Civil rights campaigner Charles Udor Minto MBE has been honoured with a blue plaque and an exhibition as part of Black History Month celebrations in North Tyneside.
Charles was a Nigerian middleweight boxing champion who fought to provide accommodation, community events, job opportunities and employment rights for the hundreds of black people who lived in North Shields in the 1930s and 1940s.
The plaque was unveiled on Thursday 19th October, 2023, at 3 Northumberland Place, North Shields, by chair of North Tyneside Council, Councillor Brian Burdis.
Now Pattinson Estate Agents, the building was formerly Colonial House, a hostel and community centre that Charles Minto was instrumental in founding.
North Shields Heritology Project has curated a display about Charles which is on display in the foyer of North Shields Customer First Centre throughout October, Black History Month.
It describes how he came to live in North Shields in the 1920s with his wife, Mary, who he met and married in Liverpool.
He was a founder member and president of the Coloured National Mutual Association based in North Shields, and later set up the International Coloured Mutual Aid Association in the town.
There were more than 500 black people living in North Shields at the time, mostly of Caribbean and West African descent, including around 300 children.
When 300 West Indian and African seamen were stranded in North Shields at the outbreak of war in 1939, Charles Minto pushed the government to support a new hostel for them.
That hostel was Colonial House, opened in 1942 by future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who was then Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Colonies. At the opening Macmillan said: “We will intend this movement to be a lasting one and that it will spread.
“You are the pioneers, we recognise it, believe in it and will give all possible assistance. I particularly thank Mr. Minto who is the leading spirit.”
Charlie Minto was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list, 1949.
Elected Mayor of North Tyneside Dame Norma Redfearn DBE said: “It is our privilege as a council to install a blue plaque to remember such an important figure in the history of North Tyneside in the 20th Century.
“Charles Minto fought tirelessly for the rights and welfare of the black community in North Shields.”
David Young of North Shields Heritology Project said: “I never met Charles Minto but I felt an immediate connection to him when I first came across his story. Like his family, mine lived on Clive Street on the low road and then moved up to the Ridges Estate during the slum clearances in the 1930s.
“His story is one of determination and resolve. No doubt he overcame many obstacles and hardships throughout his life.
“I think the skills he learned as a champion boxer he adapted well to help achieve his ambitions for the black community of North Shields.
“Against the odds he persuaded the government to open Colonial House during WW2, in what would become the first of many such establishments across the country for black servicemen.
“After the war he continued to act as a spokesman for the black community of Shields, working hard to improve their job opportunities and confronting employment discrimination.
“He also organised fundraising and many social events. He actively encouraged black children to bring along white friends to these, to draw the two communities closer together.”
Caroline Pattinson is Managing Director of Keith Pattinson, which has an office at 3 Northumberland Square. She said: “We are delighted to have learned more about the extraordinary history of the building.
“Over the last 30 years it has been an estate agency office and home to our survey department, but clearly it has played an important role in the region.
“There are often lots of unsung heroes in communities. It is fantastic that attention is being drawn to Charles Minto and hopefully his legacy can live on.”