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Mary Seacole was a victim of racism, critics claim

PIONEER: Mary Seacole

PIONEER JAMAICAN nurse Mary Seacole who sacrificed her wealth and safety to help British soldiers during the Crimean War was forced to endure racial discrimination, academics say.

Their comments follow complaints against a BBC Horrible History programme which shows Seacole bemoaning the fact that she had tried to join nursing heroine Florence Nightingale in the war effort but was rejected four times.

In the comedy sketch for children, Nightingale replies: “The nursing corps was for British girls. You’re from Jamaica.”

Viewers complained that Nightingale had been wrongly painted as a racist.

The BBC Trust has since ruled “the clip’s depiction” of the 19th Century nurse “was materially inaccurate”.

EVIDENCE

But health and social care lecturer Dr Naomi A Watson insisted there is evidence that Seacole was a victim of racial prejudice.

She told The Voice: “Seacole applied to the British Army and was turned down and that is absolute fact. It is in all the historical papers and has been written about by quite a number of authors.”

She referred to Seacole’s own book The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole in which she wrote about her rejection by the army.

It said: “Once again I tried, and had an interview this time with one of Miss Nightingale’s companions. She gave me the same reply, and I read in her face the fact, that had there been a vacancy, I should not have been chosen to fill it. Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier [darker] skin than theirs?”

Africa and Caribbean studies lecturer, Dr Tony Talburt, said it was quite plausible that Seacole encountered racism.
He said: “She lived in a time when racial discrimination was at its height and when the British establishment, of which Florence Nightingale was a part, would not take kindly to a black person being equal to them. Especially those in officialdom.

“It was kind of unnatural for that to happen. She was breaking new ground and so she had to fight hard to prove that she was their equal, but they still rejected her.”

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