This October, Fletchers Solicitors is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting influential Black people who have helped shape the world we live in today. We’ve assigned a cross-departmental team across all specialisms at Fletchers, so that we can do our own research and continually educate ourselves on Black history.
The fourth blog in this series is a piece researched and written by Nermeen Salahuddin, Assistant Litigation Executive.
Christian Frederick Cole | The first Black barrister
Christian Frederick Cole was the grandson of a slave, and the adopted son of Reverend James Cole of Waterloo. In 1873 he enrolled at Oxford University as a non-collegiate student with the Delegacy of Unattached Students. This meant that although he was educated at the university, he was not attached, affiliated or sponsored by the University due to his race. Thus, becoming the University’s first Black African man to study there.
In order to pay his way through university, Cole taught Responsions; a qualifying exam in Greek, Latin, arithmetic and algebra. He also taught music lessons, and both of these classes were extremely popular.
Although Cole had many financial difficulties and did not have the advantage of being attached to a college, he graduated in 1876 with a fourth-class honours’ degree. In November 1876 he was accepted as a member of University College until April 1880.
As one of the first Black people to attend the University, Cole’s presence attracted a lot of media attention. Oftentimes this attention was extremely racist; such as press cartoons depicting him with racial stereotypes. Despite this, Cole took a very visible role in the life of the college; including speaking at the university’s union. He was also a member of Oxford Union debating society. As his popularity grew, those close to him named him ‘King Cole’; celebrating his rich background, sense of community and natural ability to command a conversation.
A Plaque of Honour
Following his graduation in 1880 and time in Sierra Leone, Cole returned to England to train as a barrister. He was accepted by the prestigious Inner Temple in 1883, thus becoming the first Black African practising in English courts. Cole later secured a role as a barrister at the consular court of Sayyid Barghash bin Said Al-Busaid in Zanzibar.
In October 2017, Oxford University unveiled a plaque in honour of Cole on University College’s exterior wall, in Logic Lane, opposite the college’s law library.
Christian Frederick Cole – Black Oxford Untold Stories;
Lilian Bader | One of the first Black women in the British armed forces
Lilian Bader was born on 18th February 1918 in Liverpool, England to a British born mother and Marcus Bailey; a merchant seaman from Barbados who served in the First World War. At 9 years old she was orphaned and placed in a convent until she reached the age of 20.
Due to her racial background, Bader found it extremely difficult to find employment. She herself stated ‘my casting out from the convent walls was delayed. I was half West Indian, and nobody, not even the priests, dare risk ridicule by employing me’.
Dismissed from the Forces
During the Second World War in 1939, Bader enlisted in the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes at Catterick Camp, Yorkshire. Unfortunately, she was dismissed after only 7 weeks when it was discovered that her father was not born in the United Kingdom.
In 1941, Bader listed in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force after hearing a radio advertisement that the Royal Air Force were taking on people with a West Indian descent. She went on to train in instrument repair; which in itself was a new trade for women to undertake, only made available to them in 1940.
A Worthy Promotion
Despite being the only person of colour ‘in a sea of white faces’ Bader took great pride in her position commenting herself ‘someone told me I looked smart in my uniform, which cheered me no end. Bader became a Leading Aircraft Woman, where she worked long hours checking for any faults in the instruments of the aircrafts. She was later promoted to the rank of Corporal.
The Development of Women
When Bader became pregnant with her first son, she was provided with compassionate discharge from her position in February 1944. After the war, she went on to obtain a Bachelor of Arts Degree from London University and had a career as a teacher until the 1980s.
In 2018, The Voice newspaper listed Lilian Bader as one of eight Black women who ‘contributed to the development of women’.