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Campaigners call for removal of tributes to slave trader Sir John Cass in Newham and Tower Hamlets

Sir John Cass Redcoat School has agreed to consider changing its name (credit: James Lewis)

An anti-racism group in Newham and Tower Hamlets is campaigning for statues of slave trader Sir John Cass to be taken down. 

Stand Up to Racism is also calling for his name to be removed from schools, colleges and universities.  

Judy Cox, a member of the Tower Hamlets branch of the organisation, said: “Sir John Cass was not just a slave owner, he was the architect and one of the leading lights of the Royal African Company which at end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century was one of the main ways in which wealthy British investors invested into the slave trade.

“It was the pioneering force of the slave trade; kidnapping hundreds of black men, women and children and forcing them into terrible conditions on ships and taking them to sugar and tobacco plantations in the West Indies and Virginia in North America.” 

Judy helped organise a protest outside Sir John Cass Redcoat School, in Stepney Green, which was due to go ahead yesterday. 

However, the demonstration was suspended after the school’s headteacher agreed to propose changing its name early next week. They also promised to take down a statue of Cass in their hall. 

“The school has responded very positively because they are an anti-racist school,” added July. “They can see it is offensive to have a school in the middle of Tower Hamlets celebrating an anti-racist curriculum but named after a slave owner.”

Judy said it should be up to the school to decide who it should be named after instead. 

“They can have their pupils involved in a very fruitful and enriching discussion about which figures from the past should be celebrated and who should be considered as role models for young people,” she continued. 

“History has become alive for a whole generation of young people now who are asking questions about the monuments and statues. Who do they represent? How did these people come to have so much authority to be celebrated? Who are the unsung heroes?”

The Univeristy of East London, in Stratford, removed one statue of Sir John Cass from their grounds on Thursday, 11 June.

And they are not the only institute to do so. Sir John Cass’s Foundation has also promised to remove a statue of him from the facade on their offices in Jewry Street.

The foundation was created in 1748 using the merchants wealth and has since helped fund educational organisations and supported disadvantaged children across east London. 

“As a foundation, we acknowledge some of the wealth gained by Sir John Cass was through means of slavery and human exploitation, and we recognise, acknowledge, and understand the public hurt and anger that comes from this,” a spokesperson said. 

“We have a duty to our beneficiaries and our community to address this legacy.

“As a first step in this journey, the Foundation has made the decision to remove the statue of Sir John Cass from the facade of our offices on Jewry Street. We have already initiated the process to remove it, though due to the facade of the building being listed this may take a few weeks to complete.”

However, some people have raised concerns that removing statues will also erase their history.

Campaigners like Judy Cox argue the monuments should be placed in museums instead where the other side of the story can also be presented. 

“You may have a statue of a slave owner and a discussion about why slavery was considered acceptable for so many years and the big campaigns to abolish the slave trade which were massive campaigns in this country and in Amercia,” added Judy. 

“That’s fine, that history is there but there is another side of history. The history of the unsung heroes, the history of people who fought against racism, who fought against slavery.

“Those are the histories that I think we should celebrate and they are far richer than the history of great white men who we are sick of seeing everywhere when they do not represent us and they do not represent our past or our future.” 

For more on this story, and the latest on our other local and national news, listen to Time 107.5FM

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