Who was Betty Campbell?

Rachel Elizabeth Johnson, known as Betty, was born in the Butetown area of Cardiff in Wales, on 6th November 1934.

She had a Jamaican father and a Barbadian mother and was brought up in the town of Tiger Bay.

Betty’s father was killed during World War II and her mother struggled to make ends meet.

Betty attended a local school and loved reading Enid Blyton books about girls at boarding schools. She later won a scholarship to Lady Margaret High School for Girls in Cardiff which set her on her path to achieving her goals.

However, Betty was surrounded by mostly white, middle-class girls and it was here that the headteacher almost crushed her dreams. When she told the headteacher that she to wanted to become a teacher, the response was “Oh my dear, the problems would be insurmountable”.

Although at first these words devastated Betty, they also made her more resilient and focused. She was always near the top of her class and couldn’t see why she shouldn’t be awarded with the same opportunities as all the other girls.

She became pregnant at 17 whilst doing her A-Levels and consequently married Robert Campbell in 1953.

Even though she had three young children she heard that Cardiff Teacher Training College was admitting women for the first time. Betty became one of only six female students to attend in 1960.

Betty overcame racism and setbacks along the way and whilst she juggled to look after her young family, she qualified as a teacher.

She took up her first teaching post in Llanrumney, before returning to teach in Mount Stuart Primary School, Butetown, where she still faced some hostility from parents.

Not only did she continue to teach and defy all the doubting parents but Betty went on to become the first black female headteacher in Wales in the 1970’s.

Having been influenced by a trip she took to America, Betty Campbell began teaching children about slavery, black history and the apartheid system which was happening in South Africa at that time.

Putting black culture on the Cardiff curriculum, she also taught the children about Harriet Tubman and other civil right activists.

Also Betty’s pupils learned about the contribution people of colour gave to British society and helped to create the Black History Month.

She also became a member of the Commission for Racial Equality, and it was through this that Nelson Mandela requested a meet with her on his only visit to Wales in 1998.

She also served as a councillor for Butetown from 1999 to 2004.

Whilst Campbell was the headteacher at Mount Stuart School she raised its profile in the United Kingdom. Even Prince Charles attended a school’s annual St David’s Day Eisteddfod in 1994.

Betty was also awarded an MBE in 2003 for her services to education and community life.

Betty Campbell died on 13 October 2017, having been ill for some time.

Recently, in a campaign launched by BBC Wales, Betty Campbell won a public vote and became Wales’ first statue of a notable Welsh woman forgotten to history.

The bronze statue commemorating Betty is located in Central Square in Cardiff and was unveiled at an official ceremony on Wednesday, 29 September 2021, which was attended by a large crowd of Betty Campbell’s friends, family, and supporters.

The statue was created by the Welsh artist Simone Robinson.

The Betty Campbell statue was funded by a community fundraising campaign that was supported by a wide range of organizations, including local schools, community groups, and the Welsh government.

The Betty Campbell statue is a symbol of Betty Campbell’s enduring legacy and her importance as a trailblazer in the fields of education and activism.

It is seen as a tribute to the many contributions that Betty Campbell made to the Welsh community during her lifetime. It also serves as a reminder of her unwavering commitment to education, equality, and social justice, and is a source of inspiration for future generations of Welsh people.

Feature Image by Media Wales