Blue plaque to honour Bert Carless - Birmingham’s first black councillor

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The tribute to Birmingham’s first black councillor - Bert Carless - has been organised by community groups Birmingham Empowerment Forum, South and City College, The Windrush National organisation and Nubian Jak Trust

A blue plaque is being unveiled to honour Bert Carless, Birmingham’s first black councillor. 

The ceremony for a man who took office, representing Aston Ward, in 1979 will take place at Handsworth’s South and City College at noon tomorrow (Friday, December 15).  It is a tribute paved by community groups Birmingham Empowerment Forum, South and City College, The Windrush National organisation and Nubian Jak Trust. 

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And it marks a man who played a key role on both the city’s political and educational landscape. Bert, who died of cancer in 2003 aged 70, received an OBE for his work with Handsworth College, later to become City College. He was its chair of governors for 17 years. 

He faced racism during his bid to become a Birmingham councillor and recalled being sent a banana skin and letter telling him to return to “monkeyland”. His only comment was that the unknown author had spelt monkey incorrectly. 

Birmingham's first black councillor Bert CarlessBirmingham's first black councillor Bert Carless
Birmingham's first black councillor Bert Carless | South & City College Birmingham

Mike Hopkins, principal and chief executive of South and City College, said: “We pay tribute to an extraordinary individual whose legacy resonates profoundly within our community.   His unwavering dedication to education, his pioneering spirit in local politics, and his remarkable resilience against adversity continue to inspire us.  

“His significance to us at South and City College Birmingham is deeply rooted in his pivotal roles as a governor at Handsworth, chair of governors during the transformation of Handsworth College into City College, and his pioneering efforts that reshaped our educational landscape.” 

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Community activist Bishop Desmond Jaddoo has publicly stated the honour should have been bestowed sooner. But he underlined the significance of Bert’s work, saying: “This is the next step in honouring a trailblazer who came to the UK as a member of the Windrush Generation in the early 1950s and opened doors that have led to changing the face of Birmingham Council Chamber and, indeed, public life.  

“Bert’s service is a testament to a man of grace and integrity, he saw his duty as a service to all, irrespective of their political persuasion.” 

Perry Barr road named after Bert Carless, Birmingham's first black councillorPerry Barr road named after Bert Carless, Birmingham's first black councillor
Perry Barr road named after Bert Carless, Birmingham's first black councillor | Birmingham City Council

The father-of-five arrived here from Jamaica in 1956 and settled in Handsworth. The former British Telecom engineer’s passion was education and he served on the city’s education committee for nearly two decades.  

His OBE was bestowed for his key role in rebuilding Handsworth College as chairman of governors following the Handsworth Riots of 1985. Bert set up the college community council which assessed the community’s educational needs.  

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Bishop Jaddoo added: To be of service, sacrifices of family life are made. Bert did this, but it was not in vain. His ground-breaking determination has permanently changed the face of Birmingham council chamber today.” 

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