Reinstate Mary Seacole onto the schools curriculum

BANNERToday saw the launch of a campaign to reinstate Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole back onto the schools curriculum after the education secretary Michael Gove ditched the Victorian heroine.

Please sign the petition by clicking here.

I am delighted to be part of this Operation Black Vote campaign and was pleased to see the petition attract 800 signatures in the first day.

News that Gove planned to axe Seacole from the national curriculum came in an article in the Daily Mail:

Numerous schools, hospitals and universities have rooms or buildings named after her, and shortly she will get her greatest tribute yet: an 8ft tall bronze statue is to be erected to her memory in the grounds of St Thomas’s Hospital, facing towards the Houses of Parliament.

The £500,000 memorial – larger than the statue of Florence Nightingale near Pall Mall – will show Seacole marching out to the battlefield, a medical bag over her shoulder, a row of medals proudly pinned to her chest.

There’s just one problem: historians around the world are growing increasingly uneasy about the statue, amid claims the adulation of Seacole has gone too far.

They claim her achievements have been hugely oversold for political reasons, and out of a commendable – but in this case misguided – desire to create positive black role models.

Now Seacole is at the centre of a new controversy with the news that the story of her life will no longer be taught to thousands of pupils.

Westminster Education Secretary Michael Gove has decreed that instead they will learn about traditional figures such as Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill.”

But yesterday Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote wrote an article criticising the decision. Woolley said:

Seacole’s story is much more than about the Crimean war where she made her name. It is a story of endeavour, great bravery, but perhaps above all it is about how an ordinary woman, with no privilege, and no support from the nation she served, became so revered by the army class she administered and the British public.

What makes this story fascinating is that it wasn’t just the officer and army class that sought to help Seacole after the war. It was estimated that more than 80,000 people came out to pay tribute to this woman. When was the last time that amount of people –the size of Wembley stadium full, came to pay tribute to an ordinary woman? I can’t remember either.

By any standard Seacole was a great Victorian, that a creative teacher can wrap around subjects such as the Crimean war, nursing, racial prejudice, and above all that great human endeavour, particularly by an extraordinary ordinary woman. A simple yet valuable lesson that seems to have been lost on our Education Secretary Michael Gove.”

The OBV article prompted an outcry with many strongly criticising Gove. Here are just some of the reader comments:

  • John C said: “I will kind with my words and not fall foul of using foul language to describe my utter distaste at what Michael Gove is doing. It’s typical that a tory education secretary would dream of removing such a woman from the british education system and history. Just utterly disgraceful and SHAME on him and the government for allowing it to happen.”
  • Barbara Lake said: “A rethink is needed here. Children need to be educated on all aspects of their history and this woman is part of our history. A disgraceful backward move. God help us.”
  • John Constantine said: “The removal of this heroic womans name from the school syllabus is a disgrace. Gove ought to be ashamed of his ignorance of Englands real history.”
  • Roy Sweetland said: “Michael Gove’s… action typifies the narrowness of his kind and only reinforces the reason why we need to recognize and memorialize our own and not depend on remnants of our colonizers to do what we need to do for our people.”

Mary Seacole was originally included in the National Curriculum after being voted Britain’s greatest Black Briton in a poll by Every Generation media. However ten years later the Daily Mail reported that she is to be ditched.

Councillor Patrick Vernon, who runs Every Generation, and is part of the campaign to reinstate Mary Seacole back onto the curriculum said:

Mary Seacole is being used as a proxy for an attempt to whitewash the Black experience in Britain. It is ironic that ten years later we still have to fight for her to be part of mainstream British history.

If the black experience is marginalised children will grow up with a narrow and distorted perspective of their heritage and identity, and the false stereotype that we haven’t contributed to Britain will be perpetrated.

If we don’t talk about Mary Seacole then the Windrush and every other aspect of black history gets forgotten. We need more black history not less.”

Campaigners hope to reach 80,000 signatures, matching the number of Victorian Britons who attended a four-day fundraising fare in London to welcome Mary Seacole back from the Crimea in 1857.

Prof Elizabeth Anionwu, vice-chair of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue and Emeritus professor of nursing, added:

I would want my family and friends to be nursed by someone like Mary Seacole. I want my 4 year old granddaughter and her generation to learn about her in school.”

Mary Seacole’s inclusion on the National Curriculum came as a result of a tireless campaigning to recognise someone who had become a forgotten figure in modern times. Her proposed removal can only be attributed to a recent backlash against Mary Seacole as a symbol of ‘political correctness’ by Right-wing media and commentators.

Disgraced bigot and racist Rod Liddle has long campaigned against Mary Seacole and it seems Gove has moved to appease the likes of Liddle rather than recognise Seacole for her achievements and popularity in Victorian Britain.

To remove Mary Seacole from the National Curriculum is tantamount to rewriting history to fit a worldview hostile to Britain’s historical diversity. I believe that people-power can reverse this terrible decision.

As well as promoting the petition, Cllr Vernon plans to relaunch the 100 Greatest Black Britons poll this year and Prof Anionwu pledged to redouble efforts to erect a statue of Mary Seacole at St Thomas’s hospital, opposite parliament.

For more information on the statue appeal visit: www.maryseacoleappeal.org.uk or @seacolestatue

If the petition link does not work please click on this image

If the petition link does not work please click on this image

By Lester Holloway 

News articles:

The Huffington Post – Dropping Mary Seacole From Schools Curriculum Would Be a Mistake (07/01/13)

The Guardian – Why is Gove trashing Mary Seacole? (06/01/13)

Sunday Mirror – “Michael Gove needs a history lesson”: John Prescott says education secretary is dragging Britain back into the past (06/01/13)

The Independent – Don’t consign Mary Seacole to history, Michael Gove is urged (04/01/13)

New Statesman – Michael Gove is air-brushing Black people out of history (05/01/13)

The Oxford Student – Michael Gove: Hands Off Our History (04/01/13)

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4 thoughts on “Reinstate Mary Seacole onto the schools curriculum

  1. Quite ironic given one of the Home Office HQ Buildings in Marsham Street is named after her. Even if Gove’s dirty hands indeed remove Mary Seacole from the NC I hope the various e-learning tools, museums and galleries will continue to keep her name in the public domain.

    • This is the tory backlash. “The establishment” is prejudiced against 90% of the population.
      All those films on the RAF in WW2 do not show the thousands of West Indians who voluntered. Most as groundcrew, but also as aircrew. Not only the West Indians. Six pilots from the Indian AF volunteered to serve in the Battle of Britain, three were shot down and killed. When the film BofB was made, their names DID NOT feature on the closing list of those killed in the battle.

      Then there was the the 14th Army in Burma. Some credit is given to the Indian army who provided about 50% of the infantry. But none to the men of the West African Field Force, Kings African Rifles, and the Nigeria Regt. The UK media have never given these men the gratitude they deserved.

      • BBC4 and some museums/galleries do there best to address the balance but the media has moved away from bothering to tell the stories you mentioned and obsessed with reality shows.
        Just hope parents will do their part to spread the word.

  2. The problem we have with todays politicians is that mosof them think that Enoch Powell was right. They are today enacting this belief and are going to end up looking silly. The tragic side to their actions – just like any despotic leadership – is the trail of disaster that they leave behind.

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