Funding for Black Oxford Untold Stories

The Social History Society is supporting an event in Oxford that aims to uncover the untold story of Christian Frederick Cole imagery.

Cole was Oxford University’s first Black African Scholar 1873, and became the first Black African to practise Law in the English High Court in 1884. His life is the focus of a symposium organised by Black Oxford Untold Stories in association with Bodleian Libraries.

The event will examine a series of previously unseen caricatures of Christian Frederick Cole. It will consider why Cole’s achievements were portrayed in the form of parody when his contemporaries were commemorated through portraits or statues. The symposium will also examine broader issues of race and representation in portrait art and caricatures.

Pamela Roberts, the Director of Black Oxford Untold Stories, believes that the event will lead to a broader knowledge of Cole and his achievements. She explains that ‘Although Cole made significant historical achievements, he was viewed in the nineteenth-century as a curio, and given the nickname ‘Old King Cole’ by his fellow students at Oxford’.

Back Oxford Untold Stories was set up to challenge traditional narratives about race and education. Roberts began the project after she was told ‘Black people did not go to Oxford University. You people only came here to drive the buses and work in the car factory’. Re-Imagining Cole is one of a series of events that aim to dispel such views.

Pamela Roberts said that: ‘the symposium will lead to a broader debate about the contextual history of caricatures. She told us that: ‘I hope it will produce an understanding of how an image was constructed to create a perception of a person’. In Cole’s case, she explains, ‘recently discovered pamphlets written by Cole illustrate how he saw himself versus the image portrayed of him’.

The symposium will pose the question: ‘should an image of Cole be re-imagined? What a re-imagined image should tell an audience about Cole, and who decides?

The event will include a panel discussion featuring Dr Temi Odumosu (Malmo University), Dr Robin Darwall-Smith (University College, University of Oxford), Robert Taylor (photographer of ‘Portraits of Achievement’), Colin Harris (Superintendent of Bodleian Libraries Special Collections) and Pamela Roberts (Founder and Director Black Oxford Untold Stories).

The event has also been supported by the Art Fund and will fall during Black History Month. There are more details on our booking page: