Mary Seacole was a Jamaican Nurse who is best known for setting up a hotel to care for British soldiers behind enemy lines during the Crimean war. While Seacole was voted “Best Black Briton” in 2004, over the years her legacy and impact has been hotly debated. Many feel that her contributions to British history and to the history of women in the field of nursing has been greatly exaggerated.
A soon-to-be unveiled statue of Seacole, created by sculptor Martin Jennings has come under fire. The monument, which will be the first named memorial statue of a black woman in the UK, has faced a long, hard road from start to finish. While it normally takes two years to raise funds for such a project, the Mary Seacole statue took nearly seven. Opposition from a small, but outspoken group, which feels that celebrating Seacole threatens the legacy of Florence Nightingale, has also played a part in the delays.
But Jennings is quick to point out the latent racism in the push to oppose the Seacole monument.
In an open letter to the Times of London, he wrote,
“The Nightingale Society has gone to great lengths over many years to belittle Seacole’s achievements, while contradictorily declaring that it would support a Seacole statue on another site. The subtext to this convoluted thinking seems pretty clear to me, and it’s not a pleasant one. Would there really be such energy behind their resistance if the person the statue honours was white-skinned?”
Scholars are also backing Jennings, as part of an ongoing battle to keep Seacole in British history books.
As the debate rages on, for now, it seems that the 14 foot statue, made of Crimean rock, won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. And, the fight to protect the legacy of Mary Seacole, is bigger than Seacole, herself. It’s a fight for Black British history in general.