Goldsmiths: Katharine Birbalsingh on ‘racial trauma’ definition
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The south London university launched a public consultation examining whether the 115-year-old statues should be permanently removed from Deptford Town Hall. Lord Drake, Sir Francis, Cromwellian Admiral Robert Blake and an anonymous representative naval figure either have links to Britain’s role in slavery or the colonial system that supported slavery.
Goldsmiths’ consultation responds to one of the demands of Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action (GARA), a student protest group led by black or persons-of-colour launched in 2019.
The university will ask around New Cross residents to fill in a survey, either online or sent to about 8,500 homes, to have their say from September 1 to October 17.
Options include retaining the statues with further explanation, altering some or all of the statues, or removing some or all of the statues.
As a Grade II listed building any significant alterations to its façade, which faces onto the busy New Cross road, would need planning approval from Lewisham Council, who would notify Historic England.
Prof Frances Corner, Warden of Goldsmiths, said asking local residents was “only right”.
He said: “Deptford Town Hall is a local landmark so it is only right that we ask local people what they think about the statues which embody the complex legacy of the area’s maritime heritage.
“We want those living in the area to engage openly and honestly with troubling aspects of the history these statues represent and tell us how they want these issues to be addressed.
“These statues were carved in 1905 to reflect the wishes of the local community then and it is vital that, a little over a century later, any decision on their future reflects the wishes of our local community now.”
In 2019, GARA occupied Deptford Town Hall for 137 days to demand “mandatory anti-racism training for all staff” and that “all four statues of known colonisers and the slave-ship should be removed immediately, not labelled with a plaque”.
Goldsmiths University responded by attempting to legally evict the protesters from the building.
Students protested in the town hall after a candidate in the student elections complained she had been subjected to racist abuse.
She reported to university authorities her election poster had been scrawled over with racist graffiti mocking her accent and her banner removed.
Protesters accused the university of responding inadequately.
It comes after Guy’s Hospital confirmed it will move a statue of its founder Thomas Guy to a less prominent position because of his links to Britain’s slave trade.
In a statement issued with their report, the foundation said the gesture was proposed in a bid to “address the legacies” of slavery and to make the hospital “more welcoming to everyone”.
The decision to pull down the statue came after 75 percent of respondents to an online questionnaire that was part of the consultation said that the statue should stay.
A separate statue of hospital benefactor Sir Robert Clayton, who also has links to Britain’s colonial past, will remain in place as it was decided the position was less prominent.
The statues first came under fire in June 2020 when they were both boarded up after Black Lives Matter protestors launched the Topple the Racists campaign.
Robert Poll, who runs the Save Our Statues campaign, said after the landslide polls in favour of the statues remaining the public were “ignored”.
He said: “Asked the public. 3,200 people responded. 75 per cent said to keep the statue where it is.
“Once again the public is ignored.”
Kieron Boyle, the Guy’s Foundation’s Chief Executive, also said: “Like many organisations in Britain, slavery is part of our history, and we believe we have a duty to address its legacies.
“The consultation has recommended that we retain both statues in the public realm, provide information explaining how both men made their wealth, and move one of the statues to a less prominent position.
“It has also suggested that we commission new artistic works to tell the rich story of those involved in the hospitals’ history.
“We recognise that these can be polarising debates and are grateful for the wide range of views that shaped these independent recommendations. We are committed to seeing all the changes through.”
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