Bert Carless

Egbert Sylvester Carless

Bert Carless was Birmingham’s first Black Councilor, first Black Alderman, and first Black Chair of Governors for a major educational institution. He has even had a road named after him in the city.

Egbert Sylvester Carless was born in Clarendon, Jamaica, in 1933. He arrived in Birmingham as a qualified mechanic during the early 1950s, and his interest in automation led him into telecommunications, where he became a senior engineer before giving it up for a career in local politics during the 1970s.

Living in Handsworth with his wife and five children, Bert Carless found his purpose in community work and education. His first step into politics was as a local councillor in Yardley in 1972. As a Windrush pioneer, he faced numerous challenges, including racism. Yet, he persevered, even finding amusement in the misspelled and grammatically incorrect letters of hate he received.

In May 1979, Bert Carless made history as Birmingham City’s first Black elected Councillor, representing Aston. His leadership was crucial in guiding the city through a period of social unrest, steering Birmingham, and particularly Handsworth, away from the ashes of riots that had also afflicted other major cities like London, Bristol, Liverpool, and Manchester.

One of Bert Carless's most significant achievements was his pivotal role in rebuilding and restructuring Handsworth College after the 1985 riots. As Chairman of the Board of Governors, he established the college community council to assess the community’s educational needs. His visionary approach completely transformed the trajectory of Handsworth College (which later changed its name to City College), earning him an OBE in 1998.

In a collective effort to honor the memory of Alderman Bert Carless, the Birmingham Empowerment Forum, South & City College Birmingham, and The Windrush National organisation joined forces with the Nubian Jak Community Trust. Together, they commemorated Birmingham’s first Black Councillor with a blue plaque, symbolizing his significant contributions to the community.

The plaque was erected at South & City College Birmingham’s Handsworth Campus on 15th December 2023.