The Geffrye Museum, renamed The Museum of the Home in 2019, is one of the UK’s first cultural institution to reverse its commitment to Black Lives Matter in 2020. The museum which has refused to abide by the decision of its own public consultation process elected to maintain the controversial figure of slaver, Robert Geffrye at its entrance.
Geffrye is described on their website as “an English merchant, who made part of his money from his involvement in the exploitative East India Company and Royal African Company and his persistent investment in the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans.”
Yet, in an announcement from the museum’s Board of Trustees, they declare “Following a process of reflection, debate and research, and a consultation conducted in partnership with Hackney Council, the Board of Trustees of the Museum has taken the decision not to remove the statue from the Museum’s buildings.”
The statement which falsely implicates Hackney Council in the decision continues; “We acknowledge the pain caused by the connections between the Museum buildings and the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans. The Black Lives Matter movement has demonstrated a profound need for people and institutions to educate themselves about the legacy of structural racism and colonialism.”
However, within days of stating its intent to maintain the status quo, the museum removed a reference to Black Lives Matter from its website which had read;
”We strongly believe that museums should not be neutral. As a sector we have a responsibility to be inclusive and accessible. We are committed to anti-racism and equity, and to working harder to make our organisation more representative”.
The museum's trustees include no people of African heritage with several of them, including the Chair, being directly appointed by Downing Street in 2018 via its Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
In June 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson aligned himself with violent far-right groups gathered in London to defend the statue of Winston Churchill. Expressing disapproval of the nationwide Black Live Matter protests he claimed that the removal of statues which immortalise immoral figures of history would be “to lie about our history”.
Alexandra Robson one of the trustees appointed by Matt Hancock MP to the museum is a member of the Conservative Party who has made donations to and canvassed for the party.
Museum of the Home removes BLM support in favour of retaining symbol of slavery
At a recent #BAMEOnline conference it was revealed that 1 in 12 trustees in the charity sector are called either John or David, while over 90% are European with an average age of 62. It is indicative of how the views of an elite group of trustees with little connection to Hackney have overturned the concerns and democratic process expressed in a consultation. The museum also ignored the thousands of people who supported a petition calling for the statue to be taken down by local resident Robin Priestley. He wrote; “Robert Geffrye should be condemned to the history books so that we can learn from the shameful past. He should no longer be celebrated with a prominent statue.”
In response to a demand for information from political activist and community champion Jermain Jackman, the museum has responded stating the diversity of the Board will be more representative by 2021.
Hackney resident and community educator, Toyin Agbetu said the Ligali Organisation is waiting for a response to several queries from the museum's director. He continued;
"In removing the Black Lives Matter statement at least the museum has admitted that they are biased, that they are not inclusive or accessible, and that they are not committed to anti-racism and equity. I struggle to believe that all of the staff and the curatorial team are ok with this. However, despite that, they are all implicated in these decisions and need to fight back. Simply stating I was merely following orders is not good enough. Doing the right thing isn't always easy, but it is always necessary."
External LinksThe story of the MuseumBoris Johnson says removing statues is to lie about our historyMuseum of the Homes decision to keep Robert Geffrye statue sees swift backlashGeffrye Museum Reappointments
The deleted Black Lives Matter Statement
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