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Black Cantabs celebrate Cambridge's black students

Images of the University of Cambridge's 'lost and forgotten' black students will go on display next week as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.

The Black Cantabs project exhibition starts on Monday. The Black Cantabs is a historical and research focused society that aims to highlight and share the past and present stories, experiences and achievements of the University's black students.

Through its activities, the society documents and features the diverse and rich histories of these pioneering scholars.

Nafisa Waziri, President of the Society, says: "The Black Cantabs Research Society was created in 2015 and was a culmination of several projects and movements. At its core, it serves as a platform to formally record the achievements of Black Cantab alumni and make this information publicly available to many interested students. Over the years, many students had been interested in finding out about the early Black scholars at their colleges and what they went on to do after leaving the university. These stories are very little known within the university. A major spark that led to founding of the Society was the election of the first black female student to the University’s governing body CUSU in March 2015. Students began to wonder ‘what other black students have studied here?’, ‘who was the first black student in the university?’ and ‘what impact have they had on our societies?’. By August that year, The Black Cantabs Research Society was formally set up to answer these questions. The Black Cantabs Research Society aims to uncover the legacies of black alumni of the University of Cambridge for two main reasons: first, to contribute to the historical record; and second, to demonstrate to current and prospective Black Cantabs that they share this long and diverse pedigree."

The earliest recorded Black Cantab is the Reverend Edward Cragg Haynes from Barbados. He studied Divinity at Trinity College and matriculated in 1844. There are also some mentions of Black students that came to Cambridge in the early 1700s for short courses of study.

Other prominent Black Cantabs include:

- Gloria Claire Carpenter, who was probably the first black woman at the University of Cambridge. A Jamaican, she studied law at Girton College in 1945 and became a prominent social reformer, playing an instrumental role in the foundation of the Law Faculty of the University of West Indies in Jamaica.

- Efua Sutherland, from Ghana, studied at Homerton College, Cambridge, in 1947, a year before women were admitted as full members of the university. A playwright and filmmaker, she contributed to the development of theatre in Ghana.

- Professor Thomas Odhiambo became the first black Kenyan to matriculate at Queens' College, Cambridge, in 1959. He went on to found the renowned International Centre for Insects Physiology which has helped farmers across the world to  protect their crops through biological pest control methods, contributing to food security in Africa in the process.

The exhibition is being held at St John's Chapel. The Festival of Ideas runs from 16th to 29th October.


More information on the Society's work can be found here.

A Q & A with Nafisa Waziri can be found here.