012: Duse Mohamed, actor, editor, author: London 1912

Unable to attend the funeral, Mohamed wrote to Coleridge-Taylor's widow
Unable to attend the funeral, Mohamed wrote to Coleridge-Taylor’s widow

Duse Mohamed (later Duse Mohamed Ali) was an actor who in late 1902 was described as a “distinguished coloured reciter” (Beverley Guardian, Yorkshire) and in 1905 was producing, in London, “Getting His Own Back” (Magnet, Leeds,  23 September 1905). He wrote a book on Egypt (In the Land of the Pharoahs, 1911) then edited the African Times and Orient Review in London from 1912. He claimed descent from an Egyptian army officer and a Sudanese woman, but it is likely that he was a black American. He had plagiarized other authors to write his history of Egypt.

His magazine detailed aspects of the experience of colonised people, and when Britain was at war with Turkey his views upset the authorities. He moved to New York in the early 1920s (and worked with Marcus Garvey, who had worked for him in London in 1913), and then settled in Nigeria where he edited The Comet and influenced younger black leaders in the 1930s. His autobiography was published in The Comet and its comments on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor show no insights. Indeed, Mohamed hardly knew the composer – he used a 1915 biography for his “facts”.

His letter (above) to Jessie Coleridge-Taylor, expressing his feelings and offering to write her late husband’s biography, is at the Royal College of Music.

The third issue of his African Times and Orient Review was dedicated to the composer but it also has no insights. That two black men, living in London (Coleridge-Taylor lived in Croydon), concerned about the progress of “the race” and known by name to so many, did not know each other at all well suggests that the activities of people of African descent in England, a century ago, were quite diverse.

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