To mark Black History Month, LSE 125 celebrates some of the people who have worked and studied at the School.
Bhimrao Ramji (B R) Ambedkar
In 1916 B R Ambedkar registered to study for a master’s degree at LSE following studies at Columbia University. It was a brief stay interrupted by the First World War but in 1920 he returned to the School, completed his master’s thesis and submitted his PhD thesis in March 1923. The Problem of the Rupee was accepted in November 1923 after a resubmission in August 1923. His supervisor, Professor Edwin Cannan, described the thesis as having “a stimulating freshness”. In 1947 Ambedkar became the first Law Minister of independent India. Ambedkar was born into the Mahar caste, then an ‘untouchable’ caste and in his work guiding the drafting and acceptance of India’s new constitution he ensured the inclusion of safeguards for minority groups.
Pinaman Owusu-Banahene was born in Accra, Ghana and moved to New Zealand aged 18. She worked in public policy and the health sector before making the move to social entrepreneurship. She was a Chevening Scholar and studied MSc Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at LSE in 2019.
A young Parsi woman, Mithan Tata, arrived at LSE in 1919. She and her mother, Herabai, had come to London to lobby for the extension of the franchise to Indian women. Tata had an economics degree from Elphinstone College, Bombay, and registered for a MSc in economics whilst also training for the bar at Lincoln’s Inn. In 1921 she was selected to meet George V and Queen Mary at the laying of the foundation stone for the Old Building. In 1923 Tata was the first Indian woman to be called to the bar in 1923. On her return to India she became Professor of Law at the Government Law College in Mumbai.
David Levering Lewis
David Levering Lewis was born in Little Rock, Arkansas to an African American family. He studied French History at LSE in 1962. Now, he is an American historian, The Julius Silver University Professor and a professor of history, emeritus, New York University. He is the first author to win Pulitzer Prizes for biography for two successive volumes on the same subject – the life of W E B Du Bois.
In 1921 Sylvanus Olympio travelled from West Africa to London to complete his education and registered for the B Commerce degree in 1922 and in his final year was examined on the trade of tropical Africa. His first appointment was with the United Africa Company in Nigeria but he was increasingly involved in the campaign to end French rule in Togo. In 1961 Olympio became the first President of Togo. He was assassinated in 1963.
Credit: UCLA Library Special Collections
In the 1930s the Anthropology Department became a focus for a group of black activists meeting around seminars organised by Professor Bronislaw Malinowski. Eslanda Robeson had studied Chemistry at Columbia University where she met the singer and actor Paul Robeson. They married in 1921 and moved to London in the 1930s. She studied at LSE from 1933 to 1935 and again from 1937 to 1938. She gained a PhD in anthropology from Hartford Seminary School in 1945. She was a strong supporter of African independence. In 1951 she interrupted the United Nations post war conference on genocide to highlight the lynchings and attacks on African Americans between 1945 and 1951.
Credit: National Archives of Malawi CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
One of Robeson’s fellow students was Jomo Kenyatta. Kenyatta arrived at LSE in 1934 after studies at Moscow State University. His thesis, Facing Mount Kenya, published in 1938 is an anthropological study of the Kikuyu of central Kenya and was published with a forward by Malinowski. When Kenyatta returned to Kenya in 1946 his campaign for independence led to his imprisonment but in 1963 he became Kenya’s first democratically elected head of state.
In 1937 Ralph Bunche arrived in London with a grant from the US Social Science Research Council to undertake further training in anthropology. He attended Malinowski’s seminars and had Swahili lessons from Jomo Kenyatta. He left for South Africa in September 1937 where his mentor was Isaac Schapera who had studied for his doctorate at LSE. Bunche’s later career was with the United Nations and in 1950 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in ending the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In 1968 he became Undersecretary-General of the United Nations.
In the same period the economist, Arthur Lewis arrived in London from Saint Lucia to study for B Commerce degree. After getting a first class degree he was awarded a scholarship to study for a PhD and in 1938 became the School’s first black academic when he was appointed to a temporary assistant lectureship, although Lewis’s teaching was limited to groups of students. The post was made permanent the following year. During the Second World War Friedrich Hayek described Lewis as “one of our best teachers”. In 1948 Lewis moved to Manchester as a full professor and later became the first Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. In 1979 he won the Nobel Prize for economics for “pioneering research into economic development with particular consideration of the problems of developing countries”.
After the war in 1946 Eugenia Charles arrived at LSE from Dominica to study law as well as studying for bar at Inner Temple. She was to go on to be the first female lawyer in Dominica. She also found time to work as a radio journalist for the BBC World Service. Charles withdrew from her law course in 1949 but she was called to the Bar. In 1980 she became the first female prime minister of Dominica.
Thandika Mkandawire was Professor of African Development at LSE from 2010 until his death in 2020. He was born in Zimbabwe and lived in both Malawi and Zambia, later studying and working in the USA and Sweden. He was a Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and Director of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.
Contributed by Sue Donnelly (LSE Archivist) and the Philanthropy and Global Engagement team.