David Oluwale traveled to the UK from Nigeria hoping to become an engineer but died at the age of 38 after being racially harassed by police officers. Born in Lagos in 1930, he had migrated from Nigeria in August 1949, hiding on board a cargo ship headed for Hull.
He was jailed for being a stowaway and after his release, he could not fulfil his dreams of becoming a student and so while in Leeds, he worked as a tailor, foundry worker and slaughterhouse labourer but was jailed again and labelled as a schizophrenic. Oluwale was institutionalized for eight years and came out as a homeless man on the streets of Leeds, where he was regularly harassed by police officers Insp Geoffrey Ellerker and Sgt Kenneth Kitching.
Oluwale was last seen on April 18, 1969, running away from the two police officers on Call Lane in Leeds city center, before his body was pulled from the River Aire two weeks later. His death led to the first prosecution of British police for involvement in the death of a Black person.
The two police officers who persistently harassed him were unsuccessfully tried with manslaughter, although both were found guilty of earlier assaults on him. His case called attention to institutional racism in the city, with his supporters claiming he was “hounded to death” by police.
More than 50 years after his death, work has started on a Leeds footbridge to commemorate him and remind authorities of the giant strides that have been made by the city on diversity and inclusion. Working alongside the David Oluwale Memorial Association (DOMA) and local partners, Leeds City Council will name the new bridge crossing the river from Sovereign Street to Water Lane in his memory and the finished crossing will become part of the wider regeneration of the city center’s South Bank.
“This footbridge will be an enduring symbol of David’s life and a continued reminder of our collective responsibilities in calling out racism and promoting diversity,” Alison Lowe, West Yorkshire’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, said.
Dr. Emily Zobel Marshall, the co-chair of DOMA, added: “Naming this bridge for David Oluwale gives residents and visitors alike a clear message that Leeds is dedicated to confronting the traumas of the past and becoming a place of welcome and sanctuary for all people.”
In January 2021, it was announced that British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare is creating a sculpture in memory of Oluwale. Shonibare said he wanted to “remind people that we live in a multicultural society and diversity is important.”
Oluwale was also memorialized in a play by Oladipo Agboluaje, performed at the Leeds Playhouse in 2009 and adapted from Kester Aspden’s book of the same name, The Hounding of David Oluwale.