19 Black Bristol women who've made a difference
Pioneering, passionate and powerful, these women have helped change our city for the better.
From artists to activists, from councillors to carnivalistas, these are names you need to know.
Our list starts after the 1950s. We know there were women of colour living and working in Bristol before then, but most were excluded from the public arena. Though these women were crucial to their communities, history books have not acknowledged their contributions.
As a figurehead for race relations in Bristol and one of the founders of St Pauls Carnival, Carmen’s incredible community work led her to become the first Black recipient of an MBE in the South West.
Born and educated in Jamaica, Carmen was instrumental in setting up the first Carnival. She later became Bristol City Council’s first community development officer. She was the first Black person to be employed in such a high profile position in the city, and she worked to improve race relations in Bristol.
Artist, illustrator and graphic designer Michele Curtis is also the founder and director of Iconic Black Bristolians, now evolved into Iconic Black Britons. The artist behind the 2018 Seven Saints of St Pauls murals project, Michele aims to celebrate the contributions that the African-Caribbean community have made to Bristol. Michele grew up in Easton and is the daughter of Jamaican parents; her mother came to Bristol from the West Indies in the 1960s.
Image: Michele’s mural of Carmen Beckford in St Pauls
Hyacinth Hall was Bristol’s first ever Black headteacher, becoming head of St. Barnabas in St Pauls in 1985. To understand how rare this was, even in 2018, only 26 out of 1,346 teachers in Bristol were Black.
Hyacinth fought against the poor standards of teaching for Black students in the community. She lived locally because she believed it was important for teachers to live in the communities in which they taught.
She was awarded an MBE in 2004 for her school and community work.
“It was the guiding principle behind my deciding to live and work in this country – to make a contribution to the country and also to Black people and to Black children.” Hyacinth Hall
When still a teenager, Fahma was the face of a national campaign to raise awareness of female genital mutilation (FGM). She was awarded Outstanding Young Campaigner of The Year by the Guardian in 2014.
As a member of the charity Integrate UK, she has continued to campaign for gender equality and an end to violence against women and girls. She became one of the youngest people in the UK to receive an honorary degree, when she was presented with a doctorate by Bristol University for her work against FGM.
“… there are many people who have said that our work has broken the cycle of abuse in their family. I am so glad and thankful to everyone I have met on this journey, [who] has been willing to listen to me and others doing this work and given me the opportunity to help young girls out there.”
Cleo is the first Black woman to be Bristol’s Lord Mayor. She has fought tirelessly for community cohesion and social justice as an artist, activist and local Green Party councillor,
In her mayoral acceptance speech in 2018 she said:
“It is an absolute honour for my elders and community at large to see me here as the first citizen of Bristol, especially in the year that marks 50 years of St Pauls Carnival and 70 years since Windrush docked…It is a testimony to the distance travelled.”
Marti is a club and restaurant owner, business expert and current chair of St Pauls Carnival. She learned her trade from her parents who ran pubs and clubs, including the Tropic Club and the Bank.
Marti bought and ran the legendary Lakota nightclub with her brother Bentley. It was the first club to tour South Africa after Apartheid where they played to mixed Black and White audiences. Her impressive CV also includes managing DJs, running both a record label and numerous restaurants, and advising businesses.
Born to parents of Somali origin, Sado Jirde moved to the UK in 1999. Sado studied at the University of Gloucestershire, and started working at Black South West Network (BSWN) in 2007. She became the Director five years later.
Sado has worked to raise the profile of race equality both nationally and locally in Bristol. Shes believes that effective economic inclusion can play a role in rebalancing economic inequality. She’s also spearheaded many of Bristol’s cultural events, including the production of a timely film, #ThereISBlackInTheUnionJack in 2016. Sado was awarded The African Achievers Award.
Born in Bristol in the 1960s to Caribbean parents, Sherrie learnt to communicate with her deaf sister through British Sign Language and went on to continue to study language. She graduated from the University of Bristol in English Literature and British Sign Language. This led the way for her career, becoming the first black news interpreter for deaf people, working for HTV West and ITV West Country. She presented on regional TV, campaigned for signing for the deaf and received several national awards for her work.
Sherrie has won a number of awards, including one for her documentary about the Windrush generation.
Helen Wilson Roe
Helen is a painter, installation artist and filmmaker. Her work has been exhibited in Bristol, London, Birmingham and Brighton, and her paintings tell astonishing stories such as the Rwanda genocide. She has created murals for the Bristol Eye Hospital, the Bristol Children’s Hospital and a school in Easton. She has worked in the arts for Bristol Museums, Watershed and Kuumba in St Pauls.
In 2018, Lord Mayor Cleo Lake hung Helen’s portrait of Henrietta Lacks in place of a portrait of the MP Robert Nugent. Nugent had supported Bristol’s merchants in their demand for free access to the ‘African’ (slave) trade.
Lois Patricia (Peaches) Golding is the only Black woman to be appointed Lord-Lieutenant of the County and City of Bristol, and was the first Black female High Sheriff of Bristol. Peaches was awarded an OBE for services to minority ethnic people.
She has served on dozens of public bodies, from mental health trusts to universities.
“I am interested in listening to and understanding other people’s perspectives and in seeking peace and harmony.” Peaches Golding
Olive worked tirelessly for the community and fought for the least privileged in society. Among her many awards, she received the British Empire Medal in 1992 in recognition of her work.
Olive trained as a hairdresser, and became involved in politics in the 1970s by lobbying on behalf of the many people who were victimised by pyramid selling scams. A ‘quiet activist’, she worked mainly with children and older people.
She started a day centre for older Caribbean people in the 1980s. She also supported women with mental health and housing issues and founded a hostel to provide them with housing and care.
“It’s important to draw strength and support from your elders to guide you through life.” Olive Osbourne
Councillor Asher Craig was elected as one of Bristol’s two Deputy Mayors in 2017 and has always been passionate about getting the voices of the underprivileged heard.
She was one of only two Black girls at her school where she experienced blatant racism from pupils and teachers. Teachers told her she couldn’t take O-levels, but Asher succeeded despite this. At 19 she became the youngest member of the Bristol Council for Race Equality.
She went on to play a key role in the creation of the Black Developmental Agency, whilst also securing government funds for Bristol’s communities. She joined the Labour party in the late 1990s, and was elected as a Labour councillor in 2016.
““I’m tackling discrimination on a whole lot of levels, but I have been fighting for too long to let the little prejudices and the ‘isms’ get in the way of me making a difference.” Asher Craig, Bristol 24/7, 2018
Nura Aabe has been campaigning in Bristol for better recognition and treatment of Children with autism within the Somali community. She founded Autism Independence, an organisation aimed at improving the lives of children with autism, helping families and working with local authorities.
Nura is a pioneer in this area bringing culturally sensitive support and positive change for the future of autistic children and their families.
“Who is normal? We’re all different – I have quite odd behaviour sometimes. And I don’t see myself as different. I see myself as a powerful woman and that’s what we need to recognise as human beings.”
In 2017 Nura spoke at TedX Bristol on disrupting attitudes to autism.
It’s important to Valda to make real and honest pictures of Black subjects, so that art is more representative and inclusive. Valda is passionate about working with children and young people and has taught in numerous schools, colleges and universities.
In 2002 Valda created the beautiful brick mural on St Pauls Learning Centre. It pays tribute to the importance of education and celebrates the diverse cultures within St Pauls and Bristol as a whole.
Valda was encouraged by a comment from a visitor to her first show:
“I feel that the portrayal of the women on the canvas has captured the whole history and feeling of our race… I found it deeply moving.”
Revd Dawnecia Palmer
Reverend Dawnecia Palmer helped reduce violent street crime in Bristol. She was made an Ambassador for Peace by the United Nations and has been awarded many awards including Woman of the Year.
In 2002 she founded the Peacemaker Prayer Patrols. They used prayer and communication as a way of reducing violent crime in Bristol. They proved so effective that she received a special award from the police.
As Dawnecia says,
“Weapons and violence is not an option. Education is a must, not only in subjects like Maths and English but self-awareness and respect for life.”
Primrose won Female Presenter of the Year 2016 for her work on Ujima and BBC Radio Bristol at the National Community Radio Awards. She is also the Jamaican High Commission representative for Bristol.
Primrose has spoken out to encourage more people of African descent to become organ donors -something that’s not common practice. By breaking common misconceptions and trying to open more Black families up to becoming donors, she hopes more lives can be saved in the future by receiving viable organs.
Princess Campbell, 1939-2015
Princess was a pioneer who challenged prejudice in nursing and housing. She received an MBE for services to the community in 2011.
Despite the extraordinary barriers, Princess became one of the first Black ward sisters in Bristol in the 1960s. She campaigned tirelessly for disadvantaged communities and was involved with many other community organisations and Black history initiatives. Self-value, drive and education were important to her achievements
“Use determination and your self-esteem: value yourself and let no one crush you. When you come up against challenges and adversity, don’t run away; stay and fight if you want to change things. Education is a most powerful tool.” Princess Campbell
One of the founders St Pauls Carnival, Barbara helped hundreds of families during her time as a social worker. She was a co-founder of the West Indian Parents and Friends Association which lobbied for better educational provision for children of Caribbean origin.
Barbara, a proud fighter of institutional racism, spent most of her working life with children, helping them overcome prejudices and strive for better.
Cathy Lecointe (née Waithe)
Cathy is an educator and co-founder of the pioneering Hummingbird Books. Cathy was awarded an MBE for her work in education.
Cathy set up a study skills course in St Pauls and was a governor at numerous schools and universities. She set up one of the first supplementary schools for children in Bristol where children could learn about their family heritage.
Hummingbird Books was set up in St Pauls by Cathy and her husband Frank in 1985. It was a place where people could access positive stories about Black people and their achievements.
Cathy has since done innovative therapeutic work on trauma and dislocation with people of African-Caribbean ancestry in Britain.
Compiled by the Bristol's Black History working group and volunteers Imogen Clarke and Harvey Folkes.
Made possible thanks to support from: