A feature of University College is the grandiose white marble statue of Percy Bysshe Shelley, set behind high ornate railings, celebrated as one of the College's most famous alumni, surprisingly, given his expulsion after only eight months.
Contrast this to Christian Frederick Cole, also an alumnus of University College and the first Black scholar at the University of Oxford in 1873. He studied four years for a classic degree and became the first Black African to practise law in an English court - however; there is no grand monument to Cole and no plaque. Pre-2017, mention Cole's name at University college or in the broader university community and blank stares, and inquisitive looks were the general response.
In 2014/5, the Director of Black Oxford Untold Stories delivered a series of lectures entitled Airbrushed Out highlighting the absence of an acknowledgement and visual memorialisation of the University of Oxford first Black scholar.
The lack of any significant recognition and acknowledgement became the catalyst for a range of projects celebrating Christian Fredrick Cole. The first project was the Christian Frederick Cole Memorial Plaque.
The Christian Frederick Cole Plaque was unveiled on Saturday 14th October 2017, by the Master of University College, Sir Ivor Crewe and the Director of Black Oxford Untold Stories, Pamela Roberts.
Pamela said, "Cole's presence presented an unfamiliar narrative of Black scholars at the University of Oxford. Today, his achievements still have a contemporary significance and impact; in particular for younger generations in illustrating a sense of the past and what is possible. Going forward, children and young people from all backgrounds and ethnic groups need to have knowledge and awareness about the representation at the University of Oxford, and the unlimited range of opportunities available to them. The placing of a plaque will not only be a visible and permanent commemoration of Cole's time at University College, but it will also represent and acknowledge the College's early Black presence.
Many congratulations on steering the whole initiative of the plaque through! I am pleased that you did so that Cole now has proper recognition'.
Dr Robin Darwall-Smith, Archivist, University College, University of Oxford.