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Black History Month

Heather Jacobs Matthews

1951-2021

Former Auditor General, the late Heather Jacobs Matthews, dedicated her life to public service. Mrs Matthews was the first Black female to be appointed the position and served from 2009 to 2016.

Mrs Matthews attended the Central school as a child, before attending The Berkeley Institute. She was one of the first students to attend the The Sixth Form centre and her
greatest desire was to become an accountant.

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She went on to study at Dalhousie University in Canada after working two local banks while studying accountancy at night school.

In 1976, she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce with distinction and majored in accounting.

From 1980 to 1989, Mrs Matthews was appointed Assistant Auditor and Deputy Auditor, eventually becoming the Tax Commissioner. She retired from the Civil Service in 2007 before becoming the Auditor General from 2009 until her retirement in 2016.

During her time as Auditor General she was described as a humble and true leader. After battling cancer for several years, Mrs Matthews passed away in 2021.

To read more about Mrs Heather Jacobs Matthews, visit https://bermudianheritagemuseum.com

Photo: The Royal Gazette

Educator Inez Kennedy

Inez Ruth Caroline Kennedy was the eldest daughter of Arthur and Ada Kennedy. Both her parents were teachers and encouraged her to excel in school. Inez attended the Berkeley Institute and the Excelsior Secondary School. At age 17, she began teaching privately and in 1938 she was appointed assistant teacher at the Temperance Hall School in Hamilton Parish. In 1941 she transferred to the West Pembroke Primary School where she remained  until 1944.

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She entered Teachers College at Columbia University, earning a diploma in early education. Upon returning home she accepted a post at the Francis Patton School where she taught for 25 years. She was famous for her Christmas plays and under her guidance students, teachers and parents participated in the productions which raised much needed funds for the school. In 1979 she received the Service award from Francis Patton School for faithful, devoted and valuable service. Inez Kennedy excelled in other areas she was a gifted tennis player.

She became involved in the sport when she was a teenager and played competitively until her thirties. She captured the Somers Isle Lawn Tennis Association Ladies Singles title, the Unity Club Ladies Championship and several other trophies.

Visit https://bermudianheritagemuseum.com to read more about Ms Kennedy’s rich history in Bermuda.

Photo: The Royal Gazette

Keith Cuttingham

Dr Keith Cunningham

1934 – 2021

Dr Keith Cunningham became the first Black staff doctor at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in 1970, as a clinical pathologist.

He attended Central School and The Berkeley Institute and as a student, recognised the lack of Blacks working in the realm of science and knew that this would be his chosen career path.

Dr Cunningham went on to study at the University of West Indies and the University of London before returning to Bermuda.

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He specialised in studying diseases of the blood, conducting extensive research on sickle cell disease in Bermuda. He helped develop the sickle cell screening programme for newborns which is used to this day.

Dr Cunningham played a key role in the development forensic pathology in Bermuda, especially for victims of sexual assaults and in 2000, he created the sex assault response team.

He worked closely with the Bermuda Red Cross, which managed the island’s blood bank until 2009, when the service was moved to the hospital.

In 2004, Dr Cunningham, who rose to the position of Chief of Pathology at KEMN, was appointed an Officer of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2004 for his services to the island.

To read more about Dr Cunnigham, visit https://bermudianheritagemuseum.com/keith-cunningham-a-man-with-a-vision/

Photos: The Royal Gazette

The Talbot Brothers

The band was composed of brothers Archie (lead singer, acoustic guitar, harmonica), Austin (acoustic guitar, harmonica), Bryan, a.k.a. “Dick” (tipple, a large, 10-stringed ukulele), Ross, a.k.a. “Blackie” (electric guitar) and Roy Talbot (bass), and their cousin Cromwell “Mandy” Mandres (accordion).

The Talbots were the first of Bermuda’s many notable singing groups to gain international acclaim. After the First World War, Bermuda’s tourism industry went through considerable change as Prohibition led to a flood of affluent middle class visitors seeking sun and alcohol, and Bermuda became a summer rather than a winter destination.

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The construction of the Castle Harbour Hotel (completed in 1931) and the related Mid-Ocean Club had resulted in the forced relocation of the inhabitants of Tucker’s Town, with their homes replaced by golf links. The families that had lived there, including the Talbots, were mostly been resettled in Smith’s Parish, near Devil’s Hole and John Smith’s Bay, where Talbot Lane is found today.

The Talbots organized in 1942 and performed a variation of calypso in a smooth melodic style influenced by popular music. They performed and recorded cover versions of calypso classics in addition to many of their own originals. They became a popular attraction in local hotels, but it was an early recording they made in the United States that made them even more popular in their homeland, and heralded fame beyond their shores. Bermuda Buggy Ride brought them wide recognition in the USA, and made them the group tourists most wanted to see.

Their popularity with American tourists resulted in tours of the U.S. starting in the early 1950s. Notable in their instrumentation was Roy Talbot’s home-made upright bass dubbed the “doghouse.” Roy created the instrument out of a large meat-packing crate and a single fishing line. This item was a particular curiosity, and during the Talbots’ tours many of their fellow performers and visiting celebrities would autograph the crate.

The Talbots released 10″ and 12″ vinyl records on the small Audio Fidelity label in the mid-1950s before being signed to ABC Paramount Records in 1957, where they made two LPs that were more accessible in North America.

They were frequent performers on television in the 1950s, appearing on Ed Sullivan’s variety shows and other programs.

Source: Wikipedia

Photo: Repeating Islands

The Talbot Brothers
Joseph Rainey

Joseph Hayne Rainey

June 21, 1832 – August 1, 1887
American Politician, First black person to serve in US House of Representatives

In 1861, with the outbreak of the American Civil War, Rainey was among the free black people who were conscripted by the Confederates to work on fortifications in Charleston, South Carolina. He also worked as a cook and laborer on blockade runner ships. In 1862, Rainey and his family escaped to Bermuda. They settled in St. George’s, Bermuda town (from which Charleston and South Carolina had been founded in 1669 under Governor William Sayle), where Rainey worked as a barber (his shop was accessed from Barber’s Alley, and was in the cellar of the Tucker House, the building on the corner of Water Street and Barber’s Alley that was previously the home of President Henry Tucker), while his wife became a successful dressmaker with a shop.

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In 1865, the couple moved to the town of Hamilton when an outbreak of yellow fever threatened St. George’s. Rainey worked at the Hamilton Hotel as a barber and a bartender, where his customers were mostly white. He became a respected member of the community. They made a prosperous life in Bermuda.

Source (including photo): Wikipedia

James ‘Jemmy’ Darrell

A slave for most of his life, James Darrell was granted his freedom at the age of 47 because of his outstanding skills as a pilot. He was one of Bermuda’s first King’s pilots, as well as the first known black person to purchase a house.

As a free man of colour, he challenged laws that imposed new restrictions on free blacks and slaves, and also petitioned against proposals that would have led to a drop in income for King’s pilots.

Living in St. George’s, Darrell belonged to a thriving community of free blacks. Of the nine parishes, St. George’s had the largest number of free blacks in the 30 years prior to Emancipation in 1834.

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Darrell was a slave who belonged to Captain Francis Darrell of St. George’s. Some researchers believe that Darrell, a light-skinned man, may have been Francis Darrell’s son. In 1793, Francis Darrell died, and Joseph Laborn of St. George’s became the guardian of Francis Darrell’s son John and James Darrell.

That same year, the British government purchased 41 acres of land at Ireland Island to establish a base that would become HM Dockyard. In preparation for the construction of the Dockyard, British surveyor Lt. Thomas Hurd was sent to Bermuda to carry out the first comprehensive marine survey of the island.

James Darrell, Jacob Pitcarn and Tom Bean were among the slaves who assisted Hurd with his survey. It is likely they were chosen for their skill as pilots and extensive knowledge of the island’s bays, inlets and coastline because piloting was an occupation that blacks dominated from Bermuda’s earliest days.

Source: Bermuda Biographies

Photo source: Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA) Facebook post

James "Jemmy" Darrell