Protesters target Robert Geffrye statue with red paint

Robert Geffrye’s hands painted red Pic: Lynda Aitken

Hackney anti-racist campaigners have described a protest which saw the hands on the replica statue of 17th-century merchant and slave trader Sir Robert Geffrye’s painted red as “powerful”.

Police are investigating the action outside the Hackney Museum of the Home – formerly the Geffrye museum – after the museum reported the incident.

Sasha Simic of the Hackney Stand Up To Racism Campaign (HSUTRC) told Eastlondonlines that the incident was a particularly effective and artistic way of underlying the reality of British history.

Simic said: “Geffrye’s hands, as are the hands of all the founders of the British establishment, stained with the blood of millions of transported slaves. That’s what this statement said so powerfully.”

There was also a message left in red paint at the gatepost that read: “The blood on Geffrye’s hands is the blood of our ancestors”

This incident has highlighted the controversy over the museum’s recent decision to keep the slave owner’s figure thereafter a petition of over 2,000 signatures called for its removal. 

Geffrye profited from the African slave trade. A statement on the museum’s website outlined: “He part-owned a slave ship called the China Merchant. He profited directly from the buying and selling of human beings. These profits were very likely sufficient to fund the core part of his legacy.”

HSUTRC held three demonstrations at the museum.

Red paint used to write message on gatepost : Pic taken by Lynda Aitken

Simic told Eastlondonlines: “Black lives matter activists in Bristol took direct action to remove a statue of the Bristol slaver Edward Colston.”

“The trustees acknowledged that Geffrye “profited directly from the buying and selling of human beings ” and they admitted, “the response of the consultation was in favour of removing the statue.”

“But in late June the board of trustees of The Museum of the Home announced they would not be taking the statue down.”

“That’s when we held our first demonstration which was well attended and where three Black Labour councillors spoke to denounce the trustees’ decision.”

“We held our second demonstration in August shortly after we learned  that considerable pressure was put on the trustees and staff at the museum to keep the statue of Robert Geffrye standing on its plinth irrespective of what the people of Hackney desired.”

“Our third demonstration again was at the Museum of the Home on 18th September 2020 which was the intended re-opening date of the Museum after a two-year refurbishment had closed it. We had a number of speakers at the protest including a member of Hackney NEY (teacher’s union) in which they pledged to join the campaign and boycott the Museum until Geffrye’s statue came down. That pledge was made official by Hackney NEU this week. “

“Our argument is that if the British Museum can remove the bust of its founder and put him on display in the institution where his role in the slave trade is made open and transparent, then why can’t The Museum of the Home do the same with their statue of Geffrye?”

Philip Glanville Mayor of Hackney said in a statement to the Hackney Citizen “that while he did not condone the action, he understood the sense of anger behind it.”

A consultation regarding the statue’s presence had a 71 percent vote of the 2,187 residents who responded calling for its removal.

Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, had been pressuring the museum to keep the statue up according to a freedom of information act request which revelled the MP had written to the museum reminding them that the government was their main source of funding.

A representative for the museum has said that the incident and damage have been reported to the local police, whilst they continue to explore what steps they may take with the statue to suit the best interests of both the community and the museum. 

The next demonstration by Stand up to Racism will be outside the museum at 6pm on Friday, October 30 as part of Black History Month.

Leave a Reply