‘We can’t believe it’: Cambridge College master slams slave trader’s blade

T.At the center of a controversy over the memorial to a benefactor who is a Cambridge University College master who was involved in the slave trade, he described a church court’s recent ruling that it should be in the college chapel “amazing”.

Jesus College applied to the Diocese of Eli to remove the monument to his 17th-century benefactor Tobias Rustat, whose relationship with slavery is universally recognized, and put it up for display on another site on the college. They argued that its presence was having a negative effect on the mission and ministry of the church.

Speaking to The Guardian after losing the case, Sonita Aline, a master at Jesus College, said the decision was a “deep moment” for the Church of England, which has apologized for its links to the transatlantic slave trade. “This is the first test for the church,” he said, “a church that was owned by slaves in the 17th century.”

This is a test that the church seems to have failed. “It’s a church that tells black people: you have to stand up and keep quiet and pray under the memory of a slave trader,” Allen said. “It’s very, very frustrating. How can they reach this conclusion?

Allen, the first black master at Oxbridge College and the first woman to lead Jesus College since its inception in 1496, was born in Bridgetown, Barbados and grew up in Laytonstone, East London, a Seventh-day Adventist. His sense of disbelief in the verdict is audible. “There is such a thing as ethnic dignity in worship. This is a thing that has been ignored.

“A memorial to someone who has invested in wholesale murder, death, slavery, torture – is it more important than the feeling of being able to stay in church in a comfortable way?” And if we don’t like it, should we just suck it or not come in?

“The Church of England sits at the center of Anglican communion around the world. The average Anglican is a 30-year-old African woman. What do we mean by this verdict?”

Since Allen assumed his role as the 41st Master of Jesus College in October 2019, he has led the college not only in an epidemic but also in the process of critical self-reflection while examining the long-term legacy of slavery and colonial violence. . His personal message about the assassination of George Floyd received widespread attention, as was the return of looted Benin bronze cockerel to delegates from Nigeria.

Allen with Prince Agatis Erediauar during a ceremony at Jesus College to return the looted Benin bronze to Nigeria.
Allen with Prince Agatis Erediauar during a ceremony at Jesus College to return the looted Benin bronze to Nigeria. Photo: Joe Giddens / PA

His tenure also coincided with the growing diversity at Cambridge University. The 2020 team at Jesus College has been described as “the most diverse in history” with more than four out of five students in state schools and colleges and one in three students of color.

She is keen to highlight her work to develop better career support for students, so it’s not just about entering Cambridge and leaving with a good degree, but also about finding a rewarding career and improving social mobility, especially for the most disadvantaged. To that end, he encouraged entrepreneurship, consulting, speed networking, career discussions, internships and work experience opportunities, especially in the creative industry where he made his name, founding the production company Smithin ‘Els, which he led until 2009.

Allen wants to encourage college members to differentiate between the larger Cambridge community, especially neighboring Abbey Ward, which scores high on all indicators of social deprivation, and he is a sponsor of Red Hen, a charity that supports local primary. Schoolgirls and their families.

However, good or bad, the controversy surrounding the Rustat Memorial has earned him the most column inches.

Wednesday’s ruling that the Rustat Memorial should remain in the chapel came after resistance from a group of 70 college alumni who opposed the plan to remove it, arguing that Charles II’s one-time courtiers were misrepresented.

The verdict agreed with them that the opposition to the ornate commemorative stone designed by Greenling Gibbons was based on “a misrepresentation” of the scale of Rust’s financial rewards from slavery. It turns out that Roost’s investment in the Royal Adventurers’ slave business did not bring him any financial gain at all, while his investment in the Royal African Company did not materialize until 20 years after his gift to the college.

Allen argued that subtle research had shown that Rustat was “heavily involved”, at the same level as Edward Colston, whose statue was smashed in Bristol in 2020, and he was shocked that he was less successful as a slave trader. Judgment to help justify keeping the memorial in place.

“He did not receive any dividends, but he sat in on the meeting. He knew how many people were lost at sea, how many belongings were lost. It is a real investor in the transatlantic slave trade, one of the most successful companies. People died. People were branded. People are raped. It was done to kill people. “

Memorial to Tobias Rustat at Jesus College, University of Cambridge.
Memorial to Tobias Rust at Jesus College. Photo: Joe Giddens / PA

The verdict came as a surprise to many after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, came out in support of removing the monument, urging the church to change its practices. Allen expressed outrage that after competing and losing the case, Jesus’ increasingly diverse community was now expected to return to the chapel and move forward with it in the shadow of the slave-merchant’s memorial.

“It’s a very memorable moment – it was a moment for the church to compensate for its involvement in the slave trade in the past,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. It’s offensive. It’s like telling Rosa Park: You’ve got your fun. Now you go to the back of the bus. This is nonsense.

“People in this community are no longer in the community and what the community is about and what the youth are judging now. We can’t believe it worked. “

The college is considering whether to seek leave for appeal. Meanwhile, Allen, a graduate of Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, feels reluctant to enter the chapel and would consider staging official events elsewhere, usually in the chapel – such as scholarships.

“It simply came to our notice then. The church is meant to love all of us. You can’t just say you love us. You have to show it. The idea you just say: up and shut up and take it now… we don’t just have to take it from the church.

“It simply came to our notice then. What does that verdict say? They’re basically saying: If you don’t want to come in, just go, and don’t come, because it doesn’t matter.

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