There’s no colour problem at Ringcross Infant School. Mrs Yvonne Connolly has to be thanked
for that. But there’s an awful lot of love – most of it for her.
She’s London’s first West Indian headteacher. And what a hit she is with the
kids – all 200 of them.” I’m Yvonne Connolly I was one of the first black headteachers in inner London in 1969. I had done three years of teacher training in Jamaica so I thought, I’ll come to Britain. I came in August 1963, a grey, grey day.
I wondered what I had done. I had planned to be here for three years
but three years led to four years. I was very aware that there were racial
tensions in quite a number of of schools. I would turn up and somebody would say – I suppose without meaning it – “but you’re black.” Of course my reply was,
“Yes I am, but I’m also a teacher.” So there were small, silly things, nothing dangerous but enough to cause discomfort. After six years I
applied for a headship and I just wanted to see what interviews at this level
might be. And I was absolutely amazed when my name was called – Mrs Connolly. The newspapers picked this up the next day and the school was inundated by quite a number of journalists, who came to take photographs. “Since she took over the headship of the school a few weeks ago she has brought a new vitality to it. Children from many parts of the world mix happily, unaware of prejudice.” When I was appointed, somebody threatened to burn the school down. I had – newspaper articles were actually
sent to me, crossing out my photograph and with actually nasty
comments: Go back to Jamaica. I also had letters from, interestingly enough, members of black community who felt that I had sold out to the white
establishment and they reminded me – these letters reminded me in no mean terms that I was here only for the black children. Dear black sister, we are
writing to congratulate you on your appointment as headmistress of a white
man’s school. But we are asking – no demanding – that you use your position for their awknowledgement of the black race in this country. The racism was coming
both from the white side and from the black side. I had a responsibility for
all the children in my school regardless of race or religion. In fact the
differences were less than the commonalities that we shared and
therefore one had to get on with it. Happily, the parents were only interested
in whether their children would get a good education. And that certainly was my
focus. I felt that I had a job to do in Britain, and I am happy having been here
now for 56 years