Chandra Dharma Sena Gooneratne from Ceylon

When Vernon Corea was an announcer at Radio Ceylon in Colombo in the 1950s and 1960s he had met Chandra Dharma Sena Gooneratne who at the time was an official working at the United States Embassy.The old US Embassy building was located on the seaside in Kollupitiya, Colombo-3 driving towards Galle Face. Not many people knew about Chandra Dharma Sena Gooneratne who caused a sensation when he was studying at the University of Chicago in the 1920s.

Chandra Dharma Sena Gooneratne worked as an advisor in the old US Embassy on Galle Road, Colombo-3 in Ceylon in the 1950s and 1960s.  Photograph courtesy of the South Asian American Digital Archive.

Chandra Dharma Sena Gooneratne worked as an advisor in the old US Embassy on Galle Road, Colombo-3 in Ceylon in the 1950s and 1960s. Photograph courtesy of the South Asian American Digital Archive.

He came across racism in the deep South at the time. In order to circumvent this Chandra Dharma Sena wore a Turban and informed everyone that he was from Ceylon.

Chandra Dharma Sena Gooneratne wore a turban when he was a student in the US in the 1920s in order to avoid racism in the deep South.

Chandra Dharma Sena Gooneratne wore a turban when he was a student in the US in the 1920s in order to avoid racism in the deep South.


People viewed him as a mysterious, exotic figure from the island of Ceylon. He captained the University of Chicago Polo Team and was a member of the ROTC. Chandra Dharma Sena Gooneatne went on to complete an M.A. and Ph.D while he was in the United States of America. He went on the Chautauqua lecture circuit, taking the student from Ceylon across different towns around the Midwest in the late 1920s to 1930s. He lectured on Mahatma Gandhi and the push for independence in India, Rabindranath Tagore and the need to abolish the caste system in India. We don’t know whether he talked about Ceylon in his lectures – US Newspapers reported rather extensively on the exotic student from Ceylon. He was described by one newspaper in Ohio as “beautifully clothed in his native garb.” Newspapers said he could hold an audience with his magnetic appeal and personality.

There is not a lot of information about Chandra Dharma Sena Gooneratne but he ended up as an adviser in the US Embassy in Ceylon in the 1950s and 1960s.Dr. Chandra Gooneratne was mentioned in a book written by a US Ambassador Philip K.Crowe in 1956 called ‘Diversions of a Diplomat in Ceylon’:
https://archive.org/stream/diversionsofadip007986mbp/diversionsofadip007986mbp_djvu.txt

Read an interesting article on ‘The Tan Stranger from Ceylon,’ from the South Asian American Digital Archive in the United States:
http://www.saadigitalarchive.org/tides/article/20140708-3618

‘How Turbans Helped Some Blacks Go Incognito In The Jim Crow Era’
http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/07/19/332380449/how-turbans-helped-some-blacks-go-incognito-in-the-jim-crow-era

‘Scholar from Afar’ an article from the University of Chicago Magazine:
http://mag.uchicago.edu/scholarfromafar

‘Throwback to 1920s: Race In America From A Foreigner’s Perspective,’ from NBC News
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/throwback-1920s-race-america-foreigners-perspective-n157741

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