Don’t consign Mary Seacole to history, Michael Gove is urged

Petition launched to prevent Crimean War nurse being written out of school textbooks

Leading black Britons have united to urge the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to abandons his plan to remove the country’s most celebrated black historical figure from the school curriculum.

The campaign group Operation Black Vote has launched a petition to demand that Mary Seacole, who cared for soldiers on the front line during the Crimean War, and was as famous as Florence Nightingale during her lifetime, is not left out of textbooks.

“What does removing her name achieve, other than telling those who are racist that they have a point?” asked the writer and campaigner Darcus Howe, who is supporting the petition.

“The Government has been attempting to undermine the few gains that we have made. It is a punishment for the uprisings of summer 2011,” he added, referring to the riots 17 months ago. “It is a whole new attitude I am seeing towards blacks. Gove and the others, they all seem to think that we need to be kicked around so that we behave ourselves as backward, West Indian negroes.”

Seacole’s efforts in the Crimea earned her the adulation of thousands of ex-servicemen, despite her postwar descent into bankruptcy. Her exploits were largely forgotten after her death in 1881, before a successful campaign was launched to ensure that her story was taught in primary schools.

Mr Gove’s plan to remove her from the syllabus once again has outraged many black people, including the Labour MP, Diane Abbott, and the Rev Jesse Jackson, the  US civil rights campaigner who also supports the petition. Ms Abbott said yesterday: “Students in this country already learn about traditional figures such as Winston Churchill, Oliver Cromwell and Florence Nightingale. Mary Seacole is simply another such important individual. Not of less significance and certainly not expendable.

“In addition to this, she is one of the most distinct examples of how black history is an integral part of British  history. Michael Gove should be fully aware of the message that this decision sends.”

Mr Gove’s plan to place more educational focus on such figures as Admiral Lord Nelson and Churchill was revealed at the end of last month. The petition calling on him to scrap  it, which was set up on Thursday, had already attracted more than 1,500 signatures by tonight.

Seacole’s exploits were largely forgotten after her death and were brought back into the public consciousness only recently. There are now plans to erect a statue of her in Westminster, and she recently topped a list of the top 100 black Britons.

The London Mayor Boris Johnson, pictured left, first learned of Seacole’s exploits in 2005. He wrote at the time that she “seems to have been such a megastar that I find myself facing the grim possibility that it was my own education that was blinkered”.

Some historians have argued that her contribution has been overstated for political purposes. But Simon Woolley, the director of Operation Black Vote, said the importance of Seacole’s story transcended the debate about race.

He said: “To my reckoning, Mary Seacole is the only person of colour talked about not through the sole prism of racism.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Nursery Manager is required t...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before