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University of East London removes slave trader statue from Stratford campus

PUBLISHED: 15:00 11 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:30 11 June 2020

Calls have been made to remove the name of slave trader Sir John Cass from UEL's school of education and communities. Picture: Google

Calls have been made to remove the name of slave trader Sir John Cass from UEL's school of education and communities. Picture: Google

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The University of East London has removed a statue of a slave trader and is reviewing use of his name at its school of education.

Rob Ferguson said it was a Rob Ferguson said it was a "disgrace" for the school to continue to bear Sir John Cass's name. Picture: Stand Up to Racism campaign

Campaigners had called for Sir John Cass’s name and statue to to be done away with at the University of East London’s Cass School of Education and Communities in Cedars Road, Stratford on Wednesday, June 10.

A UEL spokesperson said today (June 11): “Following consultation with our Black Academy and wider students and staff, we have removed the statue.

“We will be instigating a university-wide review of all sources of historic funding together with the development of a new institutional naming policy reflecting our university values that puts equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of our transformation strategy.”

Rob Ferguson, convenor of Newham’s branch of the campaign group Stand Up to Racism, called on every institution bearing Sir John Cass’s name to act immediately and erase references to him.

The call to remove Cass's name and statue comes after protests following the death in police custody of American George Floyd. Picture: Sylvia GBThe call to remove Cass's name and statue comes after protests following the death in police custody of American George Floyd. Picture: Sylvia GB

He added: “We bear the legacy of figures such as Cass today in the form of institutional racism and racist violence.

“It is entirely unnacceptable that our schools and univerities are named in tribute to an architect of slavery. Those days are now over.”

UEL’s decision follows the removal of slave owner Robert Milligan’s statue in West India Quay and the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

An online petition calling on the university to remove its “racist statue” was signed by 168 supporters.

Black Lives Matter posters on the statue of slave owner Robert Milligan whose statue was remove from West India Quay following public pressure. Picture: Ehtasham HaqueBlack Lives Matter posters on the statue of slave owner Robert Milligan whose statue was remove from West India Quay following public pressure. Picture: Ehtasham Haque

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Gargi Bhattacharyya, who chairs UEL’s branch of the University and College Union, said that while it would have been inappropriate for the statue and name to remain, the issue is just one of many faced by ethnic minority students.

“Students would say this is disgusting in a long line of disgusting things happening in their lives,” she suggested.

Cass, who was buried in St Mary Matfelon in Whitechapel – now Altab Ali Park – following his death in 1718, was also a philanthropist. Cass Business School and Sir John Cass Red Coat School are among other institutions bearing his name.

UEL approached Sir John Cass’s Foundation for a grant towards its purpose built facility at the Stratford campus in 2007.

“Philanthropy is not an excuse for crimes against humanity. That is why people ought to look again at memorials across London,” Ms Bhattacharyya said.

A spokesperson at Sir John Cass’s Foundation said it acknowledged that some of the wealth was by means of human exploitation and “is not a source of pride”.

“Looking at our work over many years with projects to challenge and eradicate racism, discrimination, inequality, through education, we hope these can be viewed as having a positive impact for disadvantaged young people in inner London,” the spokesperson added.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced a City Hall review of the capital’s street names and statues on June 9.

UEL’s own review will be chaired by an independent member of the university’s board of governors. It has pledged that it will include representatives from across its community.

The spokesperson said: “The University of East London celebrates diversity, fosters inclusivity and is committed to an environment of mutual respect and equity for every member of our learning community.”


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