Betty Campbell

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Betty Campbell MBE (6 November 1934 – 13 October 2017) was a community activist and Wales' first black head teacher. Born into a poor household in Butetown, she won a scholarship to the Lady Margaret High School for Girls in Cardiff. She later took the opportunity to train as a teacher and in due course become head teacher of Mount Stuart Primary School in Butetown. She put into practice innovative ideas on the education of children and was actively involved in the community.

Early life and education[edit]

Betty Campbell was born Rachel Elizabeth Johnson[1] in Butetown, Cardiff, in 1934.[2] The area was formerly known as Tiger Bay, which was built up around Cardiff docklands and was one of the UK's first multi-cultural communities. Her mother, Honora, known as Nora, was Welsh Barbadian and a street bookmaker.[3][4] Her father, Simon Vickers Johnson, who had come to the UK from Jamaica when he was 15, was killed in World War Two, when his ship The Ocean Vanguard was torpedoed in 1942; her mother Honora was a street bookmaker. Johnson won a scholarship to the Lady Margaret High School for Girls in Cardiff and wanted to be a teacher from a young age, but faced discouragement from one of her teachers who told her the problems for a working-class black girl would be "insurmountable".

Career and life[edit]

Campbell became pregnant at the age of 17, while she was doing her A-levels, and left school when she married Rupert Campbell, a fitter's mate, in 1953.[5][4] Campbell had four children. Her last-born child had special needs.[4] When Campbell died, she had 14 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.[6]

In 1960, when Campbell already had three children, she discovered that Cardiff Training College was taking on female students to train as teachers; she applied and was accepted. She taught at Mount Stuart Primary School in Butetown for 28 years.[7] Although her first teaching post was in Llanrumney, she soon returned to Butetown, getting a job at Mount Stuart Primary School. As a black teacher she experienced hostility from some parents:

Mount Stuart Primary School, Butetown, Cardiff

“They hadn’t seen a black teacher before. It was as if you could do a job, but if you’re black you’re weren’t quite as good.”[4]

School Buildings, Mount Stuart Primary School, Butetown, Cardiff

She was inspired by anti-slavery activists like Harriet Tubman and the civil rights movement. When she became Wales' first black head teacher at Mount Stuart in the 1970s, she began teaching children about slavery, black history and the system of apartheid which operated at the time in South Africa.[5]

She served as an independent Councillor for Butetown on Cardiff Council from 1999 to 2004.[8] Prior to that, she had been a Butetown councillor on Cardiff City Council, from 1991 to 1995.

Influence and recognition[edit]

Under Campbell's leadership, Mount Stuart School raised its profile across the United Kingdom. In 1994, Prince Charles attended the school's annual St David's Day eisteddfod.[9] In 1998, as a member of the Commission for Racial Equality, Betty Campbell was invited to meet Nelson Mandela on his only visit to Wales.[5] Nelson received the Freedom of the City of Cardiff during his visit.[4] She was invited to be part of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Commission on Education which published a number of research papers on education. In 1993, it published the book "Learning to Succeed" where practice examples from Mount Stuart Primary School were cited. She was a board member of BBC Wales in the 1980s, and was made an honorary fellow of Cardiff Metropolitan University.[9] In 2003, she was awarded an MBE for services to education and community life.[9]

Death and legacy[edit]

Campbell died on 13 October 2017, having been ill for several months.[10] Hundreds of people lined the streets of Cardiff to pay respects to Campbell.[6]

Race Council Cymru immediately called for a statue to be erected in her memory, with possible locations being near the Wales Millennium Centre or the newly redeveloped Central Square.[11] Campbell was one of five women shortlisted in 2019 to be portrayed in the first statue of a woman to be erected in Cardiff.[12] On 18 January 2019, it was announced that Campbell had won the statue vote, and that her statue would be erected in the plaza of Central Square.[13]


  1. ^ Election results for the division of Butetown (2004), Cardiff Council. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  2. ^ "4Learning – Secondary – Resources – History – The Time of MyLife – Tiger Bay, Cardiff: 1950s". Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-12-08.
  3. ^ "Statue for Wales' first black headteacher". 2019-01-18. Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Betty Campbell: Wales's first black headteacher took civil rights history into classrooms". The Independent. 2017-10-25. Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  5. ^ a b c Jackson, Ceri (15 April 2016). "#towerlives: Betty Campbell's fight for childhood dream". BBC News. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  6. ^ a b Wightwick, Abbie (2017-10-26). "Hundreds paid respect to Wales' first black head teacher". walesonline. Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  7. ^ "Statue for Wales' first black headteacher". 2019-01-18. Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c Morgan, Sion (2 October 2015). "Lifetime achievement for Betty Campbell, Britain's first black head teacher". walesonline. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  10. ^ "Wales' first black head teacher Betty Campbell dies". BBC News. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  11. ^ "Betty Campbell: Calls for statue of 'iconic' teacher". BBC News. 15 October 2017. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  12. ^ Carolyn Hitt (8 January 2019). "Hidden heroines: Could Betty Campbell win statue vote?". BBC News. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  13. ^ "Statue for Wales' first black headteacher Betty Campbell". BBC News. 18 January 2019. Retrieved 19 January 2019.