CHRISTIAN FREDERICK COLE
1852 - 1885
When I launched Black Oxford Untold Stories I received a phone call from Mr Peter Vernier. He asked inquisitively, 'Whom do you have as the first Black scholar? I proudly announced Joseph Renner Maxwell, Merton College, Law, 1876.
'Oh no my dear', came back his reply. And with the same amount of enthusiasm, if not more than I, he announced, 'Christian Frederick Cole, University College, 1873. COLE was the first'. And so, began a telephone friendship with Mr Vernier, he was an alumnus of Magdalen College, a lecturer and an Oscar Wilde expert.
Although we never met in person, over the years, we discussed Oscar Wilde, which led Mr Vernier to Cole, Cole's life, and his legacy. As I became educated about Cole, I became enthralled about his life and his achievements. Sadly, Mr Vernier passed away in 2017, shortly after the unveiling of the Black Oxford Christian Cole plaque at University College. I remain deeply appreciative to Mr Vernier for introducing me to Mr Christian Frederick Cole.
Christian Frederick Cole was born in 1852 in Waterloo, Sierra Leone. He enrolled at University College as a non-collegiate student in 1873. Cole read for an Honours degree in Classics. To supplement his income from he received from his uncle, Cole, a talented musician, taught music lessons, Responsions, the first of three examinations once required for an academic degree at the university, as well as preparing students for the divinity exam, which they had to pass to graduate.
Cole achieved a fourth in Greats in 1876: he became the first Black African to achieve a degree from the University of Oxford. In 1877, he became a full member of the College, and in 1879, a member of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. He was called to the Bar in1883 becoming the first Black African to practise law in an English Court 1884.