Faces of Black Excellence October 05, 2021 at 12:00 pm

All about Wales’ first Black headteacher who helped found Black History Month and now honored

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor October 05, 2021 at 12:00 pm

October 05, 2021 at 12:00 pm | Faces of Black Excellence

A monument to honour Betty Campbell, Wales' first black headteacher. Photo: BBC

As a child growing up in the Tiger Bay area of Cardiff, Wales, Betty Campbell was told by one of her teachers that she could never be a headteacher because of the problems she would face as a Black woman. But she did not let that deter her from reaching her goal. Campbell would become the first Black headteacher in Wales, leading Mount Stuart primary in Butetown, Cardiff.

A popular community figure, Black history campaigner and headteacher for years in the city, Campbell has now been celebrated with an iconic statue in Central Square, Cardiff. What is even more interesting is that the monument is the first statue of a real, named woman set up in an open-air public space in Wales.

A 2018 UK survey of statues found that just one in five statues in Britain were of women. What’s more, most are statues of fictional characters or unnamed figures. A public vote decided three years ago that a statue would be made to honor Campbell, who died in 2017.

The statue was commissioned following a “Hidden Heroines” campaign organized by Monumental Welsh Women, broadcast on BBC Wales. A panel of experts made a list of 50 historic Welsh women, after realizing there were no statues celebrating heroines in Wales, according to BBC. Campbell topped a shortlist of five Welsh women.

Around 100 people gathered in Cardiff’s Central Square on Wednesday to witness the unveiling of the huge bronze monument to her. “Our family is extremely proud that Betty has been captured in this iconic and empowering way,” Campbell’s daughter, Elaine, told Sky News.

“She is the first living woman and woman of color to be made into a statue in Wales.

“She was first and foremost a wonderful wife, mother, auntie and community hero but her first passion was education – she believed it was a vehicle for success. Everyone recognizes her as a truly inspirational woman.”

The sculptor, Eve Shepherd, said it was a “total privilege and honor” to create the bronze statue, which depicts Campbell as an oak tree with children underneath. This is to portray her aspiration and inspiration for other generations, Sky News reported.

Helen Molyneux, the founder of Monumental Welsh Women, said she was hopeful that the statue would “inspire the next generation of Welsh women”.

“Betty’s impact during her life was incredible, but, as with so many women throughout history, likely to be forgotten or overlooked by future generations unless something was done to bring her to people’s attention,” Molyneux said.

Who was Campbell?

Campbell was born to a Jamaican father and Welsh Barbadian mother in 1934 in Cardiff’s docklands area, otherwise known as Tiger Bay. She worked as a teacher in Llanrumney before joining her local Mount Stuart Primary School. There, she became the headteacher, despite being told that she wouldn’t make it because she was Black. While leading Mount Stuart, Campbell was inspired by the civil rights movement in the U.S. and taught her pupils all they needed to know about Black history and slavery.

She subsequently became a member of the Home Office’s race advisory committee, worked for the Commission for Racial Equality and helped found Black History Month, according to The Guardian. A county councilor for Cardiff’s Butetown ward, the educator was also a member of the preparation committee for the opening of the National Assembly in 1998.

Shubnam Aziz, currently a senior leader at the Mount Stuart Primary School, spoke about her experience working with Campbell.

“She taught the children to be proud of who they are and be proud of their heritage and to celebrate their differences.

“She worked tirelessly for race equality. She strongly believed that children should know about their heritage and they should know about their history.

“She’s a forerunner for Black History within this country, it’s because of her that we celebrate Black History Month in the UK.”

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