Statement from the leader of the Council
Council Leader Tudor Evans made this statement to the Cabinet on 9 June:
I would like to start by saying our thoughts are with the family and friends of George Floyd. As a Council we have already signalled that we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and everyone who continues to challenge racism, discrimination and inequality.
As a gesture of Plymouth’s support we lit some of our landmarks in purple over the weekend.
This terrible event in the US illustrates how deeply discrimination and oppression – both past and present – are felt and it has highlighted once again that Plymouth needs to continue to acknowledge some aspects of its own past.
We have an incredible maritime history are we very proud of this heritage but we also recognise that the way in which the stories of those seafarers has been told over the centuries has until recent years, downplayed the role that Elizabethan sailors such as Sir John Hawkins played in the slave trade.
We cannot change history and nor do we seek to but we can use it as a reminder of the atrocities of the past and as a way of remembering the victims of slavery and oppression.
We recognise our responsibility for ensuring we condemn the role these figures played in this awful trade and how offensive many people find what they see as their glorification.
The Box, which will open later this year, will tell a much fuller story about our city’s seafaring history and will fully acknowledge the terrible role that the likes of Sir John Hawkins played in the slave trade.
We fully understand the feelings of those who find the naming of a square created in the early 1980s after Hawkins offensive and we have listened and started the process of renaming the square.
We also think it is important to acknowledge and commemorate the victims of the slave trade with a new memorial to those who lost their lives and liberty. We will put this in the Peace Garden on The Hoe.
We will also aim to ensure that where possible existing monuments such as the listed statue of Sir Francis Drake on The Hoe are accompanied by a narrative referring to their role in the slave trade.
While we acknowledge this terrible side to our city’s history, we also need to remember that Plymouth played an important role in the eventual abolition of the slave trade and that it also has a long and proud history of welcoming oppressed communities.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Is the Council going to remove the statue of Drake on Plymouth Hoe?
No, we do not plan to remove the statue of Sir Francis Drake which has stood on Plymouth Hoe since 1884.
As most historians will tell you, many famous names from this period of history were involved in practices that we now find deplorable.
We will continue to acknowledge the important role Drake played in this nation’s history, as well as in the history and development of Plymouth, while always also acknowledging that he was involved in privateering and the terrible practice of trading slaves.
Rather than remove the statue we feel we have a duty to tell the full story of what he did and use this to help remember those who suffered as a result of the slave trade.
We already had plans to do this in The Box, the major new visitor attraction, which will open later this year. This tells the fuller story about Drake and other seafarers of the time who were involved in slave trading and privateering.
We are also planning to install a memorial to those who suffered and lost their lives due to the slave trade in the nearby Peace Garden on The Hoe.
As a city we will always stand firm against inequality and oppression and do everything we can to fight discrimination of any kind.
Are you going to rename Sir John Hawkins Square?
Yes. We have already removed the signs on the square and will start the renaming process, which involves an opportunity for people to give their views. We are doing this because we have listened to views and recognise it causes particular offence due to Hawkins’ close involvement in the slave trade.
Why are you changing the name of the square but not removing the statue of Drake?
Hawkins was a famous seafarer who was more closely associated with the slave trade, as his own crest depicts. We have listened to the views about the offence the relatively recent naming of this square (early 1980s) causes.
Is the Council planning to rename everything named after Drake and Hawkins?
No, we do not intend to make other changes to names. We will tell the full story about the people they are named after and acknowledge that as well as their more celebrated exploits, they were also involved in some terrible practices.