Edgar F. Gordon

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Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon
Born(1895-03-20)20 March 1895
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Died20 April 1955(1955-04-20) (aged 60)
Other namesMazumbo
OccupationPhysician, parliamentarian, civil-rights activist
SpouseClara Marguerite Christian
RelativesMoira Stuart (granddaughter)

Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon (20 March 1895 – 20 April 1955), born in Trinidad and Tobago, was a physician, parliamentarian, civil-rights activist[1] and labour leader in Bermuda, and is regarded as the "father of trade unionism" there:[2] "he championed the cause of Bermudian workers and fought for equal rights for black Bermudians, thereby laying the groundwork for much of the political and social change that came about after his death".[3] He was president of the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU) 1945–55.[4] Gordon has been described as "perhaps the only black charismatic leader to have emerged in the island's modern political history",[5] and as "Bermuda's most dedicated Pan-Africanist".[6]

In 2011, Gordon was honoured as a National Hero of Bermuda.[7] Other posthumous honours he has been accorded include the Peace & Social Justice Award 2016 from the Roman Catholic Church of Bermuda.[8]

Early years and education[edit]

Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon was born to Olympia Jardin and Frederick Charles Gordon in Port of Spain where he received his early education at Queen's Royal College (QRC),[9] graduating as one of the school's most brilliant scholars.[10]

In 1912 he went to Scotland to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh (also becoming involved with the Afro-West Indian Society and pan-African politics).[11] There he met and married a fellow medical student, Clara Christian (who had previously studied music in the US at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, and Oberlin College, Ohio).[3][12] To the displeasure of her father George James Christian, a Dominican barrister who had settled in the Gold Coast in 1902,[13] she abandoned her medical studies to begin a family with Gordon.[3][14]

Medical career[edit]

Qualifying as a doctor at the age of 23 in 1918, Gordon was for some time a medical practitioner in the small Scottish town of Kingussie.[15] In 1921 he returned to the Caribbean with his wife Clara and young family. He briefly worked in Trinidad, then went on to become chief medical supervisor in Dominica.[3]

Move to Bermuda[edit]

In 1924, Gordon went to Bermuda, where he would set up a busy medical practice on Heathcote Hill in Somerset.[3] According to biographer Ira Philip, Gordon "was brought to Bermuda by Sandys businessman William Robinson to fill a void caused by the death of black Dr Arnold Packwood. The all white local medical board was embarrassed when Dr Gordon passed what he termed was an impossible examination which he contended was calculated to fail him."[16]

Gordon began to take up the cause of black nurses and the discrimination they faced in employment in Bermuda, writing a series of letters dating from 1929 to the editor of The Royal Gazette criticising the refusal of the Bermuda Welfare Society to hire Blacks as district nurses.[3][17] After decades of lobbying, the first black district nurse to be hired was Leonie Harford in 1963.[3]

Political life[edit]

After standing unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1933 and 1943,[18] Gordon won a seat in St George's in 1946.

Name change[edit]

On 22 June 1947,[19] in protest at the fact that his fellow parliamentarians persistently refused to address him by his correct title, and that a Bermuda newspaper, the Mid-Ocean News, prefixed "Mr." to the names of white members of Bermuda's Parliament (second oldest in the world), but called him simply Gordon,[19][20] he announced that henceforth he was to be known by the African name of Mazumbo, with no prefix.[3] His notice to this effect in The Royal Gazette read:

"I, Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon, Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery of Edinburgh University, President General of the Bermuda Industrial Union, President of the Progressive Bermuda League and Member of Parliament for St. George's, hereby declare that from henceforth I shall be known as Mazumbo."

He gave as explanation: "The name Gordon, which I inherited, reminds me very painfully that some Scotsman in some other age compelled a grandmother of mine to submit to his desires. In Bermuda I am black and treated as Bermuda treats the black people.[21] So I want to be called by a name that belongs to my race and requires no prefix." He was further quoted as saying that he had taken his new name from "a famous West African chieftain, who had once been received by Queen Victoria".[22] This was a reference to a 19th-century Trinidadian lawyer called Emmanuel Lazare, popularly known as Mazumbo (or Mzumbo) Lazare, about whom Maureen Warner-Lewis has written: "although born in the Antilles, Lazare appropriated, or condoned the use of, an overtly African designation. The name was a symbol of his identification with black people and the poor. He was a defender of their rights, joined the Pan-African Association founded in 1901 in England by fellow Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams, and became a moving spirit behind democratic political reforms at the turn of the twentieth century." This characterisation of Mazumbo Lazare is additional evidence for Gordon's motivation in associating himself with the name.[23]

Personality in Parliament[edit]

As a Member of the Colonial Parliament (MCP), Gordon was a fiery and sometimes controversial orator. After the death in July 1948 of the Speaker of the House of Assembly Sir Reginald Conyers (who in his will left money for the Port Royal School in Hamilton, providing it was "used for the education of white children"), Gordon told a public meeting that he had only attended Conyers' funeral to "make sure he was put in the hole".[3] According to the historian and activist Eva Hodgson, Gordon's "dramatic personality, his drive, and his unabashed theatricals had done what no one else either could do, or chose to do. He had alerted the Negro masses, he had given expression to their unvoiced despair and anger, often his words had given shape and form to emotions which they themselves could hardly define."[24]

Bermuda Workers' Association (BWA)[edit]

Championing the rights of black and working-class Bermudians, Gordon was asked to become president of the Bermuda Workers' Association (BWA) in 1944, which fought for trade union rights and was committed to the removal of segregation and the adoption of universal adult suffrage. Membership of the BWA had by then dwindled to 200 but under Gordon's vigorous leadership it increased to 5,000 in 1945.[25] In 1946, he began his campaign to petition for social and constitutional change, and in that year the Legislature passed Bermuda's first Trade Union and Disputes Act,[25] which was designed to curb the fledgling BWA, making it illegal for a union to have a newspaper or operate a business.[3] Gordon took the lead in the subsequent establishment that year of the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU),[26][27] and the BWA for the time being continued as its political arm.[3]

Petition to British Colonial Office[edit]

During an extended visit to England from December 1946 to March 1947, Gordon presented a petition containing more than 5,000 signatures[28] to the British Colonial Secretary from the Bermuda Workers' Association outlining various concerns, including the limited franchise, segregation, and restricted occupational opportunities.[29][30] Only seven percent of the population could vote, and (as Meredith Ebbin notes) there were more votes cast than actual voters because a property owner could vote in every parish where he owned land. It was a system that gave "the monied classes a distinct and definite control over the election results", Gordon said, pointing out that while the UK and its dependencies had undertaken voting reforms, Bermuda had operated under the same system since 1620.[31]

The matter was debated in the British Parliament, which while condemning many of the practices highlighted in the petition refused Dr. Gordon's request for a Royal Commission to investigate social, political and economic conditions on the island. The Colonial Secretary subsequently issued a document (Command Paper 7093), sent to the Governor, Admiral Sir Ralph Leatham, strongly recommending positive and progressive changes to the colony's discriminatory laws.[17][29][32] A Joint Committee of the Bermuda Legislative Council and House of Assembly was formed to study the matter; however, its report in April 1948 recommended against changing the colony's Jim Crow laws,[33] holding that "the early adoption of adult franchise would be prejudicial to the best interests of Bermuda".[17] (It would not be until 1959 that segregation ended, with the BIU playing a key role in the civil disobedience that brought about the change.)[33]

At the 1948 election, Gordon lost his House of Assembly seat – a setback attributable to his preoccupation with a dock workers' dispute that year, which had limited the time he could devote to his Parliamentary duties – but he was re-elected in 1953.[17]

Queen's visit to Bermuda[edit]

In November 1953, when the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II made Bermuda the first (24-hour) stop in her tour of the Commonwealth,[34] Gordon learned that of more than 1,000 guests to be invited to a Government House garden party in her honour only 60 were black, and that not a single black Bermudian had been asked to attend the official state dinner.[17] With the intention of focusing world attention on Bermuda's racially stratified society, Gordon passed this news to the British press and Reuters reported the resultant angry protests from the Daily Mirror and the Daily Herald. In its editorial the Herald stated: "Perhaps others may benefit from this instance of gross ill manners. It is time everyone from Governors downwards grasped the facts about this British Commonwealth. Within its frontiers coloured people outnumber whites by more than eight to one. One of the moral pledges by which it is held together is that the colour bar should be utterly destroyed as speedily as possible...."[17] As Bernews notes: "The Queen set foot in Bermuda the day the story broke. She was photographed that same afternoon meeting a broadly smiling, tail-coated Dr. Gordon in St. George’s."[17]


Keenly interested in cricket, Gordon believed that Bermuda would benefit by closer contact with the islands of the West Indies, which were then gaining ascendancy in Test cricket. He championed the Bermudian cricketer Alma Hunt, who in 1933 went to Trinidad to take part in the trial games from which would be selected the West Indies team for the Test series in England that summer. Although proving himself both on and off the field, Hunt was not eventually given a place.[35] Gordon pointed out that Hunt's status would have been more assured had there been an official body to deal with finance and represent him, and advocated for a Bermuda Cricket Board of Control, which was eventually formed in 1938. Gordon was instrumental in bringing about the first ever West Indian cricket tour to Bermuda in 1939, which was headed by Trinidadian Ben Sealey.[36]

Family life[edit]

Gordon and his Dominica-born[37] wife Clara, who joined him in Bermuda, had six children: Barbara, Joyce, Evelyn, Marjorie (mother of BBC broadcaster Moira Stuart),[38] Edgar (familiarly called Teddy, and later known as Hakim),[39][40][41] and Kenneth (who was born in Bermuda in 1927).[42][43] Clara would organise cultural gatherings, including musical soirees, at their home.[3]

By a subsequent relationship Gordon had other children;[44] his last child Pamela F. Gordon, born six months after her father's death, would become Bermuda's youngest and first female premier in March 1997 when she replaced David Saul as leader of the United Bermuda Party until that party was defeated for the first time in a general election, in November 1998.[45][46][47] Another daughter is MP Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, who having served in various ministerial positions in the OBA Cabinet[7][48][49][50] was announced as OBA interim leader after the change of government in July 2017.[51][52][53]


Dr Gordon died in Bermuda at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, following a heart attack at the age of 60, on 20 April 1955. Two days later thousands of people turned out for his funeral service at St. Theresa's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Hamilton and burial at Calvary Cemetery, Devonshire Parish.[54][55] According to reports, "Many of Bermuda's blacks wept at his graveside. That they had a better future was in very large part due to his tireless efforts on their behalf over more than two decades."[34]

Legacy and honours[edit]

  • The Progressive Labour Party was formed in 1963 as the political arm of the labour movement originally organised and energised by Gordon (some of the party's founders describing themselves as "Gordonites").[17]
  • On 1 May 2000, a commemorative pack of postage stamps was issued honouring Dr Gordon as one of three "Pioneers of Progress" – the others being Sir Henry James Tucker and women's suffragist Gladys Misick Morrell (1888–1969) – who made a significant and lasting contribution to Bermudian society.[56][57]
  • Also in 2000, a ward of King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in Paget Parish was renamed the "Dr. E. F. Gordon Ward" after him.[58][59]
  • The Dr E.F. Gordon Memorial Hall at the Bermuda Industrial Union building is named after him,[55] as is Dr E.F. Gordon Square on Dundonald Street.[60][61]
  • An annual Dr E. F. Gordon Memorial Lecture was initiated by educator and author Dale Butler.[62]
  • On Bermuda's National Heroes Day in June 2011, Dr Gordon was hailed – alongside Dr. Pauulu Kamarakafego (Dr. Roosevelt Browne) and Sir Henry "Jack" Tucker – as one of the architects of modern Bermuda.[63][64][65] In the words of one columnist in Bermuda's Royal Gazette newspaper: "The most challenging times cry out for great leaders who move people and move society forward. The United States had Franklin Roosevelt and Dr Martin Luther King. We had Dr EF Gordon."[66]
  • On the launch of a City of Hamilton Walkway of History, a plaque was placed at "Beulah", Gordon's former home[67] – one of 25 such plaques placed at sites and buildings of historical and architectural significance.[68]
  • A portrait of Gordon is one of 80 painted by Esther Dai for display at the Historic Museum in Bermuda.[69]
  • On 2 February 2015 a mural featuring a portrait of Gordon, as well as the slogan "United we stand, divided we fall", was installed at the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU) headquarters by The Chewstick Foundation as part of their Community Art Program, honouring him as an icon in the history of the BIU and the evolution of Bermuda's political and social growth.[70][71]
  • On 20 March 2015, a celebration of the 120th anniversary of the birth of Dr. E. F Gordon was held in front of City Hall in Hamilton, hosted by Imagine Bermuda with the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs and the Chewstick Foundation.[72][73][74]
  • In October 2016 Gordon was honoured with the Peace & Social Justice Award 2016 by the Roman Catholic Church of Bermuda,[8][75] for his "sterling contributions as the father of trade unionism and for championing the rights of Bermudian workers and black Bermudians generally".[76]
  • On 18 June 2018, National Heroes Day, Bermuda's Department of Community & Cultural Affairs issued a number of posters portraying those who have made "significant positive contributions to the growth and development of society", including Dr Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon[77]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Rosemary Jones, Bermuda: Five Centuries, Chapter 18: Growing Pains, Ministry of Education, Bermuda, 2011.
  2. ^ "Our history", website of Bermuda Public Services Union – BPSU.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Meredith Ebbin, "Dr. Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon, March 20,1895 – April 20, 1955 – Physician, parliamentarian and labour leader", Bermuda Biographies.
  4. ^ Bermuda Industrial Union website.
  5. ^ Frances Henry (ed.), Ethnicity in the Americas, Walter de Gruyter, 1976, p. 67.
  6. ^ Ira Philip, "The unforgettable day I met the Queen", The Royal Gazette, 7 September 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Three heroes who ‘made Bermuda a better place'", The Royal Gazette, 21 June 2011.
  8. ^ a b "Peace & Social Justice Award: Dr. E. F. Gordon", Bernews, 24 October 2016.
  9. ^ Tony Martin, The Progress of the African Race Since Emancipation and Prospects for the Future, The Majority Press, 1998, p. 8.
  10. ^ Ira Philip, "Remembering Mazumbo, a dynamic freedom fighter", The Royal Gazette, 21 March 2015.
  11. ^ Henry Mitchell, "When 'the world came to Scotland': student radicals at Edinburgh University, 1906–1946", Scottish Critical Heritage, 22 March 2018.
  12. ^ "Dr EF Gordon – fought tirelessly for equal rights for black Bermudians", The Royal Gazette, 16 June 2011.
  13. ^ "George James Christian: Pioneer in Africa", TheDominican.net, Volume No. 1, Issue No. 32, 27 November 2002.
  14. ^ "Moira Stuart", Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.
  15. ^ "Moira Stuart", Who Do You Think You Are?, BBC.
  16. ^ Ira Philip, "Dr Olivia Tucker — pioneering pharmacist denied the opportunity to work in her homeland", The Royal Gazette, 8 March 2013.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h National Hero Profile: Dr. E. F. Gordon, Bernews, 29 April 2011.
  18. ^ Eva N. Hodgson, Second Class Citizens; First Class Men, 2nd edition, Bermuda: The Writers Machine, 1988, p. 67.
  19. ^ a b Mazumbo: 100 Facts and Quotes by Dr. E. F. Gordon, Writers' Machine, 1994, pp. 14, 33.
  20. ^ Carl Murphy, "Beautiful Bermuda | Call Him Mister", Richmond Afro American, 6 December 1947.
  21. ^ Hodgson (1988, pp. 70–71) writes: "The daily paper often underscored its contempt for coloured people by refusing to attach a title to them in any reference to them.... [Dr. Gordon's] gesture had the value of drawing the insult to the attention of many Negroes, who, from long familiarity, tended to take so many insults for granted. It was part of Dr. Gordon's overall programme of stimulating awareness on the part of the people who were so hard pressed that they had little time to think about the basis of their problems. He understood, very well, that support was gained for these political battles through starkly presented ideas and the simple statement of the injustices which the people faced in their daily lives."
  22. ^ "BERMUDA: Grandpa Was a Scotsman", 21 July 1947; cited in Time, 21 December 2011 (subscription required).
  23. ^ Maureen Warner-Lewis, Central Africa in the Caribbean: Transcending time, Transforming Cultures. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2003; p. 80.
  24. ^ Hodgson (1988), p. 124.
  25. ^ a b W. S. Zuill, The Story of Bermuda and Her People (1973), Macmillan Caribbean, 2nd revised edition 1983, p. 200.
  26. ^ Robert J. Alexander with Eldon M. Parker, A History of Organized Labor in the English-Speaking West Indies, Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2004, pp. 101–02.
  27. ^ "From BWA to BIU", BIU History.
  28. ^ Government of Bermuda website.
  29. ^ a b "1946 – Dr. E. F. Gordon delivers Bermuda Workers’ Association Petition to the Colonial Office in Great Britain", The Evolution of Bermuda's Franchise, compiled by James E. Smith. Parliamentary Registry.
  30. ^ "When the times they were a-changin’", The Royal Gazette, 9 September 2015.
  31. ^ Meredith Ebbin, "To vote or not to vote: it was not always an option", BDA Sun, 14 December 2012.
  32. ^ "Significant Events in Bermuda", Bermuda Parliament.
  33. ^ a b Steven High, Base Colonies in the Western Hemisphere, 1940–1967, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, pp. 133–34.
  34. ^ a b Keith Archibald Forbes, "Bermuda's History from 1952 to 1999", Bermuda Online.
  35. ^ Ira Philip, Freedom Fighters (From Monk To Mazumbo), London: Akira Press, 1987, p. 144.
  36. ^ Ira Philip, in Freedom Fighters (1987), pp. 152–58, quotes a letter dated 20 October 1953 from Gordon to the Mid-Ocean News, detailing Gordon's role in the sequence of events.
  37. ^ Burgess, Black history month: Saluting our heroes. Dr. E. F. Gordon – one of the key figures in BDA's history", Bermuda.com, 27 February 2008.
  38. ^ "Who Do You Think You Are?, Darren Sylvester reports on the BBC Two television series where the well known BBC newsreader, Moira Stuart, attempts to go back to her roots and research her family history (programme shown on 16 November 2004)".
  39. ^ Ira Philip, Hakim: Son of Mazumbo: The Extraordinary Life of Hakim Gordon, The Writers' Machine, 1995, 24 pp.
  40. ^ Quito Swan, Black Power in Bermuda: The Struggle for Decolonization, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010; note 28, p. 217.
  41. ^ "Moira Stuart, Past Stories – Who Do You Think You Are?, BBC One.
  42. ^ "Dr E.F. Gordon’s Son Ken Gordon Dies At 86", Bernews, 7 November 2013.
  43. ^ Owain Johnston-Barnes, "Musician son of national hero Dr EF Gordon dies at 86", The Royal Gazette, 7 November 2013.
  44. ^ Raymond Hainey, "Mother of our first female Premier dies at 88", Bermuda Sun, 29 May 2013.
  45. ^ "Gordon, Pamela 1955–" at Encyclopedia.com.
  46. ^ Pamela Gordon biography, Bernews.
  47. ^ Rosemary Jones (2011), Chapter 20: Into the Future, Bermuda: Five Centuries.
  48. ^ Biography of Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, JP MP Archived 9 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine, One Bermuda Alliance.
  49. ^ Ira Philip, "A fitting climax to a busy weekend", The Royal Gazette, 26 June 2011.
  50. ^ "Dame Pamela Gordon-Banks", Influential Caribbean Women – Part 9, 11 March 2013.
  51. ^ "OBA Interim Leader: Patricia Gordon-Pamplin", Bernews, 21 July 2017.
  52. ^ Jonathan Bell, "Gordon-Pamplin now interim leader of OBA", Royal Gazette, 22 July 2017.
  53. ^ CMC, "Bermuda | Trade Union Pioneer's Daughter Is New OBA Interim Leader", Wired Ja Online News, 23 July 2017.
  54. ^ Ira Philip, Freedom Fighters (1987), p. 240.
  55. ^ a b Ira Philip, "'Our Lady of Labour' laid to rest today", The Royal Gazette.
  56. ^ Presentation Pack 2000 – Pioneers of Progress.
  57. ^ "Bermuda – Pioneers of progress", Stamp World.
  58. ^ "Ward named for Dr. Gordon", The Royal Gazette, 8 September 2000.
  59. ^ "Mazumbo recognized by Hospital!" (captioned photographs), The Workers Voice (Hamilton, Bermuda), Vol. 26, No. 1, 8 September 2000.
  60. ^ Keith Archibald Forbes, "Bermuda's History 2007 September 11 to December 31", Bermuda Online.
  61. ^ Heritage Walk, Hamilton.
  62. ^ "Dale D. Butler, JP, MP" Archived 16 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine, PLP website.
  63. ^ "Three New National Heroes To Be Honoured", Bernews, 28 April 2011.
  64. ^ Jonathan Bell, "UBP salutes new national heroes" Archived 2 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine, One BDA.
  65. ^ Bermuda's National Heroes, 16 June 2011.
  66. ^ Walton Brown, "The traits of good leadership", The Royal Gazette Online, 29 March 2012.
  67. ^ Ira Philip, "Personal memories of Dick Richards", The Royal Gazette, 29 September 2012.
  68. ^ "Hamilton launches Walkway of History", Bermuda Biographies.
  69. ^ Amanda Dale, "Family donates portraits of black Bermudians", Bermuda Sun, 1 June 2011.
  70. ^ "Chewstick Installs Dr. E.F. Gordon Mural At BIU", Bernews, 3 February 2015.
  71. ^ "Chewstick Community Art Program Creates Bermuda Flag Mural", Chewstick Foundation, 16 December 2015.
  72. ^ "Imagine Bermuda To Celebrate Dr E.F. Gordon", Bernews, 18 March 2015.
  73. ^ "Dr Gordon’s 120th birthday to be celebrated", The Royal Gazette, 18 March 2015.
  74. ^ "Photos & Video: Dr. E.F. Gordon Remembered", Bernews, 21 March 2015.
  75. ^ Owain Johnston-Barnes, "E. F. Gordon to be honoured by church", The Royal Gazette, 27 October 2016.
  76. ^ Ira Philip, "Championing the rights of black Bermudians", The Royal Gazette, 5 November 2016.
  77. ^ "Celebrating Bermuda’s National Heroes", Bernews, 18 June 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Eva N. Hodgson, Second Class Citizens; First Class Men, or "Great men all remind us...", 1st edition 1963; 2nd edition, Bermuda: The Writers Machine, 1988, 273 pp.
  • Gerald Alexander Brangman, Thank You, Dr E. F. Gordon. New York: Vantage Press, 1973.
  • Dale Butler, Dr. E. F. Gordon: Hero of Bermuda's Working Class: The political career of Dr. E.F. Gordon and the evolution of the Bermuda Workers' Association, 1987.
  • Dale Butler, Mazumbo: 100 Facts and Quotes by Dr. E. F. Gordon, Writers' Machine, 1994.
  • Rosemary Jones, Bermuda: Five Centuries. Teachers Guide, Ministry of Education, Bermuda, 2011.
  • Ira Philip, Freedom Fighters (From Monk To Mazumbo), London: Akira Press, 1987.
  • William S. Zuill, The Story of Bermuda and her People, Macmillan Caribbean, 1983.

External links[edit]