Legacy of Slavery Inquiry
Jesus College is currently involved in a process of critical self-reflection on the long-term effects of slavery and colonial violence.
The Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP) was founded in May 2019 and is composed of academics, students and the College archivist. In addition, the LSWP also has an external member who ensures external scrutiny of its work: Professor Verene Shepherd, who is a world expert in the history of enslavement from the University of the West Indies, as well as Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The LSWP is independent of the College Council (the College’s governing body), carrying out research and preparing recommendations as a basis for consideration and decision by Council.
In late April 2019, the University of Cambridge announced an inquiry into historical links to slavery.
The College had been in conversation with the University prior to the announcement. It set up Jesus College’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP) in early May 2019 and announced it on 1 July 2019. The LSWP’s work runs separately from, but in parallel with, the University of Cambridge's Legacies of Enslavement Inquiry. In addition, Jesus College also offered full support to the University Inquiry, including opening the College archives to researchers.
In November 2019, Jesus College's LSWP proposed interim recommendations about the College's Benin Bronze cockerel and the memorialisation of benefector Tobias Rustat. Following this, Jesus College's Council decided that the Benin Bronze cockerel would be returned - subject to permission from the Charity Commission - and that the College would acknowledge and contextualise Tobias Rustat's role in our history.
In November 2020, following further recommendations by the LSWP, Jesus College decided that Tobias Rustat’s name should remain displayed on its donor wall, but to make changes wherever he is explicitly celebrated in College.
In December 2020, following an application by the College under s.106 of the Charities Act 2011, the Charity Commission authorised the transfer of the Bronze to the current Oba of Benin. In the same month, the College served public notice of its application to the Diocese of Ely to relocate the Chapel memorial to Tobias Rustat. The public notice period ran until 23 January 2021 and involved gathering the views of various heritage advisory bodies.
In February 2021, the College began the process of considering the views of these various heritage advisory bodies which had been gathered in this first consultation round. This process served as a basis for finetuning its formal proposal to relocate the memorial to a more fitting educational space within the College.
In May 2021, the College submitted its application to the Diocese of Ely to relocate Tobias Rustat’s memorial from the Chapel to a permanent educational exhibition space in East House.
In summer 2021, the LSWP organised a Research Internship Programme. Six undergraduate and graduate researchers, remunerated by the College, worked in collaboration with LSWP academics over a period of nine weeks. They undertook research in the College Archives and Old Library, combined with online work on databases and digital collections on each of the LSWP’s four research strands: People, Money, Objects and Ideas.
On 27 October 2021, Jesus College became the first institution in the world to return a Benin Bronze, presenting it to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments. Delegates from Nigeria and Benin took part in a ceremony to complete the handover process and celebrate the rightful return of the Bronze.
In February 2022, the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Ely sat to consider the College’s case for the relocation of the memorial commemorating Tobias Rustat.
In March 2022, the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Ely published its decision and full judgment on the petition for a faculty for the relocation of the Rustat memorial, and the College published a statement on the decision.
In April 2022, the College announced that it will not appeal the Consistory Court judgment which prevents a celebratory memorial to Tobias Rustat being moved from its Chapel, and called on the Church of England to change how it deals with matters of racial injustice and contested heritage.
In June 2022, the first report of the Archbishops’ Commission for Racial Justice included a commentary on the Consistory Court process in general and the Rustat case in particular. The report supported many of the points made by the College, and noted that: “The outcome of the Rustat case has implications for the Church of England which extend beyond the community immediately affected, and presents a systemic challenge which requires a response if its commitment to racial justice is not to be undermined. Heritage conservation issues, which are of course at the heart of planning law in this area, seem to have been given a paramount place over and above the interests of mission and Christian worship. The balance needs now to be redressed.”
In September 2022, the University of Cambridge Advisory Group on Legacies of Enslavement published its final report, giving examples of collegiate Cambridge’s historical connections to enslavement and the slave trade. The LSWP’s rigorous examination of this College’s possible links with the slave trade, and with colonial violence, is ongoing. The detailed findings of the Inquiry, as well as practical recommendations for future actions, will be published in autumn 2023 in the LSWP’s final report.
In October 2022, the final costs for the Rustat case came in at £175,000. This was higher than anticipated, due to £50,000 of costs imposed by the Ely Diocesan registry on the College. This reinforces the College’s previous comments that the Consistory Court process is in need of reform. The first report of the Archbishop’s Commission for Racial Justice commented that the Church’s process is “prohibitively expensive”.
The College will consider, as a community, how to contextualise the memorial.