Now in her eighties, Eileen Beasley is the Rosa Parks of Wales.
Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her place on a bus to a white person in Alabama, 1955, is considered the inspiration behind the Afro-Amreican civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.
Like Rosa, Eileen Beasley’s defiance and bravery has resulted in people demanding rights and government being forced to amend repressive legislation.
During the 1950′s Eileen, and her late husband Trefor Beasley lived in Llangennech near Llanelli. At the time 90% of the population in the area spoke Welsh. Therefore when a note demanding the local rates arrived from ‘The Rural District Council of Llanelly’, Mrs Beasley wrote to ask for it in Welsh. It was refused. She refused to pay the rates until she got the note in Welsh.
The heavy hand of the law
She and her husband were summoned more than a dozen times to appear before the Magistrates Court. Mr and Mrs Beasley insisted that the court proceedings should be in Welsh. Three times the bailiffs carried off furniture from their home, the furniture being worth more than the rates, which were demanded. This went on for eight years. In 1960 Mr and Mrs Beasley finally, received a bilingual note demanding the local rates.
Inspiration for a Civil Rights Movement
Ms Beasley and her family’s brave stance during the 1950′s was the inspiration for the generations who have since campaigned for justice for the Welsh language.
In 1962 a few years after Eileen’s brave stand Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) was established. Adopting non-violent direct action tactics of the US black civil rights movement.
In the course of their various campaigns during the following decades, over a thousand people have appeared before the courts, many receiving prison sentences, making the Cymdeithas Britain’s most acitve protest groups since the Suffragettes – in terms of fines and the numbers sent to prison.
The Welsh language has gone from having no legal recognition to being highly visible on public signs, part of the broadcasting and education system.
Campaigners have succeed in gianing several concessions from the London goverment overturing limitations on the use of Welsh. In 2009 the recently established Welsh Assembly Goverment agreed to Cymdeithas demands to pass legislation giving Welsh full equal status with English.
Eileen Beasley was honoured by hundreds of Cymdeithas supporters in 2007 at a ceromony in the Great Hall at Aberystwyth’s Arts Centre.
This post is also available in: Welsh