13 June 2022
Recording of the week: More than a headteacher
This week's selection comes from Sandra Agard, Learning Facilitator.
'More than a headteacher' is how cousins Michelle Campbell-Davies and Rachel Clarke describe Betty Campbell, or Nan, as they knew her, in their chat recorded for The Listening Project to mark Black History Month in October 2021.
As the two cousins recall their family history and 'Nan’s legacy,' they painfully remember that as a child their Nan wanted to be a teacher – the response from her headteacher was 'it was never going to happen!' She went on to prove that teacher wrong!
Betty Campbell not only went on to be a teacher, she became the first Black headteacher in Wales. She was a trailblazer in Education and Community in Butetown, Cardiff.
This recording offers an insight into her remarkable life, legacy and all that she accomplished for her school, her community and for multi-culturalism.
According to Michelle and Rachel, their Nan had a 'clear vision on what equality looks like.' This entailed the importance of representation in the positions of power. One has to have a seat at the table to make decisions. Betty Campbell made sure she was at the head of table. As they put it, 'Nan was the boss!'
The cousins emphasise that their Nan was a pioneer for Black History Month. She made it her mission to promote the experiences of Black people and their contributions to British society through education. She also got involved in local politics by becoming an Independent Councillor. Originally, she planned on being a candidate for the Labour party in the local elections, but she was not selected. Undeterred, she decided to run as an Independent and, of course, she won! The words 'no' or 'can’t' were certainly not in her vocabulary.
This then is the public face of Betty Campbell - head teacher, pioneer, councillor, trailblazer - but there are also the intimate memories of family moments.
Betty Campbell was not a very good cook. She also took terrible photographs, never waiting for anyone to be ready. No posing for her!
She loved singing in the choir.
She loved to travel and she made friends everywhere. Her granddaughter Michelle laughs at the memory of them all going to Canada to stay with people her grandmother had recently met in Butetown. For the cousins she was 'young at heart,' despite her advancing age.
As the cousins reminisce, they constantly say that they could not have progressed in their respective careers if it had not been for their Nan.
'I wouldn’t be the person I was if it was not for Nan,' says Michelle.
Nan gave them the confidence to pursue their dreams and destinies and the strength to navigate the constant challenges that they encountered in their daily lives.
Indeed, one of Betty Campbell’s mantras was, 'if you want something you have to go out and get it,' and she definitely did!
Betty’s achievements have earned her a spot among the 100 Great Black Britons; her place certainly deserved.
Betty Campbell left a lasting legacy for her family and the community.
Sandra A. Agard is storyteller, writer, playwright, poet, cultural historian, and author of children’s books including, ‘Trailblazers: Harriet Tubman’ and ‘Amazing Women in Black History’. Sandra is a member of the British Library staff CRED Network and Learning Facilitator.
The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. Since 2012, people have been invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC, and archived by the British Library. You can listen to over a thousand of the recordings in full through British Library Sounds. You can also learn more about the ongoing project on the BBC website.
The British Library is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Celebrating Beryl Gilroy which explores highlights from the archive of Beryl Agatha Gilroy, one of London's first Black headteachers. You can explore the free exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at our St Pancras site until 26 June 2022.