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Blue Plaque to be erected for the late Alderman Egbert Carless OBE

Birmingham Empowerment Forum, South & City College Birmingham, The Windrush National organisation and The Nubian Jak Trust have teamed up to honour Birmingham’s first black Councillor with a blue plaque.

The Late Alderman Egbert Carless, fondly known as Bert and Birmingham’s first black councillor, was elected to Birmingham City Council in 1979, representing the ward of Aston. He was awarded the OBE for his service to Handsworth College, of which he was Chair of Governors from 1985 – 2002. During his tenure, Handsworth College became City College.

Bert was born in 1933 in Clarendon, Jamaica, and arrived in the UK at Southampton port in 1956. He lived in Handsworth and was married with 5 children. 

In 1979, Bert Carless made history by becoming Birmingham’s first black (non-white) Councillor.  

His success in local politics as a Labour councillor has run parallel with the Birmingham’s emergence as a hugely diverse city that has faced varying challenges. 

He came to Birmingham from Jamaica when he was 21 in the early 1950’s, leaving a job as a diesel mechanic in a sugar manufacturing plant back home, as he thought his career prospects would be better in England. 

It was through politics that he found a sense of purpose in his new home. 

A retired British Telecom engineer, he had happy memories of his early days in the Labour Party. He first stood as a candidate back in 1972 in Yardley. While London had the Notting Hill Riots in 1959, Birmingham had no equivalent disturbances when the immigrants, as they were referred to, came to Birmingham.  

Bert’s passion was education. He served on Birmingham education committee for nearly two decades, and his roles included Chairman of the schools sub-committee, the Careers sub-committee and his talents as a moderator earned him the post of Chairman of the city’s appeals committee. 

His OBE came for his key role in rebuilding Handsworth College as Chairman of Governors, after the Handsworth Riots in 1985. 

He set up the college community council assessing what exactly the community’s educational needs were. His vision completely changed the direction of Handsworth College into a positive one. 

Bert Carless’s calm, gentlemanly manner no doubt has played an important part in his successes in the education field. During his campaigning, Bert endured direct racism until his successful election in May 1979, to become the City’s first black elected Councillor representing Aston.  

He recalls being sent a banana skin and a note telling him in 1975 to “go back to monkeyland” and referring to him as a “black b*stard”. His first comment was that they spelt monkey incorrectly. He kept the note to remind him of the attitude and barriers that he had to contend with. 

Bert considered it his duty to be in service to his community.

He was willing to go the extra mile with his own time and commitment. This sacrifice was not in vain, as his ground-breaking determination has permanently changed the faces in the Birmingham council chamber today. 

It is a quality that never deserted the man from Jamaica who came and played an important role in the changing outlook of post-war Birmingham, especially in Birmingham’s Council chamber which is his great legacy.  

Bert died on 20th August 2003 within weeks of being diagnosed with cancer, but his legacy lives on. Mike Hopkins MBE, Principal and Chief Executive of South & City College Birmingham, paid tribute to the college’s former Chair of Governors: 

“As this blue plaque is unveiled in honour of the Late Alderman Egbert Carless, fondly known as Bert, 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 & 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.” 

Bishop Dr. Desmond Jaddoo also paid tribute: 

”This is the next step in honouring this trailblazer that came to the UK as a member of the Windrush Generation in the early 1950s. He opened doors that have led to the changing faces in the Birmingham Council Chamber and in public life. Bert’s service is a testament to a man of grace and integrity – he saw his duty to be of service to all, irrespective of their political persuasion. A street in Perry Barr has been named after Bert, and now this blue plaque at SCCB Handsworth where he also served… 20 years after his death, his legacy is alive and well.” 

The blue plaque will be unveiled: 

Date: Friday 15th December 2023 

Time: 12 Noon 

Location: South & City College Soho Road Handsworth Birmingham B21 9LN