Rosa Emilia Clay finally gets recognition when Tampere names a square after her

by , under Enrique Tessieri


Much of Finland’s history is whitewashed. One of its victims was Rosa Emilia Clay (1875-1959), Finland’s first African-born Finn who received Finnish citizenship in 1899. The naming of Rosa Emilia Clay square in Tampere is a watershed: Finland is slowly but surely awakening its rich cultural and ethnic background.

Even if Rosa Emilia Clay was born in Namibia, then German Southwest Africa, she represents all non-white Finns in the country. She is a reminder that such people not only have history but a right to it.

Considering that Rosa Emilia Clay’s name could not be found anywhere on the Finnish municipal map, such a distinction was ranted and long overdue after 145 years after her birth and 61 years after her death.

Better late than never.

Rosa Emilia Clay Square was officially approved by a Tampere City Council committee on August 27, 2020. The square will be located near the Ceder school where she taught when she lived in Tampere during 1901-03 before emigrating to the United States.

As with others, I have also lobbied for a street named after Rosa Emilia Clay. In 2019, I contacted academic researcher Anna Rastas, who is an expert on Rosa Emilia Clay.

In 2017 Migrant Tales asked why there is no street named after Rosa Emilia Clay. Read the original story here.

Apart from Tampere, I have tried unsuccessfully to lobby the Kuopio city council to name a street in Rosa Emilia Clay’s honor. Mustinlahti, which is located about 60km from Kuopio. The small village was interested in placing a plaque that would briefly mention Rosa Emilia Clay’s short stay as a teacher.

Rosa Emilia Clay suffered a lot of racism. This may explain why she never returned to Finland after she emigrated to the United States.

After graduating as an elementary school teacher in 1898, her first job was at the village of Mustinlahti. When Rosa Emilia Clay got off the boat, a father approached her and spat on the ground stating: “Did they send this kind of black Negro hag to us as a teacher? Even the kids would be afraid of a devil like that.”

Read more about Rosa Emilia Clay here.

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