Will the UK approve removing slavery-linked memorial?
A university college in the United Kingdom requests permission to remove from its chapel a memorial to a historical donor implicated in the slave trade.
A university college in the United Kingdom is requesting allowing the removal from its chapel of a memorial to a historical donor implicated in the slave trade.
The hearing, set to be held at Cambridge University, comes amid calls for taking down statues and monuments to historical figures that are linked to slavery and racism.
Jesus College wants to take down an ornate marble plaque fixed to the wall of its chapel in memory of Tobias Rustat, a 17th-century slave-trade investor. The College has a memorial to him because he was a major donor to the college.
Rustat, a courtier to King Charles II, was also an investor in the Royal African Company, which transported nearly 150,000 slaves, and took part in running the company.
The college said he "had financial and administrative involvement in the trading of enslaved human beings over a substantial period of time."
Not in vain?
The intention is to move the plaque that features a portrait of Rustat and display it in an archive room while providing information about historical context and his role in the slavery trade. Its academics have voted in favor.
Because the memorial is in a religious building, a Church-appointed judge will rule on the fate of the plaque at an ecclesiastic court hearing held in the chapel itself.
The judge will oversee the so-called "consistory court" session, independent civil proceedings that are to include the questioning of expert witnesses.
Such hearings are rare and usually concern church buildings.
Against the removal? Why?
Opposing opinions to the removal of the plaque emerged.
Some argue that having the memorial inside the chapel and on its wall may prevent people from worshipping there considering the slavery linkage.
Some alumni and descendants of Rustat argued that his donations were not money earned from slavery.
As for preservationists, they have criticized the plan to remove the memorial, saying it is believed to be the work of Grinling Gibbons, a renowned sculptor and woodcarver.
On its part, Historic England, a public body defending the country's heritage, has said removing the memorial would "harm the significance of Jesus College Chapel." It suggested instead adding a plaque about Rustat's history or moving the memorial within the chapel.
Right-wing tabloid the Daily Mail has criticized the college's proposal as a move to "cancel" a historical donor, overlooking any slavery linkage, but the college denied the paper's claims.
To this end, lawyers representing the college will participate in the court hearing, as will a lawyer representing a group of alumni opposing the memorial's removal.
It is worth noting that Rustat gave around £3,230 (some £500,000 or $675,000 in current money) to Jesus College, mostly to fund scholarships for children of clergy. Grants from the Rustat Trust are still available today.