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African HistoryChristian Frederick Cole - The First Black Graduate of the University of...

Christian Frederick Cole – The First Black Graduate of the University of Oxford and England’s First Black Barrister

Christian Frederick Cole was a Sierra Leonean lawyer who is a historical icon after becoming the first African barrister to practice in England. His accomplishments further became significant because he was the first black African student at the University of Oxford. As a black man emerging from an underprivileged family background, you’ll notice that his story was marred by unavoidable setbacks and trials. Nevertheless, his perseverance and unfaltering mentality will reveal to you why Christian Frederick Cole is a symbol of black excellence.

Christian Cole was born in 1852 into the Creole tribe. He was the grandson of a slave. After the death of his father, Cole was adopted by his uncle Reverend James Cole who was stationed at Waterloo. Before travelling to England, Christian sought tertiary education at the renowned Fourah Bay College in Freetown. His decision to enroll on Oxford University was simply a bold and ambitious one. Negroes at the time could only dream of the opportunity. Nevertheless, his headmaster propelled his desire and encouraged him to apply to the prominent university.

Cole was accepted to study at Oxford as a non-collegiate student with the Delegacy of Unattached Students in 1873. He studied the tough and intellectually drilling course known as Classics. Christian was a student contemporary with the dreaded imperialist Cecil Rhodes and the ostentatious author Oscar Wilde. While at Oxford, Christian Frederick Cole engaged in side hustles to sustain himself. He tutored white and privileged students which led to his classes becoming popular. He also lectured in music lessons.

Things grew worse after his Uncle who was his financial sponsor died. Hence, his financial situation worsened. A testament to the premise that Cole was popular and respected at Oxford was the fact that during these trying times, fellow students including Herbert Gladstone, son of former prime minister William Ewart Gladstone, and the master of University College- George Granville Bradley, were able to raise funds to help him.

In 1876, Cole graduated with a fourth-class honours degree. In November of that year, he was accepted as a member of University College. His presence drew a lot of attention, including press cartoons depicting him with racial stereotypes. However, he was a paramount figure at the college. He was even called to speak at the Oxford Union. Undergraduates called him “King Cole.”

Christian Frederick Cole returned to his motherland in 1880. He was unable to find employment so he went back to England to train as a barrister. Cole was accepted by the Inner Temple in 1883, becoming the first black African practising in English courts. He later went to Tanzania to continue his career in law.

Cole delivered lectures on education in Freetown, which were published in 1880.

The plaque commemorating Christian Cole at Oxford

Christian Frederick Cole died of smallpox in 1885, at the age of 33. On the 14th of October 2017, a plaque was unveiled to honour Cole’s achievements.


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