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An account of campaign victory to keep Mary Seacole on school curriculum

An account of campaign victory to keep Mary Seacole on school curriculum

Victory for campaign to keep Mary Seacole on school curriculum


Several weeks of campaigning to keep Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano on the schools curriculum has paid off today after the education secretary Michael Gove bowed to public pressure.

Seacole, the Crimean War nurse, has actually been elevated in the new national curriculum, which was published today. Before she was in the ‘notes’ but today she is a firm part of the curriculum itself.

So too is the former slave-turned-abolitionist Equiano whose writings helped pave the way for emancipation.

The great Pan-Africanist and first leader of a free Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, and the equally-great Jomo Kenyatta from Kenya will also be part of the key stage three textbooks.

The study of the British Empire is titled “Britain’s retreat from Empire including independence for India and the Wind of Change in Africa.” This suggests that lessons will not focus on a glorification of Imperialism but will instead study the fight for independence from the bloody oppression of colonialism.

Other highlights from the new curriculum include “the Windrush generation, wider new Commonwealth immigration, and the arrival of East African Asians” and “society and social reform, including the abolition of capital punishment, the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality, and the Race Relations Act.”

The inclusion of Windrush immigration from the Caribbean and the first race relations laws offer a positive chance for children to study the contribution of Caribbean immigrants and the battles against racism they fought in a hostile Britain of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Mary Seacole is included in the section of the curriculum dealing with “Britain’s social and cultural development during the Victorian era” and is on par with Florence Nightingale and Annie Besant. The slave trade and the abolition of slavery are also included.

I am delighted with the new curriculum which heralds a significant step forward in the teaching of black history and social history to all school children.

Clearly there is further to go in broadening and deepening the appreciation of black and African history, and there is a pressing need to properly fund supplementary schools as well as give opportunities for black-run free schools to be established.

But there is no denying that Gove has listened to the huge public outcry that followed a story in the Daily Mail about the threat to axe Mary Seacole.

I took the initiative to start a petition on which has now attracted 36,000 signatures and pulled together a team of campaigners who all worked terrifically hard.

It has been an absolute pleasure working with Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote, Cllr Patrick Vernon, Khi Rafe, Professor Elizabeth Anionwu, Juliet Alexander and Zita Holbourne. Without their efforts this campaign would not have achieved its’ aims.

I wanted to express my sincere gratitude to every single person who signed the petition. There is no doubt that the 36,000 signatories rattled the government and encouraged a range of public figures to endorse the campaign.

Everyone from the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, civil rights leader Rev Jesse Jackson Snr, to playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah and writer Zadie Smith helped to raise the profile of the campaign in the media with several articles across various national newspapers.

Singer Beverley Knight, actor Adrian Lester, comedienne Angie le Mar and Labour MP Chuka Ummuna tweeted support for the campaign.

I believe that the intervention of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who insisted to me that Seacole would not be removed from the curriculum, also played a major part in Gove’s decision.

My article in the Guardian, which attracted over 400 comments, also helped move the debate forward not least because I sought to link the threat to Seacole and Equiano with the prospect of ‘white’ social history also being eliminated from classrooms.

In the end it was clear that something had to give, and I was pleased that Gove has seen sense and presented a positive curriculum which gives us a firm platform to build upon.

Written By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway