Socialist Worker

Protesters demand that racist statue must fall

by Sasha Simic
Issue No. 2759

Protesters outside the Museum of the Home

Protesters outside the Museum of the Home on Saturday (Pic: Stand Up To Racism)


More than 200 ­protesters demanded the removal of a statue of 17th century slaver Robert Geffrye at the Museum of the Home in east London, last Saturday.

It has stood over the building in Hackney since 1912.

Hackney Stand Up to Racism (HSUTR) organised two protests at the museum which was ­re­opening after a three‑year £18.1 million redevelopment.

One protest was at the new entrance of the museum—in what is still called Geffrye Street—when the museum opened its doors.

Another was held opposite the statue of the slave trader at noon.

Geffrye made his fortune from his shares in the slave trade via the East India Company, the Royal African Company and the slave ship China Merchant.

Demonstrations

Both demonstrations were addressed by Hackney MP Diane Abbott, Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville, Hackney’s Deputy Mayor Antoinette Bramble, six Hackney councillors and one Islington councillor.

There were speeches by anti-racist campaigner Patrick Vernon, PCS Equalities officer Amanda Walker and singer and activist Jermain Jackman.

Dave Davies, Divisional Secretary of Hackney NEU education union, warned the museum trustees that the union was pressing for a boycott of the museum until the statue comes down. This was supported by Tony Buttifint, the secretary of Islington NEU.

Black Lives Matter protesters toppled the statue of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol last June. It prompted many institutions to reassess the future of their own monuments to slavers.

Trustees of the Museum of the Home opened a public consultation along with Hackney council as to what should be done with their statue of Geffrye.

The vast majority of those who took part—over 71 percent—wanted the statue taken down.

But in late June 2020, the trustees announced it would not remove it as the issue was “a complex debate, full of nuance and different opinions.”

One of the museum trustees, Samir Shah, was a commissioner who contributed to the Tories’ Sewell Report that declared there was no institutional racism in Britain.

Tory culture minister Oliver Dowden insisted that “removing statues, artwork and other historical objects is not the right approach.” 

The Tories, desperate to deflect attention from their failure over the coronavirus crisis, are fighting a “culture war”.

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The campaign to retain the Geffrye statue has become one of the frontlines in their battle. It is part of a divide and rule strategy, in which they are actively promoting racism.

Housing minister Robert Jenrick poses as a defender of “heritage” from “baying mobs”.

And home secretary Priti Patel’s draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill proposes giving ten-year jail sentences to anyone convicted of damaging monuments to slavers.

Some 30 statues and memorials to slavers have been removed from public view since Colston fell. They include the statue of the 18th century slaver Robert Milligan from the Museum of London Docklands and the bust of Hans Sloane from The British Museum.

In January, it was announced that the statues of slavers William Beckford and John Cass would be removed the Guildhall in the City of London.

The government have decided to make a stand over Geffrye’s statue. Dowden has refused to sign off “any application to move the statue and place it in a less prominent position in the grounds.”

And for all the talk of “retain and explain, there is nothing to indicate that the periwigged and frock-coated figure was a monster who profited from slavery.

If the #GeffryeMustFall campaign wins it will inflict a serious blow to the government’s racist agenda. But that will mean building a bigger campaign.

HSUTR activist Dean Ryan closed Saturday’s protest with the promise that we’ll be back until the cry “Geffrye Must Fall” is replaced with the victorious chant that “Geffrye has fallen!” 


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