Eva Naomi Hodgson (1924-2020)
Civil rights campaigner and renaissance woman Eva Hodgson was hailed yesterday as a national hero for her decades-long battle for racial equality.
Dr Hodgson, an author, teacher and historian, as well as a fighter for human decency, died on Friday, aged 95.
David Burt, the Premier, said she was “an incisive voice for change”.
Mr Burt added: “Her intellect was devoted to enlightening and inspiring generations of Bermudians to not repeat the mistakes of the past, but to strive for a better society in which race was no barrier to success.”
Friend and fellow author Dale Butler, a former Progressive Labour Party minister, said she had “dedicated her life to the cause that black people have had to endure”.
Dr Hodgson was a staunch PLP member from the party’s foundation.
However, the party was not spared from her criticism of Bermuda’s institutions over racism and civil rights.
She said in a 2012 interview: “The PLP have never talked about racism. Racism has never been on their agenda. When they began, I and the founders of the party had so many discussions and arguments about it.
“At the time we were officially segregated. It was government-sponsored segregation. The PLP would not take on the issue. That is why they talked about labour rather than race.”
Arthur Hodgson, her younger brother and a lawyer, former PLP Cabinet minister, as well as the island’s first black Rhodes scholar, said yesterday: “She was very loyal to the PLP. But her loyalty did not blind her.”
Mr Hodgson added: “Racial injustice was so obvious, anyone could have seen it. It had to be addressed head-on, and she did everything head-on.”
He said Dr Hodgson was a passionate advocate for “black affirmative action”, but grew frustrated because “people were afraid to discuss it”.
Her determination to speak up also meant she paid a heavy price in her professional career.
Mr Hodgson said: “I am absolutely certain she would have at least become a head teacher had she not held these political views.”
Dr Hodgson was the second of six children born to Harold and Ilene Hodgson, and lost her mother at an early age in 1942.
Mr Hodgson said her drive for justice was a natural extension of their religious upbringing.
He added: “Christ formed the foundation of our family’s philosophy and thinking. Everything else flowed from that.”
Mr Hodgson said Dr Hodgson had “an impeccable sense of logic” and almost always won arguments.
He added: “I always thought when the PLP acquired political power, the rest would follow. But she proved to be right.”
Dr Hodgson later said: “My father came from a very strong Christian family who felt that it was pointless to look to politicians for solutions.
“They were not politically active, and I suppose theoretically he might have felt I was wasting my time.
“Nevertheless, they were the ones who imbued me with my views. Although they were not publicly or politically active they were extremely sensitive to racism and all the demeaning aspects of it.”
Mr Hodgson said his sister was “consistently urged” to run for public office.
However, he added: “She foresaw the disappointment that would come. She knew human failings. She was much more conscious of it than I was.”
Dr Hodgson’s passion was education, and her brother said he got a verbal dressing-down when he came last in his class in school, which inspired him to work and become top of his class.
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 back with an honours degree in the subject from the University of London, as well as a diploma in education.
She 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.
Mr Hodgson said his sister had compromised to bring the two groups together — and that some were not pleased by the move.
He added that, beyond economic advancement, Dr Hodgson insisted that “the mental state of black people needed to change in order for Bermuda to change”.
She held a PhD in African 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.
Sir John Swan, a former United Bermuda Party premier, worked with Dr Hodgson in the 1960s on the Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage that battled for equal voting rights.
Sir John said: “She was extremely well educated and grasped the history of Bermuda, and did not hesitate to make her views known.
“She took on the challenge of trying to convert the country from a racist, obstructionist, intolerant society to one that embraced change.”
He said: “She was inhibited from what she wanted to do because she was so outspoken.
“Trailblazers are not necessarily going to agree with you and there were black people who held her back as well as white people.
“I respected her for who she was, and extend my sympathies to her family. They are people who have played a major role in Bermuda in many ways.”
Dr Hodgson outlined her views in regular interviews and letters to The Royal Gazette.
It was not unusual for three or four of her letters to appear in a month between the 1980s and into the 2000s.
She documented the struggle for equal rights on the island in her book Second Class Citizens, First Class Men and was well known for A Storm in a Teacup, a history of the 1959 Theatre Boycott, which helped to demolish the walls of segregation.
Dr Hodgson also founded the National Association of Reconciliation as part of her long battle to improve race relations.
Lynne Winfield, the president of Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda, said Dr Hodgson had been a longstanding member of the group and a mentor to her.
She added: “Once she realised we were serious about advocacy, not just a ‘kumbaya’ organisation, she was 100 per cent behind us.”
Ms Winfield said Curb had frequently nominated Dr Hodgson to be made a National Hero of Bermuda.
She said: “In the eyes of the people, she already is a national hero.”
Dr Hodgson was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2011 for her work to highlight and end racial inequality.
Mr Hodgson said she had “cherished” the distinction, despite its links to colonialism.
He added: “By that time in her life, she decided an OBE was the least she would accept.”
Dr Hodgson later told the Gazette: “The irony is if I had not accepted it, no one would know that I was offered it, so not accepting it is not a significant political statement in any case.”
Eva Naomi Hodgson was born on October 9, 1924. She died on May 29, 2020, aged 95
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