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Clara Christian, First Black Student of University of Edinburgh, Whose Husband Changed Name Over Racism

Dominican-born Clara Maguerite Christian is the first black student to have gained admission to the University of Edinburgh in 1915.

Though she couldn’t graduate, her story is captured in the annals of the University of Edinburgh history as the first black woman who showed resilience in the face of racial discrimination and gender biases in an academic setting that had white majority and prevailed years on.

She blazed the trail with sacrifices and determination which since has inspired many black women to take up new challenges and succeed in their endeavours.

Clara faced a daunting barrier of dealing with the double jeopardy of surmounting racial barriers and gender biases in a colonial sphere, according to Witness.

She was married to Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon, a fellow medical student, who had to change his name to Muzumbo as a result of institutional barriers and racial impediments that made it difficult to enable him practice medicine.

According to Bermuda biographies, Edgar decided to change his name because white colonials refused to mention his name with the prefix ‘Mr’ or ‘Dr’.

This decision by Edgar stirred an uproar among the white members of the House of Assembly in the local parliament when the dailies announced the change of name.

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Clara, who was a staunch rights advocate, was born and raised in the former French and British colony of Dominica in 1894.

She was sent to a convent school in Edinburgh when her mother passed away because she was believed to be a talented performer. But, her father wanted her to study medicine, culminating in her enrolment at the University of Edinburgh in 1915.

Clara had to drop out of school when she got pregnant with her first child for Trinidadian-born Edgar Gordon.

She had six children when she migrated to the Caribbean and later settled in Bermuda where she married Edgar from 1917 an 1927.

Moira Stuart, Clara granddaughter, told the BBC his great great grandfather, George James Christian, was not happy when Clara dropped out of school.

He was a strong advocate for education and always stressed on the need for her to have good schooling, but, Clara did what she did out of love for Edgar.

Though the marriage between Clara and Edgar hit the rocks as a result of irreconcilable matrimonial problems, she ensured her four daughters were sent to England for school and her two sons attended the University of Edinburgh in 1944 to study medicine.

Aside from their personal challenges, Clara and Edgar waged strong campaigns against racism while in Bermuda. The foundations of the British colony was built on racism and oiled on the same ideology.

Despite having good academic credentials, the couple faced barriers erected by colonialism in their search for employment.

They were often overlooked when there are employment opportunities. Whites were given roles even though they were equally qualified for the positions.

Clara had to turn down a job offer from the Achimota College because of racial barriers set for black women including relocating to the Gold Coast for an indefinite period with no benefit of being promoted.

In all of these travesties, Clara’s story inspired a wave of advocacy at University of Edinburgh among non-whites who became self-aware of their rights and the need to form associations to fight these institutional barriers.

The expectation for Clara at the time as the first black woman was for her to fall out of the system in a white dominated establishment during the colonial era.

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Written by How Africa News

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