Scotland's first black professor will lead review of Edinburgh statues

Scotland’s first black professor will lead review of controversial statues and street names in Edinburgh with links to slavery in wake of BLM protests

  • Sir Geoff Palmer, 80, will lead steering group, which will meet before end of year 
  • Human rights activist said it was an ‘honour’ to be asked to work with the group
  • Group will consider statue removal, as well as revising street and building names
  • It follows protests over the Melville monument in St Andrew Square, Edinburgh 

Scotland’s first black professor will lead a review of controversial statues and street names in Edinburgh with links to slavery in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests.

Sir Geoff Palmer, 80, will lead the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group, which will meet for the first time before the end of the year.

The human rights activist, who became Scotland’s first black professor in 1989, said it was an ‘honour’ to be asked to work with the group.

It follows protests over the Melville monument, which commemorates 18th century Home Secretary Henry Dundas, in St Andrew Square.

Sir Geoff Palmer (pictured above), 80, will lead the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group, which will meet for the first time before the end of the year

The controversial monument was erected in 1821 in memory of Conservative politician Dundas who delayed the abolition of the slave trade.

But it has become a source of controversy with a years-long debate over how a plaque should be worded.

It was finally resolved in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, as Black Lives Matter activists graffitied the monument.

The group will consider all options, including the removal of statues, as well as looking at street and building names.

Sir Geoff, a professor emeritus in the school of life sciences at Heriot-Watt University said: ‘I regard this appointment as a great honour and duty to work with the group and the community to ensure the council’s aim of fairness and justice to all is realised.’

He will now recruit other members to join the group to bring together people from a range of backgrounds and expertise.

City of Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey said: ‘We have a responsibility to face up to our city’s past, the good and the bad.

‘While this review is about the story of our city, it’s not about statues of people long gone. It’s about people who live here now and their experience.

‘The Black Lives Matter movement shone a bright light on structural exclusions faced by people in all areas of life.

‘We are committed to investigating, with communities and partners, where any such exclusions might exist in Edinburgh. 

The controversial Melville Monument, pictured above, was erected in 1821 in memory of Conservative politician Dundas who delayed the abolition of the slave trade

‘Through this review group we hope to build an improved shared understanding of our Capital’s history by reviewing the origins of our public statues, monuments and street names and their context with events and meanings and making sure we share the true stories with future generations.’

Deputy council leader Cammy Day said: ‘This group will make sure we take action where we can in response to lessons learned from the Black Lives Matter movement.

‘It’s important we listen to and act upon the views of the BAME community.

‘We have a duty to work to understand what the perception is now and what could make it better.

‘We want the group to consider all options for rectifying the glorification of slavery and colonialism in our streets and elsewhere and for supporting diversity in our city.’

The streets and monuments in Edinburgh that have ties to the slave trade

Melville Monument

The statue in St Andrew Square commemorates 18th century Home Secretary and the first Secretary of State for War, Henry Dundas.

The monument was graffitied during Black Lives Matter protests with campaigners highlighting Dundas’ role in delaying the abolition of slavery in the 1800s. 

It was re-dedicated by council officials to ‘more than half a million Africans whose enslavement was a consequence of Henry Dundas’s actions’ in July. 

Dundas Street  

A petition has proposed to rename Dundas Street after Joseph Knight

Nancy Barrett started a petition earlier this year and proposed Dundas Street, which also commemorates Conservative politician Henry Dundas, should be re-named after Joseph Knight.

Mr Knight was a Scottish-Jamaican slave who won a court case and then an appeal in 1778 to free himself, by proving that slavery didn’t exist in Scots Law.

Dundas House

The ex-Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters has a statue commemorating John Hope

Alongside the Melville Monument, the former Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters also stands on St Andrew Square and has a statue commemorating the 4th Earl of Hopetoun, John Hope.

Hope, who governed the bank between 1820 and 1823, aided in ending a two-year slave rebellion in the Caribbean.

This led to the trade carrying on for nearly another four decades, according to Lisa Williams, director of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association.

She told Scotland On Sunday: ‘The suppression of this revolution resulted in slavery continuing for almost another 40 years.’ 

Bute House 

Nicola Sturgeon’s official residence was once home to John Innes Crawford

The official residence of the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, was once home to John Innes Crawford, who owned a Jamaican sugar plantation.

British politician Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster also lived in the residence and claimed recompense following the abolition of slavery.

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