I was pleased to see the decision of the governors of Colston's Girl's School in Bristol not to change the name of the school, despite all the moralising urgings.
Edward Colston was deputy governor of the Royal African Company in the late 17th century and it had a monopoly on shipping slaves from west Africa to the Americas. Over time, over half a million African people were transported in Bristol ships. In 1710, Colston funded a school for poor boys and it is this which was the precursor of today's Colston's Girls.
On Friday, The Times quoted a letter to parents:
“There is no doubt that Colston’s Girls’ School exists today as an outstanding school for girls, nationally known for its academic excellence and well respected for its inclusivity and diversity, because of the financial endowment given by Edward Colston, but we see no benefit in denying the school’s financial origin and obscuring history itself. To the contrary, by enabling our students to engage thoughtfully with our past, we continue to encourage them to ask questions about present-day moral values and to stand up for what they believe is right.”
The school says it will use its annual commemoration day to raise awareness of “injustices arising from the history and legacies of slavery”.
The campaigners to erase Colston's name from the city's streets and buildings have had some success, but there has been considerable opposition – some of it rather risable. There are some, for example, who say that the buildings, streets, etc are named because of Colston's philanthropy, not his slaving, and we should remember the one whilst deploring the other. This seems a ludicrous argument given that the money for his philanthropy came from his slaving. It seems to me that the school has the balance right here.
But there's another question: How did a school set up for absolutely poor boys become one for relatively rich girls?