Today, we celebrate the life and legacy of Louise Da-Cocodia, a Black nurse of Jamaican descent who became the first black senior officer in Manchester in the 60s and a proactive anti-racist campaigner until when she passed away in 2008.
WHO WAS LOUISE DA-COCODIA?
Louise Da-Cocodia was born Born in the Saint Catherine parish of Jamaica on 9th November 1934 and came to Britain in 1955 to start training as anurse. At the time, the NHS was still in its infancy and was actively recruiting nurses from British colonies and former colonies to make up for the lack of nursing staff in the UK. Many women from the Caribbean, including Louise, answered the call to became trainee nurses .Before leaving Jamaica, Louise applied to several hospitals and was accepted by St Olave’s hospital in London where she began her nurse training in 1958.
Louise Da-Cocodia illustration by Ellie Thomas for Women in Print
WHY DID SHE BECOME AN ANTI-RACIST CAMPAIGNER?
Upon her arrival in the UK, Louise was one of the very few Black women training to be nurses within the NHS. As a result, she and fellow Black nurses faced a lot of discrimination which was a shock to Louise. Despite being a qualified nurse, Louise was subject to hostile treatment from her envious White colleagues who would often complain about her giving orders. She also noticed how White nurses were treated better than Black ones, being allocated easy tasks whilst Black nurses were often expected to do the most unpleasant tasks such as cleaning soiled sheets and emptying bedpans. Sadly, Black nurses not only experienced racism from White colleagues, but also from patients. Older patients would often racially abuse Black nurses like Louise, refusing to be treated by them and going as far as behaving hysterically as soon as they were touched by black hands.
The discrimination Louise was experiencing in her work was the catalyst for her involvement in anti-racist campaigning and the fight against race inequalities. She treated her activism as a “commitment to bridge the gap which has led to blacks being treated as inferior.” In the 1960s and 70s, she served on regional Race Relations Board committees, dealing with complaints brought to light by newly established discrimination laws. In 1995, she was recognised for her campaigning efforts by being given the Manchester Race Award for improving race relations in the city.
Despite all the discrimination Louise faced, Louise always took great pride in her work and through hard work, perseverance and determination, she rose through the ranks and achieved great success in her nursing career.
In 1966 , she became Assistant Superintendent of District Nurses, the first time a Black nurse held a senior officer role in Manchester. As well as being a proactive anti-racist campaigner, she was passionate about community service and improving Black people’s quality of life whether it was through better housing, better education or better employment. She was particularly keen “…to help young Black people understand that [the UK] is their home,
this is the society they live in, and that they have a part to play in developing it.” This prompted her to found the Cariocca Education trust which aims to financially support students of African Caribbean heritage studying in the fields of accountancy, science, engineering and information technology.
In 2005, she received an MBE for her community work and her a continued efforts to improve race relations in Manchester. She passed away on 13th March 2008, following which the Cariocca trust was renamed the Louise Da-Cocodia Education Trust in honour of her memory. The trust continues the work she started providing better studying opportunities for young Afro-Caribbean people.
Louise firmly believed that anyone could achieve anything through hard work and determination, even despite being discriminated against. She embodied this until the day she died and will remain a positive inspiration not only for Black nurses but for Black people aspiring to achieve fulfilling careers despite the racism they might face.