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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

All Souls plans plaque to mark donor’s slavery links

The college has applied for planning permission for a plaque commemorating the slaves whose labour funded its library.

All Souls College has commissioned a ‘memorial tablet’ outside the Codrington Library in recognition of the slaves owned by the building’s benefactor.

Codrington, a sugar plantation magnate from Barbados, left part of his fortune to the college in 1710 to establish the library, and has become the latest in a series of colonial icons to be held under scrutiny by academics and students at the University.

The idea of erecting a plaque arose from a conference held at All Souls in October last year to discuss Codrington’s legacy with members of the local community, and consultation for the project included campaigners and a descendant of one of those enslaved by Codrington.

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 “Codrington’s wealth was derived in large part from estates which were dependent on slave labour”.

The plans have emerged after the University faced controversy over the academic Nigel Biggar defending certain aspects of colonialism in an article for The Times last week.

Common Ground Oxford, the student campaign group which headed much of the criticism of Biggar, said that although they “welcome all efforts to confront Oxford’s colonial past”, they were critical of its overall significance.

A spokeswoman told Cherwell: “The decision to erect a small plaque outside of the library seems a semantic and peripheral change relative to the centrality of Codrington’s statue in the heart of All Souls’ academic space.”

The group have called upon All Souls to take further action to confront its colonial legacy, including the renaming of the Codrington library and for the statue of Codrington, which is currently displayed in the centre of the library, to be moved to a museum.

Common Ground told Cherwell that while the statue remains, the college remains “a living contradiction” and presents “a warped, whitewashed view of Codrington and his legacy”.

All Souls College has said they have no current plans to remove the statue.

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