Cllr Anna Rothery: Liverpool’s first Black Lord Mayor



There was an air of great historical expectancy last night in one of the country’s oldest city councils - Liverpool. First, it is difficult not be impressed when you walk into this Victorian civic building. It was built to showcase the status of a vibrant successful metropolis with a mercantile strength based upon an international sea port. Secondly, and it was also not lost in a speech given by the elected Mayor Joe Anderson in nominating Cllr Rothery as the Lord Mayor, that, “that mercantile strength, was largely made up around the dark, shameful and industrial business of slavery”.

And with that awesome, emotional, and historical backdrop in walked the diminutive, but powerful Cllr Anna Rothery, a descendant of an enslaved African, ready to be sworn in as the city’s first Black Lord Mayor. The Master of Ceremonies invited her to sit centre stage in the Council chamber to give her address.  Rothery, in true characteristic form refused.  “To give a speech like this”, she said, “I think I’ll stand. Besides”, she continued, “I’m in charge now, aren’t I”. As a child with a number of illnesses, I was always written off.

I shouldn’t even be here. Instead of a going to a school that would have helped with my physical disabilities, they put all kids with various and physical disabilities together. There”, she informed the audience, “I learned how to fight, first for myself and my own survival, but then for others. When the boys pulled off the wigs from the girls who were having chemotherapy, they’d get a thump.  They never did it again. I knew back then, crystal clear, that I would embark on a life of fighting for others."

You could literally hear a pin drop as Rothery gave her address. “And in this role as your Lord Mayor, I’ll continue to fight for others; for race equality, gender equality, social mobility and much more. That’s who I am, that’s what I’ll do”.

When she finished a few in the audience wiped away tears, but then one and all in the chamber rose to applaud Cllr. Rothery.  As a friend and mentor to Anna it was a poignant moment for me. She came to Operation Black Vote some 16 or so years before, and said practically the same thing as her peer, and now Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees, said, "Simon, I want to change the world, help me do it and you won’t be sorry".

Fast forward and they are both in prestigious political roles, both in cities that made their wealth from enslaving their ancestors.

So it was special on many levels. I also had a chance to meet up and chat with the only other councillor of African descent in Liverpool, Natalie Nichols, who’d brought her 12 year old son along. “Simon”, she said, “do you remember 12 years ago, I brought my son along to the mentoring programme in cradle. He’d not long been born. Look at him now”.  I told him, “He must not only be proud of his Mum, but also follow in her footsteps and be a great Black leader”.  He dutifully nodded.

Equally important was the announcement on the night by Mayor Joe Anderson who said in his speech:  “We all know that Anna came through the OBV shadowing scheme, and we need more Anna’s so we must have OBV back in our city to help nurture the next generation of Black leaders.” But the night belonged to Cllr Anna Rothery. When the fanfare of trumpets began as she walked into the dining hall to begin the celebratory dinner she took a side step beckoned me to come a little closer to her and said, "This is just the beginning, you know that. Let’s light up this city with its great diversity”.

As I sat on the trainhome tired yet spiritually euphoric, I felt like a proud parent who’d just witnessed his child win an Oscar. But this was no Hollywood film or drama, rather a woman keeping her promise that she would change her world.

Congratulations Anna.

Simon Woolley