On the impact point of the Bank of England’s arrangements to issue the new plastic material polymer £50 note in 2020 and asking for proposals from people in general, Labor Minister of Parliament Wes Streeting has accepted the open door to designate Mary Seacole, otherwise called the dark Florence Nightingale, and feature her achievements.
Streeting commented to Telegraph which was published by Voice Online, “Mary Seacole’s achievements are too often overlooked in history and yet what she did for soldiers in the Crimean War was an act of great heroism which led to her being voted the greatest black Briton.”
This is also reminiscent of the fight across the pond in the United States to have Harriet Tubman placed on the face of the $20. The project has been mired with stop and go progress and promises that have not been put into fruition.
Yet, this does not lessen the fact that black women have made significant strides in Western societies yet their accomplishments are rarely spoken about or lauded.
Let’s learn more about three iconic black British women who should be on the cover of the pound banknotes:
Mary Prince was born an enslaved African in 1788 in Bermuda where her parents and relatives had lived and worked as slaves for many years. At a young age, Prince was stripped away from her family and sold into slavery to several families, as she accounts in her book including the bad treatment she faced. She was repeatedly sold and ended up in Antigua working for the Wood Family.
She went against her owners and married a freed slave in 1826 and was beaten up by her owners. She was then taken to England by her owners to separate her from her husband who could have purchased her freedom in 1928.
In England, Prince ran away and gained her freedom. She joined the abolitionists there and became the first woman in the UK to present an anti-slavery petition to Parliament.
In 1831, Prince became the first black woman in Britain to publish a book. Her book, ‘The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave ‘ gave abolitionists a true account of the kinds of treatment meted out to enslaved Africans.
Seacole was born in Jamaica to an African slave and a Scottish military member in 1805. Her father was a Lieutenant in the British Army which afforded her the right to be born free.
Seacole received a sound education learning how to read and write through the kindness of an unnamed elderly woman she lived with for a few years.
As the privileges of mixed race children increased in Jamaica, this allowed Seacole more freedom in movement and working. She used her privileges to assist her mother in setting up a boarding house which served as a private hospital and hotel in Jamaica.
After the death of her husband of eight years, Seacole travelled extensively throughout Central America in 1851. She overcame discrimination and developed a medicine trade business.
In 1854, Seacole moved to Britain to work as a healer in the British Army.
Racism didn’t deter her, even after having her request to be sent to Crimea to aid the sick and dying was denied.
Instead, Seacole travelled to Crimea and set up a hotel called the British Hotel. Due to inadequate funds, the hotel was just a small quarter with mess-table for the injured and a resting room. With time, she became the most sought-after nurse in Crimea with a reputation for healing all sorts of deadly wounds.
Many wounded soldiers were sent to her hotel, and she visited the battlefield during more dangerous times to cater for the sick. She soon became known as Mother Seacole, the black Florence Nightingale.
Between 1860 and 1881, Seacole moved in and out of Jamaica and Britain and became nationally recognized in both countries. She became close to the British royal and was decorated with medals by the military in Jamaica. She lived in London until she died on May 14, 1881.
Dame Jocelyn Anita Barrow
In the journalism field in Britain, the name Dame Joycelyn Barrow cannot go unmentioned. Born on April 15, 1929, she is still alive and continues to be celebrated and be an inspiration to many black women in journalism in the UK.
Originally from Trinidad, Dame Barrow moved to England after school in 1959 and began to climb to success. She is remembered as the first black woman ever to be the governor of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Dame Barrow also served as the first General Secretary of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination which she helped establish. The group was instrumental in the making of the Race Relations Act of 1968. While teaching at the Institute of Education, she introduced multi-cultural education which helped change education in the UK making it more diverse.