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15 minutes of fame | Hakim Adi chooses Alice Kinloch

As part of our series exploring lost or lesser-known figures from history who deserve their 15 minutes of fame, Rhiannon Davies interviews Hakim Adi about the life of Alice Kinloch

Published: August 8, 2022 at 3:24 pm
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Who was Alice Kinloch?

It is thought that Kinloch was born c1863 in Cape Province, South Africa, and died around c1946 in Tanganyika (today’s Tanzania). During her lifetime, Kinloch was a prominent public speaker in Britain, bringing attention to the maltreatment and oppression of African miners in Kimberley, where she had grown up. Associating with other ‘critics of empire’, explains Adi, Alice travelled all around Britain, engaging with several different liberal and progressive organisations, to spread awareness of the exploitation involved in mining work. Kinloch also discussed missionaries’ complicity in the system of exploitation, which was, explains Adi, incredibly controversial at the time.

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Alice Kinloch’s life

Unafraid to speak her mind about these issues, Alice Kinloch continued to lecture around the country, where she eventually met Henry Sylvester Williams, a Trinidadian man who is considered by many as the father of Pan-Africanism – the notion that people from Africa and the diaspora should work together to raise awareness of the problems they faced, and to work together to bring about their liberation and that of the African continent.

Though Williams is credited as beginning Pan-Africanism, Adi explains how it has now come to light that Kinloch was the inspiration for this. Together, Kinloch and Williams founded the African Association in 1897, to help spread information about maltreatment in the mines and exploitation of African people both in South Africa and Britain.

Though there were a few women, explains Adi, who were educated and prominent in public life during this period, Kinloch was unusual in that she carried out her work in Britain, despite being South African. Her travels around the country to lecture were very rare at the time, and she was a pioneer of political activism on behalf of South Africans being exploited.

Why does Alice Kinloch deserve her 15 minutes of fame?

Alice Kinloch deserves her 15 minutes of fame, says Adi, because she was a strong character who was “a central figure in the development of modern Pan-Africanism”. He acknowledges that the history archive is often oriented towards white men, meaning that figures like Alice Kinloch have been forgotten. However, Adi points out that there is plenty of evidence that Alice was essential to Pan-Africanism and African rights activism during her life, and he thinks that she was responsible for many of the developments that Pan-Africanism has made today too. “She was a trailblazer for the movement,” says Adi, “and for this reason, she deserves to be remembered in the historical record.”

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Hakim Adi was speaking to Rhiannon Davies. Adi is Professor of the History of Africa and the African Diaspora at the University of Chichester, and the author of the upcoming African and Caribbean People in Britain: A History (Allen Lane, September 2022)

Listen to the full interview and find more episodes in our 15 minutes of fame podcast series

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Article compiled by Isabel King

Authors

Rhiannon DaviesSection editor, BBC History Magazine

Rhiannon Davies is section editor for BBC History Magazine and our Tudor ambassador, writing a fortnightly newsletter in which she shares the latest Tudor news, anniversaries and content with her audience. She also regularly appears on the award-winning HistoryExtra podcast.

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