Betty Campbell: Statue of Wales' first black headteacher unveiled in Cardiff


by Mayowa Ayodele

The last year has seen unprecedented attention placed on the individuals the nation chooses to honour and place on a pedestal, but the decision to erect a statue for Wales’ first black headteacher has been unanimously welcomed.

It has been some time coming too. She was the winner of a public vote in 2019 to honour ‘hidden heroines' making her the first non-fictionalized woman in Wales to have a statue dedicated to her - a fact which is telling in and of itself.

Commenting on the event, Education Minister Jeremy Miles lauded Campbell for having “inspired teachers and children for generations” and has said the statue will help see her legacy continue.

Regard for Betty’s legacy has been central to the afternoon’s celebrations. The statues’ sculptor Eve Shepherd said that she hoped it would stand as a “fitting tribute” to the diversity of Cardiff and Tiger Bay, where Betty grew up. She added her belief that it would see Betty’s legacy and memory to live on, while her daughter Elaine Clarke also tied the legacy of Betty’s work to the community she heralded from.

“The monument is a powerful piece that maps out in sculpture not just a likeness of Betty Campbell, but also the community she lived in and championed as well as the people and things that she drew inspiration from throughout her extraordinary life.”

The public joined in on the celebrations in person, with hundreds in attendance to see the statue unveiled.

The late Betty Campbell, who sadly passed away in 2017, was appointed as headteacher of Mount Stuart Primary School in Butetown, where she worked for 28 years. Under her guidance, the school would go on to embrace a deeper outlook on history and multicultural education, ensuring black history was present in the curriculum.

“I looked at black history, the Caribbean, Africa, and slavery and the effects. There were people that said: ‘You should not be teaching that’. Why not? It happened. Children should be made aware.”

Betty Campbell

However, her work as a pioneer was not resigned to the classroom, and it is why the emphasis on her community engagement has been so emphasised. Consistent in the praise during the unveiling of the statue has been her work in championing community identity and belonging.

She served as an independent councillor for Butetown on Cardiff Council, was on the committee, which helped prepare for the opening of the Welsh National Assembly and served on the Home Office’s race advisory committee. Her work had gained such regard that Nelson Mandela sought to see her during his only visit to Wales in 1998.

In 2019, Gary Raymond, the Welsh novelist, said that Campbell’s statue would “play a part in the subconscious of Wales’s children, and its children’s children.” For the Butetown community, this is likely to be especially true.

A word on Butetown...

Butetown's significance as one of the most diverse and important regions in the UK for comprehending the realities of racial relations on these isles is often overlooked not only in England but in Wales too. The heinous race riots took place over a century ago but Butetown's long standing history of social upheaval and community endeavour in the face of discrimination deserves more attention. Before you leave make sure to read a bit on why Butetown is so essential to the history of Wales. OBV first began work in the are in 1997.

The notorious Race Riots of 1919 in Cardiff that shamed Wales - written by Aamir Mohammed

The inconvenient truth about Cardiff Bay: The history of Cardiff's waterfront and how Wales' first BAME community was driven out to build it - written by Thomas Deacon

WATCH: Butetown's vibrant community with deep roots - with Mo Jannah

Legacy of race riots explored in ‘People of Butetown’ - written by Imogen McGuckin

History, Harmony and Home: 10 Things to Know Before Your Journey to Butetown - written by Faiz Akthar, Yulun Zhang, Pamela LiMegan Feringa, Krista Charles, and Rosie Wu