Tackling racial injustice through education | Letters

A national museum of slavery might not be the answer, writes Sean Creighton, Dr Carol Fox speaks of the struggle to implement a more diverse curriculum, while Prof Stephanie Marshall tells of the changes at Queen Mary University of London and George Lambrick calls for more action to redistribute ill-gotten legacies

While there is a strong case for a national museum of slavery, its drawback will be that people will have to make a conscious decision to travel there (Campaigners call for museum to document UK’s role in slave trade, 14 June). A major challenge alongside is the continued work needed to ensure that all museums and country houses reflect their slavery and black British histories in their displays and publications.

The Black and Asian Studies Association (BASA) 1999 Ethnic Minorities Records conference and working party started a process that enabled many institutions to begin doing this. Marika Sherwood (Letters, 14 June) is just one of many former members of BASA who continue to research, talk, publish, campaign and network. Over 100 people attended the launch of a new series of seminars in January to hear Marika and co-founder Prof Hakim Adi reflect on the current state of British black history. It seemed very healthy, but the seminar programme has been a victim of lockdown.

It was Marika who, while researching in the US, discovered that Allan Glaisyer Minns, referred to by Colin Jones (Letters, 14 June), was a black West Indian, which allowed others to find out more about him. Minns and John Archer, also referred to in Jones’s letter, were mayors before the first world war, but through election by their ruling party political group – unlike Marvin Rees, who is the first directly elected black mayor.
Sean Creighton
Former secretary, BASA; biographer of John Archer

• David Olusoga argues powerfully that the inclusion of the Atlantic slave trade, together with British imperialism and colonialism and their underpinning of Britain’s prosperity as a world power, should be mandatory in the national curriculum (Britain can no longer ignore its darkest chapters – we must teach black history, 15 June).

He will know that from the 1960s to the 1980s there were serious efforts to establish such education in history and English in London and other parts of the UK. They were supported by the Inner London Education Authority with its multicultural inspectorate, by organisations such as the National Association for the Teaching of English, and by journals such as Teaching London Kids and The English and Media Magazine.

From 1963 to 1972 I worked in a London school which had a multi-ethnic staff and a rich black literature curriculum combined with a range of history teaching materials, teacher exchanges to and from the Caribbean, and links with Caribbean writers through New Beacon Books.

Implementing these initiatives was always a struggle, and the wonderful young people now calling for such changes need to be aware of how deeply political the opposition will be. It was the national curriculum itself, hailed as a “reform”, that thinned down black studies in schools so much that my teacher training students in the 1990s and 2000s had to be taught everything about slavery from scratch, in order to read and understand Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
Dr Carol Fox
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

• As an institution committed to being the most inclusive research-intensive university in the world, Queen Mary University of London takes its responsibility to confront social injustice extremely seriously. Contrary to the impression given by your article (Only a fifth of UK universities say they are ‘decolonising’ curriculum, 11 June), Queen Mary is progressing multiple initiatives aimed at making sure the education we offer reflects our diverse student body. Central to this is a commitment to giving students not only a voice but an active role in shaping the nature of the education we provide. This principle of “co-creation” is being applied in all of our faculties and schools to ensure that every student can see themselves in the discipline’s curriculum.
Prof Stephanie Marshall
Vice-principal (education), Queen Mary University of London

• Cecil Rhodes’ legacy to Oxford University, based on massive wealth accrued from exploiting the people and natural resources of southern Africa, is dedicated to his vision for well-educated leadership. Originally imperialist in distribution, the current allocation of scholarships remains fundamentally biased: only about 7% of the Rhodes Trust’s £32m income is earmarked for southern African scholarships, compared with about 66% for North America and Australasia. The Trust’s current “global expansion” is further diluting the benefit to southern Africa (projected to be about 3%). So far, Rhodes’ will has been altered by two acts of parliament – a means by which perhaps all ill-gotten legacies might be better redeployed to benefit communities still experiencing postcolonial deprivation.
George Lambrick

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