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All Souls College change Codrington Library name, but keep statue of slaveholder

All Souls College’s Governing Body has announced that they will no longer call their college library ‘the Codrington Library’, acknowledging that plantations worked by enslaved people were the source of revenue for Codrington’s donation. A new name for the library has not been specified.

However, the governing body stopped short of deciding to remove the statue of Codrington which stands in the centre of the library.

The college said instead that they would seek to “investigate further forms of memorialisation and contextualisation within the library, which will draw attention to the presence of enslaved people on the Codrington plantations, and will express the College’s abhorrence of slavery.”

In a statement published online, All Souls acknowledged that “Codrington’s wealth derived largely from his family’s activities in the West Indies, where they owned plantations worked by enslaved people of African descent.” 

The college noted their efforts over the past three years to address the Codrington legacy. The college said they had donated £100,000 to Codrington College, Barbados, and they permanently set aside £6 million of the College’s endowment to fully fund three graduate studentships at Oxford for students from the Caribbean. 

On the statute, they have installed “a large memorial plaque at the entrance to the library, ‘In memory of those who worked in slavery on the Codrington plantations in the West Indies’.”

Christopher Codrington (1668-1710) was a Barbadian-born English slaveholder, soldier, and colonial governor in the West Indies. Educated at Christ Church Oxford, he was later elected to All Souls college as a probationer fellow in 1690. In 1698, he succeeded his father as commander-in-chief and captain-general of the Leeward Islands, an island group in the northeast Caribbean Sea. He also inherited his father’s estates, plantations, and enslaved people on the islands. 

A complaint was made against his rule by the inhabitants of Antigua which was later dismissed by the House of Commons. In 1703, after he failed to capture Guadeloupe as part of a war with France and Spain, he left the governorship and spent the rest of his life on his plantations in Barbados. His body is buried in the All Souls Chapel. 

In his will he left £10,000 and £6,000 worth of books to All Souls College, which they used to establish the library. His will also left two plantations in Barbados to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, with instructions to continue slaveholding. 

Common Ground Oxford, a student-led movement founded to examine Oxford University’s colonial past, published the following statement, calling for further action: “We welcome All Souls College’s recent statement on Codrington’s legacy at the College, and we are writing today with hopes for further discussion and change… 

“However, the decision to retain Henry Cheere’s statue of slave-owner Christopher Codrington in All Souls’ Library came as a great disappointment to us. This decision exhibits All Souls’ inability to stand in solidarity with Black and POC communities, who have campaigned to make Oxford reckon with its past for decades. The choice to preserve the statue cannot be reconciled with the College’s stated commitments to ‘investigate further forms of memorialisation and contextualisation’ with regards to Codrington’s legacy…

“Codrington’s legacy is his wealth, accumulated from systematic sexual exploitation, trafficking and mass murder…This has caused generational trauma not just for their descendants, but for all people of African & Caribbean descent to this day…

“Physically, this statue cannot be made neutral: it is positioned such that onlookers stand at his stone feet, its pose is one of heroism and prestige. No plaque could sanitise the harm of continuing to elevate this slave-owner. No plaque could do justice to the thousands of enslaved people whose forced labour generated the wealth on which All Souls Library stands.”

Read Common Ground Oxford’s full statement here. Read All Souls College’s statement here.

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