King’s College drops Rhodes professorship after ‘slavery’ row

A history professorship named after Cecil Rhodes has been axed by a top university following a row over its links to racism and slavery.

King’s College London has scrapped the Rhodes Professorship of Imperial History after the current post-holder called for it to be dropped.

Prof Richard Drayton, who was a former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, said of King’s College that “the blood of enslaved Caribbean people is mixed into the mortar of its foundations”, as reported by the Mail on Sunday.

In a letter to the provost of King’s, Prof Drayton said that the institution was built using donations from people made rich by slavery in the West Indies.

Critics have called the move “footling virtue signalling”, however.

The academic, who is a professor of imperial and global history, made reference in his letter to Charles Pallmer, a plantation owner who donated the equivalent of £40,000 in today’s money to the university in 1828 and who once received the equivalent of £400,000 for the 300 slaves he owned in Jamaica.

The letter, sent in 2020, argued that the Rhodes Professorship should be changed and the university should make reparations to the Caribbean and African diaspora.

‘Repair of the world, repair of ourselves’

Prof Drayton said such moves would “begin a process of repair – repair of the world, repair of ourselves – to make a future world in which everyone can live as equals.”

In response, the university said the reference to the divisive politician and mining magnate could be abolished. It also proposed a number of scholarships for black PhD students, named after Dr Harold Moody, a Jamaican-born medic and King’s alumnus who campaigned against racial prejudice.

However, Prof Jeremy Black, an author and emeritus professor of history at Exeter University, described the dropping of the Rhodes name as “footling virtue signalling”, the Mail on Sunday reported.

The decision will no doubt be welcomed by campaigners who have argued the Rhodes statue must be taken down from Oriel College at Oxford University.

The statue of Cecil Rhodes at the Oriel College at Oxford University

Credit: ADRIAN DENNIS
/AFP

A King’s spokesman said: “As we have not received funding from the Rhodes Trust for almost 100 years, the name of the chair was updated.”

Rhodes, a British imperialist who founded Rhodesia and served as prime minister of the Cape Colony in the 1890s, was not a slave trader but supported apartheid-style measures in southern Africa.

He was an early architect of an act of parliament which aimed to limit the areas of the country where black Africans were allowed to settle to less than 10 per cent.

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