An Honourable Lady shaping Black History Month

Tributes paid to Betty Campbell, Wales’ first Black head teacher and equality advocate

By Thomas L Blair 30 September 2021©

Black History Month Britain is here again, but in Cardiff’s Butetown century-old Black and Asian communities it has a special meaning. They have acknowledged Betty Campbell Wales’ first Black head teacher and founder of its annual celebration with the unveiling of her statue Wednesday, September 29.

Born into a poor household, Campbell (1934-2017) won a scholarship to a girl’s school in Cardiff, trained as a teacher, eventually becoming head teacher of Mount Stuart Primary School in Butetown, one of Britain’s earliest multiracial districts. She proved she could overcome the barriers to her dreams.

Family friends and fellow councillors remember her because she put Black culture on the curriculum and taught children about slavery, apartheid and the contribution of people of colour to British society. She also championed equality and diversity as Butetown Councillor in the seafront district once the scene of rampaging white mobs against Black, Asian and Muslim seamen and dockworkers in 1919.

In tribute, her granddaughter Michele Campbell-Davies said Campbell is a “beacon of hope” in a school system still prone to letting down Black and Asian students.

Why? Because she paved the way through trips, class assemblies and workshops that forged the way for Black History Wales 365 celebrated not just annually, but throughout the year.

Judge Ray Singh CBE Chair of Race Council Cymru said the statue is a “worthy tribute to an outstanding Welsh woman, whose legacy lives on”.

She has received a lifetime achievement award from Kebba Manneh, chair of Unison Cymru Wales’ Black Members Group, for her lifetime contribution to Black History in Education in Wales.

Geraldine Trotman, Black History Patron for Wales said: “I am so proud of Betty, this is one of the greatest moments for us, all of us in Butetown, all of us in Wales.

Professor Uzo Iwobi OBE, Black History Wales Representative & Founder of Race Council Cymru said: “I am absolutely delighted to see this day when Mrs Betty Campbell MBE our much beloved Black History Wales Patron’s statue is erected and installed in its prestigious place here in the heart of Cardiff.

Fondly, sculptor Eve Shepherd said the statue is like a mother tree in woodlands whose head and shoulders form a canopy, beneath which are ten young children.

She continued: ” I thought that was like Betty – she reminds me of a mother tree to her community. She protected her community, her children, and her school. She was so strongly connected, so respected and she educated and she gave parts of herself for the good of the community.”

Sculptor Eve included a quote from Mrs Campbell herself in the sculpture, which reads in both English and Welsh: “We were a good example to the rest of the world, how you can live together regardless of where you come from or the colour of your skin.”

Leader of Cardiff Council Huw Thomas was one of the speakers.  Mrs Campbell represented Butetown on the council from 1999 to 2004. He acknowledged the need to re-evaluate statues in our cities and ask questions about who they represent, what they represent, who chose them.

“I think it’s very fitting therefore in that context that the people of Wales voted that the first real woman to be commemorated with the statue should be a Black woman, born here in this city, to humble backgrounds, a woman who paved the way towards equality of employment, equality of opportunity and whose mission it was to inspire the city’s young people to achieve their dreams.”

In the context of today’s social justice demands, Mrs Campbell’s life has special meaning. Progress the training and employment of Black teachers. Reform schools and curricula that don’t seem to care about Black students. Include the Black Experience in Welsh and British history. Press on together to inspire and empower future generations to excel.