Calls to remove slave trader Sir John Cass’s name from East End

Sir John Cass Red Coat School, Stepney Way. Picture: Isabel Infantes

Sir John Cass Red Coat School, Stepney Way. Picture: Isabel Infantes - Credit: Archant

Campaigners have called for a slave trader’s name to be removed from schools and universities.

Tower Hamlets Stand up to Racism campaigners have called for Sir John Cass's name and tributes to be

Tower Hamlets Stand up to Racism campaigners have called for Sir John Cass's name and tributes to be removed from schools and colleges across London. Picture: TOWER HAMLETS SUTR - Credit: Archant

Members of anti-racism campaign group Tower Hamlets Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) want Sir John Cass’s name erased from places including Sir John Cass Red Coat School.

The group’s convenor, Sheila McGregor, said: “Names and sculptures reflect how governments want us to remember the past.

“British capitalism was built on the back of slavery and empire, but we are supposed to forget the millions who died and those who rose up against both. The slavers’ names and statues need to go. Black lives matter.”

SUTR campaigners add: “In 2020 no educational institution should be associated with the name of slave traders responsible for millions of deaths of African people and the legacy of racism in our history.

Sheila McGregor from Tower Hamlets SUTR. Picture: Mike Brooke

Sheila McGregor from Tower Hamlets SUTR. Picture: Mike Brooke - Credit: Mike Brooke

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“East London is one of the most multi-cultural areas in Europe. We demand that the taint of those whose names are associated with slavery, be removed from our schools, universities and communities.”

The call follows the removal of slave owner Robert Milligan’s statue in West India Quay and the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

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The University of East London announced on June 11 it had removed a statue of Cass and would review the use of his name at its school of education.

Cass was buried at St Mary Matfelon in Whitechapel – the present site of Altab Ali Park which is named after the victim of a fatal racist attack. He died in 1718.

The merchant and Tory MP gave much of his fortune to a foundation set up in his name in 1748. Its grants have been used to promote education in inner London, including in Stepney where Sir John Cass Red Coat School is based.

Every year thanks are given to God for Sir John Cass’s life in a Founder’s Day ceremony at the Church of St Botolph-without-Aldgate where children and dignitaries wear Cass’s symbol of a red feather on their chests.

A spokesperson for the Sir John Cass Red Coat school said: “We are a proud school, which values diversity and we are proud to be anti-racist in our ethos and in our actions.

“In the coming days we will issue our response, following an emergency meeting of our governing body.”

A spokesperson at Sir John Cass’s Foundation said it has worked for years with east London charities on projects challenging and eradicating racism, discrimination and inequality.

“We continue to support and work with the independent institutions that carry the Cass name, where they wish us to do so.

“In most cases the naming references the foundation’s significant financial support for the institutions’ advancement in providing access to education for disadvantaged young people during the 20th and 21st Century.”

They added the foundation welcomed mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s commission and will work with them during a review of the capital’s statues and streets.

The spokesperson said: “As a foundation, we acknowledge some of the wealth of Sir John Cass was by means of human exploitation and is not a source of pride.

“Looking at our work over many years with projects to challenge and eradicate racism, discrimination, inequality, through education, we hope these can be viewed as having a positive impact for disadvantaged young people in inner London.”

The foundation announced on June 12 it is to remove the statue of Sir John Cass from the facade of its offices in Jewry Street.

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