Council announces slavery names consultation

Bust of Sir Henry Tate outside Brixton Tate library
Questions have been raised in the past about the role of sugar magnate Sir Henry Tate, whose bust stands before Brixton Tate library on Windrush Square

Lambeth council today (1 October) launched its planned consultations on what to do about names and places in the borough with links to slavery and colonialism.

It warned that the process would not be easy and is likely to be controversial.

It chose the first day of Black History Month to invite suggestions from local people and groups.

A council review group commissioned by Cllr Sonia Winifred, its cabinet member for equalities and culture found:

  • A small number of street names in the borough have clear associations with the trans-Atlantic African slave trade (TAST) and historic exploitation;
  • Some memorials and statues commemorate individuals who were involved in TAST and  profited from it directly or via family links;
  • Statues and tombs in borough locations and cemeteries mark families who were involved in TAST or profited from it, or economic policies which exploited people in the Caribbean, India and Africa.

Cllr Winifred said: “I announced the review earlier this summer following the appalling killing of George Floyd in the USA and the mobilisation of the 2020 Black Lives Matter campaign.

“As a proudly diverse borough which has previously taken a lead on commemorating Black leaders in the late 20th century, we must now chart a new route forward to look at proposals to review existing troubling or historic links and assess whether we can legally suggest new names or commemorations to mark the lives and contributions to key people who have made Lambeth the place we know today.

“We will establish a community listening exercise later this month.”

This will include:

  • Inviting Lambeth residents, community, faith-based organisations and the wider voluntary community sector to debate and discuss the past and develop potential new names and commemorations;
  • Links with Lambeth schools to review and amend the current curriculum around the history of slavery and how the British economy developed in the 17th and 18th century;
  • An educational programme with Lambeth archives and libraries, both of which have played a key role in the review of locations;
  • An opportunity to commence a public debate, including a poll to enable the suggestion of new ideas and proposals to re-name key locations, where this is legally possible.

Details are expected to be confirmed in mid-October, with “listening events” set for later in the month.

The council said preparations are well under way to establish the public engagement exercise.

Sonia Winifred
Sonia Winifred

Cllr Winifred said: “No one should assume this will be an easy process.

“Renaming is often controversial and will involve a range of views. There are also legal obstacles in the way that prevent a rapid re-naming of things like streets. 

“It is also crucial that we engage as many residents, community groups, schools and private organisations/businesses in the debate itself and any decisions the council makes in future on new naming proposals.

Possible key figures for new names include:

Olive Morris;

Terrence Higgins (who was the first HIV+ person to die of the disease in Lambeth and whose name is part of the leading AIDS charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust); and

Mary Seacole

Key locations and statues include those associated with events such as the Sharpeville massacre in apartheid-South Africa.

“There is much work to do on this agenda,” said Cllr Winifred. “An important new move will be establishing new equalities, diversity and inclusion (EDI) policy and performance targets, including race equality measures, within the council’s borough plan.”

A new  Lambeth First Partnership Board, will be established consisting of representatives from the council’s political leadership and key partners such as representatives from the Lambeth voluntary sector, forum networks, educational and “anchor” institutions such as King’s College London, London South Bank University and Lambeth College; the business sector and also keygGovernment agencies and statutory partners, such as the police and NHS.

“I very much look forward to leading this process – and am eager to hear the views and proposals for any changes from our residents and stakeholders,” said Cllr Winifred.

“This is a sensitive issue and the council will lead this exercise in a way which acknowledges different views and opinions.”

The full list of locations and place names reviewed will be made published with announcement on dates and nature of the listening exercise and debate is agreed – due to be later this month.

Some already under discussion include Vassall ward, Thurlow Park ward and Tulse Hill.