An Oxford University college has commissioned a plaque to the commemorate the memory of slaves, following pressure from students over the colonial links of a major benefactor.
All Souls College intends to erect a “memorial tablet” outside the Codrington Library which will say: “In memory of those who worked in slavery on the Codrington Plantations in the West Indies”.
It is the latest in a series of steps taken by the College aimed at acknowledging the legacy of Christopher Codrington, a sugar plantation magnate from Barbados who in 1710 bequeathed part of his fortune for the college to establish the library that bears his name.
The move comes after a campaign led by Common Ground Oxford, a student group that aims to examine Oxford’s colonial past.
The group has called for the Codrington Library to be renamed and for his marble statue, which is currently in the library, to be moved to a museum to avoid “glorifying” him – although the College says it has no plans to do so.
Last year, Oluwafemi Nylander, a prominent Rhodes Must Fall campaigner, stood shirtless outside the college to protest about Codrington’s legacy. He wore a chain around his neck and ‘All Slaves College’ painted on his chest in red paint, intended to resemble blood.
In its planning application to Oxford City Council, Dr Sarah Beaver, the domestic bursar at All Souls, said that the plaque is intended to “serve as a reminder” that “while the College remains grateful to Christopher Codrington for the generous benefaction that enabled the Codrington Library to be built, Codrington’s wealth was derived in large part from estates which were dependent on slave labour”.
A descendant of slaves who had worked on the estates was consulted about the wording of the plaque, according to the planning application.
Common Ground Oxford said that while the steps taken by All Souls, are “in the right direction”, they are “not enough”. The group said that they do not agree with “tokenistic” actions that are used to “bolster its reputation and justify further inaction”.
A spokesman for the group added: “While we welcome what All Souls have done, we are cautious about endorsing such action until we are sure that it represents only the first step in a process heading towards broad and systemic change in Oxford.”
“We accept these are good steps in the right direction but we want to draw attention to the fact that more needs to be done. We want to push for change such as the re-naming of the Codrington library, and the re-locating of his statue to somewhere like a museum where it can be understood in its colonial context.”
Founded by Henry VI in 1438, All Souls is one of Oxford’s most prestigious and wealthiest colleges, with an endowment of over £350 million. It is a graduate-only college, and all its members automatically become fellows.