‘Black history is the world’s history’ – Inspirational Caribbean carnival queen, 85, spends lifetime bringing communities together

Elvy Morton was a member of the Windrush generation and dedicated her life to making the world a better place

A report by Asha Patel for The Leicester Mercury.

In 1958, Elvy Morton a 23-year-old from the Caribbean island of Nevis, travelled to the UK on a £65 ticket.

She settled first in Birmingham, where she worked as a hospital nurse alongside fellow members of the Windrush generation who were helping to rebuilt post-war Britain.ADVERTISING

Elvy then moved to Leicester in 1961 when she married James Morton, her late husband and continued nursing before studying catering and then completing a teaching course – alongside becoming a mum of five.

Throughout her life in Leicester, Elvy questioned the lack of local engagement with Black culture and history and she would later go on to become one of the cities trailblazers for promoting inclusion and togetherness.

LeicestershireLive spoke to the now 86-year-old about becoming the founder of Leicester’s Caribbean Carnival.

Elvy Morton travelling on board a ship to the UK in 1958 

During the early eighties, when riots erupted in Brixton and Liverpool following long-standing tensions between police and Black communities, Elvy felt more compelled than ever to do more for the generations that succeeded her.

“There was nothing in Leicester to tell our young people about our history. The schools weren’t teaching anything.

“Our children were sat at the back of the class and they were not enjoying it.

“So something had to be done because Black history was not just our history it’s world history,” she told LeicestershireLive.

Elvy proactively challenged Leicester schools, communities and businesses – including high street stores Lewis’s and Woolworths – to represent Black people.

“Lewis’s department store had the most wonderful Christmas display but there were no Black kids or dolls invovled and Woolworths didn’t have any either.

“So I went in there and I told them they should have Black dolls and asked why they didn’t – and they did actually listen to me,” she said.

But her efforts didn’t stop there.

“That wasn’t enough. We were getting a lot of discrimination at the time and somehow, we were looked at as a non-entity so we had to do more,” she said.

Elvy, a few of her friends and other members of the local Caribbean community got together to discuss what they could do to celebrate their culture and share their history.

The group met at the African Caribbean Centre in Highfields in 1984 where Elvy became the founding chair of the Caribbean Carnival, among 17 other members.

“We really just enjoyed getting together and speaking about our people and our history and our young people loved music so the carnival was born out music and culture – that’s what it was about,” she said.

The year of 1984 marked 150 years since the emancipation of slavery in the West Indies which took place on August 1.

“There was nothing going on about it – nothing to mark it. Nobody bothered so we had to take up the mantle ourselves,” she said.

So Leicester’s first Caribbean Carnival took place on the first Saturday in August of 1985, to commemorate the historic day.

With some funding from the local authority, the carnival members “passed the hat around” to help fund the event themselves which would be bigger than anyone expected.

“The first carnival was a huge success. I don’t think the council thought it would be that big because they only gave us a small ball court area of Victoria Park,” Elvy said.

“People loved it. Especially some of the older people who were missing carnivals from back home and I was so overjoyed with how young people took to it.”

With the help of her husband James – who Elvy described as her backbone for the carnival – the event included and represented people from all of the Caribbean islands.

Elvy saw the impact of the Carnival on Leicester and thought it “did a lot of good” for the city. Not only did it bring people together – it also raised money for a number of causes and charities, including Great Ormond Street children’s hospital and the British Red Cross.

“The help from the Leicester communities was amazing – I can’t fault them,” she said.

Herdle White presents Elvy Morton with her retirement gifts and card presented with special thanks for her contributions to the development of the Leicester Caribbean Carnival. 

She added: “People learned about the history more – they got involved.

“We went into schools to teach people about Caribbean history and we taught the younger generation that they were important.

“There is still a lot of work to do, but we’re getting there,” she said.

Leicester’s Caribbean Carnival went on to be one of the biggest outside of London and drew crowds of more than 80,000 people.

She helped to put together 18 carnivals before she took a step back around 20 years ago when her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Today the carnival is led by its chairman, Dennis Christopher, better known as Sugar.

Elvy told LeicestershireLive: “Carnival taught me a lot. I learned how to communicate, how to appreciate a lot of new cultures and how to work with people.”

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