Black History and the new Curriculum for Wales
Cardiff Millennium Centre | Alamy
“This glorious land of liberty, freedom, and religious privilege.”
Those were the final words of a memoir written by William Hall. Born in Tennessee, by nine Hall was enslaved, and went through the ordeal faced by so many Black people of that era – traded, lashed, torn from his family. He was told in a cotton field about the death of his daughter, Rosetta – no time to grieve for a tragedy that every parent recognises as their worst fear.
Hall, incredibly, escaped from his captivity. He found freedom first in Canada, then Liverpool and Bristol. But it was in Cardiff where his liberty was enriched with happiness and purpose. And where he found a voice: Bute Street, in my constituency, was where his memoir was printed in 1862, concluding with those words about his new home.
Black history is Welsh history, and Welsh history is Black history – Hall’s history. This is what future generations will understand thanks to the new Welsh curriculum. The changes are being delivered by our Education Minister Jeremy Miles, and will embed the stories of Wales’ minority communities into the history of Wales which our young people will learn.
The story of William Hall is part of the rich tapestry of stories that shows Wales at its best
Hall’s is part of the rich tapestry of stories that shows Wales at its best: welcoming, diverse, and a place where people have come for centuries to make their lives. Cardiff is home to one of Britain’s oldest Black communities: a Somali community older than Hall’s 1862 writings. The Docks in my constituency were world renowned as a place where Black people would find a welcome - a truly diverse and relatively harmonious community of over 50 nationalities.
And Wales is where my family have settled, and where I was elected as the first Black representative in our national parliament.
But that is just one side of my story. When my family first planned to come to Wales, it was because my Welsh father had been offered a job as a vet in Monmouthshire. To our surprise, when he arrived with his family – Black wife, Black children – the offer was rescinded.
As well as being only one side of my story, the welcoming Wales is only one side of our national story too.
Our recent history is pock-marked with too many episodes of racial injustice. From the stories of Mahmood Mattan to the Cardiff 5 and the 1919 Race Riots, right up to fact that nearly 75% of BAME people polled in 2020 said they’d experienced racist abuse.
But those things don’t come as a surprise when you understand the longer term history of Wales.
Black history is Welsh history and Welsh history is Black history – yes. But slavery is Welsh history and Welsh history is slavery, too.
Our future generations will learn that whilst there is much to celebrate about Wales, our history and the future we want to create is inextricably linked to a Wales which immersed itself in slavery. A colonial Wales which left in its wake Williamses, Morgans, and Pennants all over the world – people who bear the names of Welshmen who enslaved their family members.
This is not to impose a sense of guilt on current generations. It is to properly honour those who came before us, to understand why Wales is the country it is, and to help us build a better future.
Prefacing his memoir, Hall explained that he wrote it, “so that greater effort may be put forth that this sum of all villanies may be for ever abolished”.
We have, in law at least, abolished slavery. By threading anti-racism through our curriculum in Wales, we aim now to abolish racism.
Vaughan Gething, Labour Member of the Senedd for Cardiff South and Penarth
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