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Black History Month: Celebrating Celestine Edwards

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Published: 30 October 2020

2020 has been a year of major change. The impacts of COVID-19 and the lockdown that followed it are still being felt, even as the University is starting to open back up. 

But the pandemic is far from the only thing that will make this year memorable.  

The prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death in police custody of George Floyd and the riots that followed changed the way we talk about systemic racism 

Many of us have taken it as a long-overdue opportunity to reflect more openly and honestly about the contribution people of colour have made to British society. 

We want to conclude Black History Month by celebrating a pioneering figure with links not only to London, but our parent city of Sunderland as well. 

Celestine Edwards was born in Dominica sometime in the late 1850s. Like many Black people from the time, we don’t have much more information about his early life. 

What we do know is that he became a lecturer, writer, editor and anti-colonial campaigner who rose to prominence in 19th-century Sunderland before moving to London to expand his career 

It was in the north-eastern city that he found a receptive audience for his passionate anti-racism speeches. 

Known for his well-spoken and engaging debate stylehe continued to return to Sunderland throughout the rest of his life. 

This year, Celestine’s story is being brought back into the public record by two University of Sunderland lecturers – Professor Angela Smith and Professor Donna Chambers. 

They have been working with Sunderland Council to commemorate his life and works by placing heritage blue plague in the heart of the city.

“The day is coming when Africans will speak for themselves. The day is breaking, and the despised African, whose only crime is his colour, will yet give an account of himself.” - Celestine Edwards

Those safety measures include a one-way route around the building, free masks, hand gel and plastic screens.

Another procedure put in place is the new booking system for services including the Library, Health and Wellbeing, the Gateway and Careers.

You can make an appointment for any of these through Compass

As part of the celebrations around the unveiling of the blue plague, Professors Smith and Chambers sat down University Chaplain Reverend Chris Howson along with fellow staff members, students and guests from across the north-east.  

The conversations that followed have been made into a series of podcasts. 

You can listen to the first right now, presented by the University of Sunderland’s RaCE (Race, Class and Ethnicity) and SunGen (Sunderland Gender) interdisciplinary research networks. 

They talk about the importance of Celestine’s work and the background to how the blue plaque came to be. 

You can read more on the RaCE  Network on our Research pages 

If you need to talk about any concerns you have around race and your student experience; you can set up a one-to-one meeting with our Health and Wellbeing team through Compass 

Alternatively, you can email them at or call on 0207 5317 343. Find out more by following #WeAreSunLon on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.