This extract is from The Birmingham Black Oral History Project (BBOHP) which was recorded in 1990s. The project was created to record the stories and lives of people from the Windrush Generation and people who came to Birmingham from South Asia.

A black man looking at the camera. He's wearing a white shirt and black tie. The image is black and white
Credit: Carlton Duncan © Kate Green, BBOHP.

Name: Carlton Duncan.

Born: Kingston Jamaica, 3rd January 1941.

Education: Carlton attended a Catholic Junior and Secondary school in Jamaica.

He was motivated to study to avoid the hard and laborious outdoor work in the sugar cane fields. Inspired by one of his teachers ‘Mr Pine’, Carlton started to train to be a teacher in Jamaica before his mother and stepfather encouraged him to come to England for his studies. Carlton ultimately achieved degrees in Law, Economics and Education.

Job: Carlton is well known for his 30-year career as a teacher, becoming Britain’s first Black Headteacher of a secondary school in 1982. He also spent many years a professional dancer.

Oral History Interview: 1991 at the age of 50.

Interview Overview:

Carlton lived in Jamaica until the age of 19, initially with his mother and two older brothers. His father died before he was born and later his mother re-married. Shortly after, his parents emigrated to England, leaving Carlton and his brothers to live with extended family in Jamaica.

Carlton arrived in England on 10th January 1961, travelling for 21 days on an Italian ship called the TS Escania. He describes his arrival as being a ‘major disappointment’. His existing qualifications were not recognised, meaning that he was forced to repeat part of his studies,

“suddenly to be told by the ‘mother country’ that we don’t recognise your qualification. I mean I took that a little bit hard”

The family lived in London and Carlton took on other work while studying. He began a 10-year career as a professional dancer, travelling across Europe while still attending University in Swansea.

He describes his early years teaching in Brent as where his career ‘really began’. He went on to work in Coventry, Bradford and Birmingham, where he ended his career at George Dixon High School. His pioneering philosophy of teaching ‘multi-cultural education’ was ahead of its time and set the standard for diversifying the curriculum.

Carlton describes the extensive racism and abuse he experienced throughout his teaching career and in his personal life. Speaking of the abuse he suffered in Bradford he says,

“it was 4 years of hell, Doreen (interviewer),4 years of real hell”

Yet he was still incredibly proud of the work he had achieved and motivated to continue in education,

“I feel I’ve contributed and that for me is the real benefit to see young people aspire highly successfully, yes that’s great”

He married twice, with a dramatic start to his second marriage, and is the father of three children, including twins who made headlines as the first Black twins conceived through IVF.

Carlton's Full Interview:

You can listen and download Carlton's full oral history on our City Sound Archive website: Listen to Carlton's Story.

Warning: These recordings include racially explicit content, including discussions of racism, prejudice and violence; racially explicit language; and language and phrasing that we would not use today. Some of this content might be unsuitable for younger listeners or triggering for People of Colour.

Windrush and The Birmingham Black Oral History Project

Find out more about this project our Birmingham's Windrush Generation schools resource page.