners need to learn more about. He had a tough start in life in Jamaica but ended up a successful entrepreneur and an influential voice at a time when the lives and experiences of Black people in Britain were not high up the agenda.”