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June: ʽI can’t breathe’

Just days before some 7,000 Bermuda residents marched through Hamilton in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the island was left to mourn the passing of a Bermudian civil rights campaigner who fought a decades-long battle for racial equality.

A graveside service was held at Holy Trinity Church in Hamilton Parish during the first week of June for Eva Hodgson, who died on May 29 at the age of 95.

Courageous and committed, Dr Hodgson was an author, teacher and historian in addition to her work as an activist.

Arthur Hodgson, her younger brother, and the island’s first Black Rhodes Scholar said of his sister: “Racial injustice was so obvious, anyone could have seen it. It had to be addressed head-on, and she did everything head-on.”

Born in 1924, Dr Hodgson’s passion was education.

She won a government scholarship to study for an undergraduate degree from Queen's University in Canada and returned home in 1948 to teach at the Berkeley Institute.

Dr Hodgson then won a scholarship to study for a diploma in education at London University's Institute for Education.

Later she won a scholarship to study geography in Britain and returned with an honours degree in the subject from the University of London, as well as a diploma in education.

Dr Hodgson had taught at Berkeley for more than a decade when she was elected the first president of the Amalgamated Bermuda Union of Teachers — now the Bermuda Union of Teachers — when the segregated teachers’ organisations united.

She held two master’s degrees, and a PhD in African History and Black American History, from the Ivy League Columbia University in New York and was also awarded a national research fellowship for field research in Liberia, West Africa.

Dr Hodgson was seconded to the Department of Education in 1983 as part of a government effort to preserve the island's oral history and to introduce human rights into the social science and civics curriculum of schools.

She also founded the National Association of Reconciliation as part of her long battle to improve race relations.

As an author, Dr Hodgson’s works include the struggle for equal rights on the island in Second Class Citizens, First Class Men and A Storm in a Teacup, a history of the 1959 Theatre Boycott that helped demolish the walls of segregation.

She was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2011 for her work to highlight and end racial inequality.

Less than ten days after Dr Hodgson’s passing, residents took part in the march, said by police to be the largest such gathering ever seen on the island.

It was organised by the previously unknown Jasmine Brangman, 29, and Dynera Bean, 24, who issued a call to action that started on their Facebook group, Black Lives Matter BDA.

The march took place 13 days after George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old Black man, was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Mr Floyd died after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by the knee of white police officer Derek Chauvin.

Protesters walked around Hamilton chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe”.

They marched through Court Street and the mainly Black neighbourhood of North East Hamilton to honour past demonstrations held there, including the civil unrest of December 1977.

Signs included “The real virus is racism”, “We will not be silenced” and “Racism is not a pandemic”.

Marchers paused as organisers called for silence for Chavelle Dillon-Burgess, a young Black mother who went missing in April and is the subject of a murder investigation.

The size of the march took organisers by surprise.

Ms Bean said: “We didn’t expect this outcome.”

Trailblazing Bermudian footballer Clyde Best, who suffered racist abuse as one of the first top-flight Black players in Britain beginning in 1968 when he joined West Ham United, backed protesters the day before the march, saying: “I support it as long as we learn from it – learn to live with and love one another. If it’s going to make the world better, that’s what we need.”

Later in the month, the British Government announced the appointment of Bermuda’s first woman and first Black governor.

Rena Lalgie arrived in Bermuda in December to succeed John Rankin.

Unprecedented numbers: thousands of Bermudians and expatriates united for the Black Lives Matter Bermuda march through Hamilton to protest racism and killings of Blacks by police in the United States (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published December 31, 2020 at 7:51 am (Updated December 30, 2020 at 9:59 pm)

June: ʽI can’t breathe’

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