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Teacher and activist De Jean saluted

Educator Marion De Jean

Marion De Jean, a teacher and activist, “helped make Bermuda a better place”, community activist Glenn Fubler said yesterday.

Mr Fubler, of community group Imagine Bermuda, said Ms deJean, who died last month at the age of 95, was, along with her late husband Edward, “active in pioneering secondary education for young people of colour”.

He added: “Their role was a significant one, and it is important to highlight her passing.”

Mr Fubler paid tribute to Ms deJean as part of ongoing “summer of reflection” organised by Imagine Bermuda.

A series of community events has been held by the group, based around what would have been the 100th birthday of the late Nelson Mandela on July 18.

Mr De Jean, a founding member of the Progressive Labour Party, took over Howard Academy, one of the few schools available to black pupils, in 1951.

He ran the school with his wife’s help until 1964. Former pupils include Sir John Swan, the longest-serving premier, social activist Pauulu Kamarakafego [Roosevelt Brown] and Kenneth Richardson, the first black Cabinet Secretary.

Ms De Jean came from a family of teachers — her grandmother, Ida Trott, helped found Somerset Primary School.

Her godfather, C. Isaac Henry, was the first principal of West End Primary.

Ms De Jean received the Bermuda Scholarship for Girls, aged 16 in 1939.

She was the island’s youngest Bermuda Scholar at the time.

Ms De Jean attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and befriended a white Bermudian girl on the ship to Canada.

Mr Fubler said the two “had not known each other before, because the local school system was segregated”.

The experience helped inspire Ms De Jean to break down Bermuda’s racial barriers.

She met and married Mr De Jean in Canada, and the couple had two children, Eddie Jr and Elizabeth.

They returned to Bermuda in 1949 and Ms deJean became a teacher at Sandys Secondary School.

Mr Fubler said the two were also “key participants in a group of activists that met quietly at the home of Hilton and Georgine Hill”, which produced “An Analysis of Bermuda’s Social Ills” that was a major influence on civil rights activists in the 1950s.

The document helped inspire the Progressive Group to organise the Theatre Boycott of 1959, which began the collapse of racial segregation in Bermuda.

Mr Fubler said that the creation of the PLP was “first conceived in 1962, at her dining room table by her husband Eddie, together in conversation with the late Wilfred ‘Mose’ Allen”.

The De Jeans returned to Canada in 1964 but returned to Bermuda in the early 1980s.

Ms De Jean was the first head of the Department of Education’s “time out programme” designed to tackle pupils with problems at school.

She was also the chairwoman of the Bermuda Union of Teachers’ Board of Inquiry into reforming the island’s education system. Ms De Jean, in addition, was an island campaigner against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

She was appointed to the island’s first Commission on Human Rights in 1981, which pushed for the development of Bermuda’s legal framework for human rights.

Ms De Jean was predeceased by her husband, who died in 2002.