Highlighting some impactful figures in Bermuda’s Black history

The origins of Black History Month can be traced to an African-American intellectual by the name of Carter G. Woodson, who in 1926 established the “Negro History Week” in order to shed light and focus on Black contributions to civilization. The month of February was chosen by Woodson as it had already served as a time of celebration for many African-Americans due to the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the 12th and 14th respectively. Over the decades this celebration evolved into a month-long celebration culminating in its official recognition in 1976, during the bicentennial celebrations of the founding of the United States. Many of us will be familiar with the pantheon of legendary figures in Black American history such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, and the aforementioned Frederick Douglass, but I will assume that knowledge of their counterparts across Bermuda’s history would be substantially less well known. I would like to briefly highlight some of the impactful figures in Bermuda’s Black history: 
  • Mary Prince (1788- c.1833) - Born into slavery in Bermuda, Mary Prince was the first woman to publish an account of her life as a slave. The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Written by Herself, was published by the Anti-Slavery Society in 1831 in London and Edinburgh. 
  • James “Jemmy” Darrell (1749-1815) - A slave for most of his life, James Darrell was granted his freedom at the age of 47 because of his outstanding skills as a pilot. He was one of Bermuda’s first King’s pilots, as well as the first known black person to purchase a house.
  • Dr. Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon (1895-1955) - Physician, Parliamentarian and labour leader. He championed the cause of Bermudian workers and fought tirelessly for equal rights for black Bermudians, thereby laying the groundwork for much of the political and social change that came about after his death. 
  • Cyril Outerbridge Packwood (1930-1998) -Author, historian and librarian. He was the author of Chained on the Rock, the first definitive account of slavery in Bermuda. Another one of his seminal publications was Detour Bermuda, Destination U.S. House of Representative: The Life of Joseph Rainey, about the former slave who took refuge in Bermuda during the U.S. Civil War, and who went on to become the first black member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Dame Lois Browne-Evans (1927-2007) - Lawyer, Opposition Leader, Attorney General. She was Bermuda’s first female lawyer, first female Attorney General and the first female Opposition Leader not only in Bermuda but the British Commonwealth. She fought tirelessly against racial discrimination and championed the rights of all working class Bermudians. 
With February upon us once again, I would urge all families to take advantage of the rich resources of Black history in Bermuda such as the National Museum, The Bermuda Heritage Museum, The African Heritage Diaspora Trail, Verdmont House, Tucker House, Mary Prince guided tours and much more. 

"The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression."
—W.E.B. Du Bois
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