A statue of a slave trader has no home on our doorstep.
Cllr Carole Williams, Cabinet Member for Employment, Skills and Human Resources breaks down the devestating numbers on why the staute of Sir Robert Geffrye should be removed from the Museum of the Home.
In September, the Mayor and I wrote to Oliver Dowden condemning him for putting pressure on the Museum of the Home to retain the statue of slave trader Sir Robert Geffrye. In light of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the launch of our review into public spaces, we worked with the Museum to launch a consultation of the fate of his statue. We asked and local people said under no uncertain terms, that a statue of a slave trader had no home on their doorstep.
Yet Dowden pressured the Museum to overrule the consultation response. By wading into a matter of local democracy, the Minister has placed undue pressure on the Museum staff who have a deeper knowledge of the local community and the importance of public confidence than anyone in Whitehall.
At last week’s Stand Up To Racism protest outside the Museum, I talked about the 400 year transatlantic trade of African lives. The vast numbers of people forced into slavery is difficult to compute and horrifying to comprehend:
- Up to 12.8 million people were ripped from their lives, land, families and their homes - that’s more than the population of London today.
- The trade of Africans was the business of Sir Robert Geffery and, along with other British slave traders, made 12,103 slaving voyages from British and British colonial ports. More than 3,000 set out from London.
- During its 400 year history of slave trade, Britain shipped 3.1 million Africans. Due to being forced into overcrowded squalor, lacking space for basic human needs and on bunks stacked high, thousands never made it off the ship alive.
At the last Stand up to Racism demonstration, we were reminded of an African proverb which states; the passage of time doesn’t lessen the crime and these numbers speak volumes. Those sums provide facts which despite being lodged in history, have burdens that are still being felt today as Black lives face inherent racism seven days a week.
In stark contrast, Geffrye set up the Almshouses at the Museum for pensioners in London. In comparison to the Africans he crammed onto ships from Africa, 50 British pensioners shared 14 homes. Each resident had their own room and were provided with food, heating and a pension. They had a garden they could enjoy and fresh air to breathe.
Since the Museum opened in 1914, thousands of people have walked through the aforenamed gates of the Geffrye Museum to see how people lived throughout British history. That’s hundreds of thousands of people oblivious to how this charmed museum was born from the enslavement and death of African men, women and children.
Unlocking the Geffrye
Now named ‘The Museum of the Home’, the Museum has a regeneration project, named Unlocking Geffrye. While the board makes plans to unlock its future potential, I see potential in reckoning with the museum’s past and acknowledging the truth of the man whose statue still stands above the museum - a man who stole Africans from their land and their homes. As the board invests in inspiring people to explore the meaning of home I urge them to reflect on what it means to the millions who lost their ‘home’ when they were abducted and sold into slavery.
When the Museum of the Home reopens, with its emancipated new name, I’m asking the members of the board to make a commitment to the 1000s of locals who responded to the statue’s consultation, hundreds of thousands they want to visit each year, including 36,000 children, make a stand for those who were enable to stand for themselves, tell the story of Sir Robert Geffrye and move the statue.
Cllr Carole Williams, Cabinet Member for Employment, Skills and Human Resources