Creation of a monument review commission

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The Cross Rhodes Freedom Project organized protests in 2020 demanding the removal of the statue of Christopher Columbus in Tamarind Square, Port of Spain. –

As the pandemic wanes, the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project hopes the government will follow through on its call for a committee to “identify, destroy, reuse or reconstruct all monuments, memorials, emblems, signs or symbols or the like that celebrate, commemorate and glorify racism and white supremacy.

The Cross Rhodes Freedom Project is part of the Caribbean Freedom Project. The name comes from the group’s first project, which focused on the legacy of British politician and mining magnate Cecil Rhodes, who is said to have been the architect of apartheid and a white supremacist.

Project director Shabaka Kambon said the phrase Cross Rhodes was used because Rhodes was the symbol of all the “colonial monsters” the band planned to tackle.

Shabaka Kambon calls on the Prime Minister to set up a commission to review all monuments. He says that if this is not done, TT could find themselves in an embarrassing situation. –

Kambon hopes the government will act ahead of Independence Day and before the National Museum of Wales displays the work of Trinidadian artists Gesiye and LakuNeg in its revamp of the story of Lt. Gen. Sir Thomas Picton.

Picton, governor from 1797 to 1803, was also known as the Tyrant of Trinidad or the Bloodstained Governor, according to https://museum.wales/, despite his earlier reputation as a hero.

Locally, the group is known for its work to remove Viscount Alfred Milner’s name from a residence hall on UWI’s St Augustine campus; remove the statue of Christopher Columbus from Independence Square, Port of Spain; and changes in signaling at the Lopinot domain.

Deleting the Milner name, Kambon says, “was our first project, although we launched both the Columbus Must Fall, the new Milner-Hall name and the Lopinot project at the same time, in June 2017.”

Milner, considered the right arm of Rhodes, was, according to Kambon, one of the godfathers of apartheid in South Africa. He established the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, which became UWI’s Faculty of Agriculture, and upon his death the hall was named in his honor. It is now the Freedom Hall.

Milner was the first to “fall”, in 2018, “then we decided to focus on Columbus and Lopinot at the same time, because we thought we had created the climate to do so”.

The Cross Rhodes Freedom Project began working with women’s organizations in the TT to tell the story of Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton. –

In 2021, the group had “the offensive sign” removed from the Lopinot estate. He engendered the respect of the French Comte de Loppinot and described “the slavers as illustrious while humiliating the people they trafficked and worked to death as loyal slaves.”

The Cross Rhodes Freedom Project described the sign in its No Loyal Slaves campaign as “shamefully misleading, unhistorical and psychologically damaging”. It was removed in January 2021 and the group hopes the names of enslaved Africans on the plantation, as well as indentured Indian workers, will be commemorated on new signs.

“We presented the authorities with many names of people who were enslaved there. We presented them with an alternative sign that tells the truth about the past. It’s a much more truthful take on slavery and a whole new narrative, something entirely new that could be done with this space that would make it a truly educational and uplifting space for the people of Trinidad and Tobago and visitors to the country. ”

In 2020, the group delivered a petition to Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez calling for the removal of the statue of Christopher Columbus. The council wanted the statue moved to the museum, but Martinez vetoed it, saying the matter was now a national issue, and sought the government’s advice.

The group wrote to the Prime Minister and petitioned Parliament,

“And on July 1, 2020, it was read and approved in the House without dissenting votes.”

Cross Rhodes Freedom Project director Shabaka Kambon gives the group’s first public presentation in July 2017 after the project launched in June. –

But with the growing threat of the pandemic and the upcoming general election, the issue has been put on the back burner.

The group now expects the government to move forward on the petition, which has been signed by prominent members of society, including a descendant of Hippolyte Borde, the wealthy local cocoa planter and trader who gave the statue to the city in 1880. The statue, which the group felt should have been moved to the national museum, has since been vandalized.

Kambon thinks that if the government does not act quickly on these colonial monuments, it will find itself in an embarrassing situation on a global scale: “Because the world is moving forward. When we launched this project in 2017, it was relatively new.”

The group’s attempt to start a national dialogue was met with “a lot of anxiety among key public officials. Nobody wanted to touch on the subject”. Not to do so was shameful, he said.

The current global momentum was why the government needed to act now, he said.

“Now the whole world is embracing the subject. The countries that sent these protagonists of all these great historical crimes, they are removing these people from places of public veneration.”

So, he said, a statue of “someone who was a supporter of slavery, genocide, enlistment and apartheid…should clearly be understood by everyone as a stand up to the values ​​we celebrate and publicly proclaim in this country, this region and around the world.”

Removing statues and monuments does not change the past, but Kambon said the idea was not to change the past and not hide it. He said Caribbean luminaries including UWI Vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles answered these questions with great clarity.

Shabaka Kambon was part of protests to remove Confederate monuments in New Orleans in 2018. –

“When you erect a monument to someone in a prominent place, you name a street after them, you put a statue of them, you name a square after them, which is considered, globally, an honor. .. something that is meant to inspire future generations to want to be like these people.”

Kambon said people around the world were beginning to favor the idea – with the Black Lives Matter movement helping to tip the scales – that all people are full human beings and should be considered and treated equally. equal.

This relatively new position was also the prerequisite for reparations for slavery.

He cited a statement to the media last year by Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, Sir Ronald Saunders, calling out the Spanish government for its role in promoting ‘discovery’. of the New World by Christopher Columbus.

When Barbados removed a statue of Lord Nelson from its national hero spot in 2020, the whole country understood that it was a united Barbados that removed Nelson, and Kambon wanted TT to come to a similar position.

He said the Caribbean lives in a social construct where logic has been decided in colonial violence. The work in progress consists of “tracing the contours of this violence to understand the steps we must take to free ourselves, to free our present and free our future”.

Kambon said that was why the project and his work were so poignant and important.

When asked if he thought the changes would happen, he said he was ‘a victim of this same social structure that is underpinned by white supremacy, which we are trying to recognize now and address’ , Dr. Rowley was constantly harassed by the racism embedded in society.

“I am absolutely certain that we will get a positive response from our Prime Minister.”

Kambon was confident that Rowley would show “civic courage and moral clarity on this issue. And we will move forward now that the country is coming out of lockdown. »

He believes that change must happen as soon as possible.

“The nature of our society, the caste system that exists here, follows the colonial logic of white over brown over black.

“People suffer from this caste system every day. People live and die in poverty. People die younger than they should. We have chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure and so on. , reducing our life expectancy.

All of this, he said, stems from “our failure to recognize the violence of our past and therefore to deal with the consequences of the legacy in our present.”

The Cross Rhodes Freedom Project wants to speed up the process, he said. Next comes the petition to Parliament to create the commission.

“Anything that celebrates racism and white supremacy, anything that is an affront to the stated values ​​of the people of this country needs to be carefully considered.

“We must rescue our heroes from the dustbin of history. The people who defended the rights of our people against these colonial monsters, they are the ones we must celebrate. »

He said TT’s most famous colonial icon is Sir Ralph James Woodford, commemorated by Woodford Square, Woodford Street, Woodford Café, a life-size marble monument in the Anglican Cathedral and a plaque in the Catholic Cathedral.

But he added that Woodford was also the most notorious racist and white supremacist in TT history.

“He publicly called on white people in this country to be extremely tough on people of color and separated everything from pews to cemeteries. Blacks and whites were never meant to be equal or to sit together.

“And the work that Woodford did during his reign as the most senior colonial governor still affects the people of TT to this day.”

Kambon said Woodford was opposed by Father Francis de Ridder, this country’s first colored RC priest, who established the first desegregated primary school and church, in Woodford’s time. But TT forgot it and ignored it.

“The values ​​he represents do not seem worthy of public celebration. But the man who persecuted him to death, Governor Woodford, the litany of things Woodford did – that man is celebrated in relation to the man who upheld the values ​​we say we celebrate today.

The group is also participating in ongoing meetings with women’s organizations to further develop an education campaign about Picton’s crimes.

In the past, colonialism was considered “a beautiful time. We talk about colonial architecture, colonial food, colonial this…there’s a kind of fuzzy affectionate feeling.”

In fact, he says, “It was a time of apartheid” – a word he says is increasingly being used at the Caricom level – “and now we are coming to recognize that and use the language to recognize it.The legacy of this apartheid lives on in our society today and we will become much more specific with our language in the near future as we address the present and the future we want to see.

“We still have to move the authorities on the past. But the past is not our focus, it is the present and the future.


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