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History of black scholars is focus of new book
THE lives and work of Oxford’s black scholars have been brought to life in a book by a cultural historian.
Pamela Roberts will launch Black Oxford: The Untold Stories of Oxford University’s Black Scholars in the city this week.
It uses data from the university’s archives to explore the lives of people like ground-breaking African lawyer Christian Cole, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice and former Ghanaian president John Kufuor.
Ms Roberts said she took an interest in the subject while working on another project in the city.
She said: “I wanted to incorporate elements of the university’s history and I made initial enquires about the university heritage.
“But a tourist officer said to me: ‘You people only came here in the 1960s. You didn’t go to the university. You just drove the buses and worked in the factories’.
“That made me want to learn more, and I discovered that the university has a long history of black scholars dating back to the 19th century, but they were never very visible.”
She said this lack of ‘visibility’ wasn’t due to a deliberate attempt to hide them from public view and the university had been helpful in her researches.
She said: “The archivists were helpful in terms of providing names and information, but in terms of promoting its black heritage, when you pick up a book about Oxford University it’s not about the black scholars.
“I think more generally Oxford is not associated with black people but it has a large black population.
“The book presents an overview of the educational history of people from places like the Caribbean and Ghana, and how those scholars came to be here in the first place. The colonial scholarship system and the Rhodes scholarship played a big part.”
For Ms Roberts, who lives in High Wycombe, the whole experience has been a sharp learning curve.
She said: “It showed me a completely different side of the university’s history.
“I wrote about Christian Frederick Cole, the first African to practise law in an English court. He was in Oxford from 1873, and there were a lot of black scholars who settled here, married and were either local ministers or councillors.”
The book is already on sale, but will be launched at Blackwell’s in Broad Street tomorrow from 7pm. Ms Roberts will sign copies and talk about her work. Tickets cost £3 from the bookshop.
- Susan Rice, United States National Security Adviser – studied at New College in the late 1980s after being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.
- Christian Frederick Cole, first African lawyer to practise in an English court – studied at University College in 1873.
- John Kufuor, former President of Ghana (2001-09) – studied at Exeter College from 1961.
- Eric Williams, former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago (1956-1981) – studied at St Catherine’s Society, Oxford in 1932.
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