City of London backtracks over removal of slavery-linked statues

A statue of English merchant and slave trader Sir John Cass is pictured on the wall of the Sir John Cass Foundation in central London. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - The authority that runs London's financial district said on Thursday (Oct 7) it will retain two statues of colonial-era figures linked to slavery that it had previously planned to remove.

The City of London Corporation said it had decided to keep the statues of the 17th- and 18th-century figures but would contextualise them with information about the two men's links to slavery following a fresh vote on their status.

"We've carefully considered this matter, taking into account strong feelings on both sides of the argument, and made what we think is a sensible, proportionate response to a sensitive issue," said City of London Corporation Statues Working Group chairman Doug Barrow.

He added that the organisation "can't be blind to the fact the history of the City is inextricably linked to slavery", calling the practice "a stain on our past".

The statues of William Beckford, a former London mayor and plantation owner and John Cass, an MP who played a central role in the transatlantic slave trade, had been selected for removal following a public consultation.

The City of London launched the review of statues connected to slavery last year in the wake of protests that swept Britain and Europe following the death in US police custody of an unarmed black man, George Floyd.

The demonstrations, which led to the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in the southwestern English city of Bristol, sparked nationwide calls to remove monuments linked to Britain's colonial past.

The City of London's U-turn over the statues is not the first by a local authority.

The town of Poole on England's south coast announced it would remove a statue of Robert Baden-Powell following the Black Lives Matter protests amid claims the founder of the scout movement had Nazi sympathies.

The local council later reversed its decision after a petition to keep the statue garnered tens of thousands of signatures.

The City of London has said the statues to Beckford and Cass will remain in place in its Guildhall headquarters with plaques placed alongside them providing contextual information.

A primary school in the city, formerly known as the Sir John Cass's Foundation Primary School and City, University of London's Business School, formerly the Cass Business School, have both changed their names to avoid association with him.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.