Cross Rhodes Freedom Project celebrates historic victory

                           UWI agrees to stop venerating Milner

Shabaka Kambon CRFP Director

After a series of meetings with students starting in 2016, the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project (CRFP) wrote to Professor Brian Copeland, Principal of the St. Augustine Campus on June 22nd, calling for The University of the West Indies (The UWI) to expunge the name Milner from its oldest Hall of residence. Today, approximately four months later, a period in which we learned that Dr. Eric Williams also favored this name change, we are happy to share the historic decision of The UWI to disassociate itself from the self-professed racist and imperialist criminal, Viscount Alfred Milner.

With this decision we, the Caribbean Community, have made a positive statement in a global dialogue defined by the agency of a new generation that cut across racial lines that is successfully claiming public spaces from history’s vilest epochs to honor humanities highest values. In the spirit of Independence, the black power movement and the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which created the Caribbean Community we have sent a clear message to the world, that the people of this region have the capacity and the courage to confront their past, and the will and moral character to commit to a better future.

We happily acknowledge a debt of inspiration to the Rhodes Must Fall Movement in South Africa which removed an imposing statue of Milner’s accomplice Cecil John Rhodes from a plinth at the entrance to the University of Cape town in April 2015. We salute its student leaders, along with Councilor Cleo Alberta Lake from ‘Countering Colston’, Michael Quess Moore from ‘Take Em Down Nola’ and Shabakie Fernandes from the African Cultural Development Association of Guyana who joined us here in Port of Spain in June along with other activists from across the Caribbean to Launch the CRFP and advance this history making process.

Vice Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles

We commend Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles for his astute and forthright leadership on this issue and applaud all the stakeholders, from governments to graduates, who embraced the recommendation of senior management to accept the report of Pro Vice Chancellor Alan Cobley, Professor of South African Studies, which concluded: “Lord Milner is not a fit and proper person to be revered by the University of the West Indies.”

According to a UWI official communiqué, “The Cobley Report sets out, among other things: Lord Milner’s political identity as a self-proclaimed ‘British race supremacist’; his role as a formulator of British racial theory in which he described Africans as ‘savages’; the part he played as a founder of the criminal system of racial apartheid which was institutionalised in South Africa in 1948; the principal part he played as an architect of brutal Indian indentured servitude in the colony; his role as a proponent of military colonialism in Africa and Asia as the God given right of the English; and his function as an aggressive imperialist who is known for his part in crimes against humanity committed in Africa.”

Lord Viscount Alfred Milner

The report, elaborating on a point previously highlighted by the CRFP’s rename campaign  makes the connection between Milner’s plans for British global supremacy and the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA), which became the Faculty of Agriculture at The UWI’s St Augustine Campus in 1963. The ICTA was not established to educate locals, as some believe, but to train white colonialists, with a view to creating a pool of frontier farmers to settle on lands in the Empire taken from natives.

Milner’s active political hostility to the human and civil rights of Africans, Asians, and indigenous people is identified as having “propelled his anger towards” … Indian nationalists such as Mahatma Gandhi as well as Caribbean Pan-Africanists, such as Jamaican Marcus Garvey and Barbadian/Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams, whom he saw as “dangerous subverters of empire.”  The CRFP has actually put Williams forward as the most suitable candidate to replace Milner, particularly since his (Williams’) travels took him to South Africa to practice law, where he publicly opposed the efforts of Milner and his colleagues to establish their racialised system of oppression.

Caribbean Hero: Henry Silvester Williams

For the CRFP this victory is momentous in and of itself but also because of its potential to give impetus to other similar campaigns locally and regionally. The organization will now focus more squarely on its efforts to remove all reverential statues of Christopher Columbus and replace the welcome sign at Lopinot Estate which invites visitors to denigrate the persons who were worked there to death as “loyal slaves” while paying homage to the slave master and his wife who oversaw the terror as, “illustrious.”

It is the organisations firm belief that the continued veneration of iniquitous colonial administrators and enslavers, like Count Lopinot, and those who committed crimes against humanity, like Columbus and Milner, burden not just our history and our conscience but our character as well.

We want to thank all those who volunteered their time, energy and resources to make this historic change possible (too many to mention here) yet, we must single out the contribution of Dr. Claudius Fergus himself an executive member of the organization, for special mention. This, would not have been possible without wise council and meticulous research of the former chair of the Department of History of UWI’s St Augustine Campus.

We continue to look forward to a day when, instead of heedlessly and unthinkingly paying tribute to colonial violence, our public spaces will revere Caribbean heroines and heroes the likes of Sylvester Williams who represent the best of our values, to inspire future generations to greater possibilities.

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