Christian Frederick Cole was a Sierra Leonean lawyer who became an 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 born in Waterloo. 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.
Amidst the ivy-clad halls of the college, Cole’s star shone brilliantly. When his uncle’s passing cast a shadow over his finances, a symphony of support rose from his fellow students and the esteemed Master of University College, George Bradley. In a narrative that defied adversity, Cole not only overcame financial hurdles but also transcended the challenges of not being affiliated with a college. His triumphant graduation in 1876, marked by a fourth-class honours degree, seemed to weave the threads of fate itself.
As he stepped onto the stage of University College, his presence ignited a blaze of curiosity, painted even in the vivid strokes of press cartoons laden with racial caricatures. Yet, the depths of his emotions in the face of these portrayals remain veiled in the folds of history. Undeterred, he cast his silhouette on the tapestry of college life, delivering impassioned speeches at the Oxford Union. It was during these moments that the American abolitionist Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson caught a glimpse of him, describing Cole as “a very black youth from Africa,” adorned in the garb of a B.A. gown. The resounding echo of “King Cole,” a moniker bestowed upon him by the undergraduates, filled the air.
After bidding adieu to Oxford in 1880, he embarked on a journey back to Sierra Leone, only to find the door to employment firmly shut. Unyielding, he retraced his steps to England, embarking on a new odyssey, this time donning the robes of a barrister. In a feat that etched his name into the annals of history, Cole was welcomed into the Inner Temple’s fold in 1883, etching a path as the first black African to practice within the hallowed halls of English courts. His ambitions knew no bounds, leading him to distant Zanzibar, where the echoes of his legal prowess resonated.
Yet, destiny’s fickle hand struck too soon. In 1885, at a mere 33 years of age, Cole’s vibrant life was claimed by the relentless grasp of smallpox. The world lost a luminary whose journey was etched in both triumph and tragedy, a testament to the indomitable spirit that blazed within him.