An inspiring educator and champion of multiculturalism will be immortalised in a statue.
Betty Campbell, the first black headteacher in Wales, recently topped a Hidden Heroines shortlist of significant Welsh women thanks to her services to education, earning her the honour of a permanent place in Cardiff’s Central Square.
As the headteacher of Mount Stuart Primary in Cardiff, she promoted a diverse curriculum that ensured every pupil, no matter their race or background, felt valued.
Her inclusive outlook and progressive views caught the attention of powers beyond Wales, and in the 1990s she was appointed to the Home Office’s race advisory committee having spent the previous decades advising on race relations in her local community.
Campbell’s success, however, did not come easily.
Campbell was born in 1934 to a Jamaican father and Welsh Barbadian mother in Tiger Bay, an area by the Cardiff Docks.
After securing a scholarship to an exclusive all-girls school, Campbell went on to train as a teacher in her home city, despite having been told as a teen—by the headmistress at the very school she would eventually lead—that the prospect of a black teacher was “insurmountable.”
“I went back to my desk and I cried,” Campbell once recalled. “That was the first time I ever cried in school. But it made me more determined; I was going to be a teacher by hook or by crook.”
Campbell’s determination would see her tackle systemic discrimination on her path to a job at Mount Stuart Primary, which she attended as a child. The school, in the docklands area of Tiger Bay where Campbell grew up, served a community that had experienced a huge influx of immigrants following World War I.
The multiculturalism of the area was often a point of tension, but Campbell made sure that the local children always felt welcome at her school. She promoted the benefits of a diverse society and ensured the immigrant experience, and all the good and bad history that came with it, was never sanitised for her students. In 1998, Campbell’s reputation even saw her invited to meet Nelson Mandela on his only visit to Wales (he had been impressed by the letters Campbell’s students sent him).
Campbell’s principles were also applied to politics, where she served as a strong advocate for a docklands community that was constantly under economic pressure. On top of this, her responsibilities in education and politics were fulfilled all while raising three children.
Campbell died in 2017, aged 82. Her advocacy for multiculturalism and respect for all people has undoubtedly empowered several generations. The statue, which will be unveiled in 2020, is a deserved tribute to this legacy.