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Half a century after Whitney integration, a pioneering black student remembers

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In 1963, Christine Pearman was one of five black students to usher in the start of racial integration at Whitney Institute.

Before that time the private school was reserved for white children on the Island. But the Theatre Boycott in 1959 gradually set into motion the end of segregation in Bermuda.

Thus when it came time for Ms Pearman to go to high school, a matriarchal figure in her neighbourhood recommended she apply to Whitney Institute.

“Integration was about to start, so I took the exam and was accepted in,” she explained. “It was a private school, so my mom had to pay, from what I can recall 46 pounds.”

She spoke to The Royal Gazette about her experience in honour of the 50th anniversary of integration at the school.

Other children that joined Whitney at the time were: Lynn Doyling, Donna Swainson, the late Neville Somner and Glenfield Smith.

In the early days of starting high school, Ms Pearman said she didn't feel any different from other children and was simply eager to learn and get the best education possible.

But after a few years she did notice more discrimination when the school became run by Government and more black students arrived.

“Some of the white students were moved from there to go to other private ‘white schools',” she said. “I had a good relationship with the teachers, but I heard a lot of negativity towards the black students from some of the teachers.

“The black children were also disciplined far more than the other students.”

Despite the intolerance she witnessed, Ms Pearman said one positive thing that came from the experience the friendships she built with children from different races.

“Colour didn't make a difference to them or myself,” she explained. “Even though they were moved by their parents to other private schools, we kept in contact.

“[One friend] Debbie wanted me in her wedding, but I was studying in England then. And [another friend] Brenda visited from New Zealand and I met up with her this year, after not seeing each other since the age of 17.

“It was like we went right back to being 13. [One schoolmate] Kathy [Faires] and I brought out the old photos.”

Friend Brenda Hodder said she had a special bond with Ms Pearman while growing up. “I must say I never gave it a thought that she was any different from the rest of us,” she added.

Ms Hodder couldn't recall seeing many incidents of racism from her childhood, but said one memory that stands out was seeing a biracial friend whose white father and ‘coloured' mother were not often seen out in public together.

She said: “The only thing I remember about [that girl] was that her mom rarely came to school events and I always wondered why.

“She, herself, was also a bit of a loner, but a good friend of mine. It wasn't till I looked back as an adult that I realised why her mom didn't come out much with her.

“My parents never stopped me playing with her and I never saw her as any different from any of my other friends.

“Colour wasn't really talked about in my home — or not that I was aware of.”

She said she took these experiences with her as she grew up and experienced life beyond Bermuda.

Her children have always had friends of different nationalities and she said “issues of difference have never carried any weight” in her household.

Ms Pearman started reminiscing about her experiences in Bermuda in the 60s on a recent visit to the North Carolina International Civil Rights Museum.

She said blacks in Bermuda were relegated to the back seats at certain churches; meanwhile, bank tellers who were not white, had to be light-skinned to serve customers on the Island.

She believes there is still discrimination on the Island, although it may be more subtle today.

“This discrimination becomes obvious when trying to rent certain apartments and seeing the difference some blacks have to pay compared to whites.

“You still find that certain activities like the Rugby Classic are predominately white. Black people support all ‘white' school fairs, but this is not the case for the black school ones.

“My hope is that in my daughter's lifetime, if not mine, racial discrimination will truly become an issue of the past.”

Christine Pearman (centre) with two friends from her time at Whitney Institute in the 1960s, Brenda Hodder (left) and Kathy Faries (right).
Christine Pearman (centre) and her friends at Whitney Institute, Brenda Hodder (left) and Kathy Faries.
Integration at Whitney Institute: This picture shows students in 1967 on a class field trip.

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Published October 26, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 25, 2013 at 8:44 pm)

Half a century after Whitney integration, a pioneering black student remembers

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