“Built in 1927, The UWI’s oldest hall of residence on the St Augustine Campus still pays tribute to a man who was in the vanguard of the genocidal late 19th Century European imperialist project in Africa, which brutally wiped out large numbers of many ethnic groups while using forced labour to plunder the continent’s resources.”
The following Letter to the Editor, which highlights the UWI’s stance on Milner Hall, was submitted to Wired868 by Shabaka Kambon:
Addressing an orientation ceremony for new students at the Cave Hill Campus last month, Vice Chancellor of The University of the West Indies Professor Sir Hilary Beckles said that it was “unconscionable for the name of Alfred Milner to remain in a place of honour, on a UWI campus as the university enters its 70th year as an independent Caribbean institution.”
The name, he said, “must go.”
Over the last year, the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project (CRFP) has held a number of consultations with university students, including one with Milner Hall residents, in an effort to push through a name change. This unambiguous statement by one of the region’s leading luminaries is, therefore, welcome news to us.
Built in 1927, The UWI’s oldest hall of residence on the St Augustine Campus still pays tribute to a man who was in the vanguard of the genocidal late 19th Century European imperialist project in Africa, which brutally wiped out large numbers of many ethnic groups while using forced labour to plunder the continent’s resources.
Lord Viscount Alfred Milner, a close collaborator of Cecil John Rhodes, was appointed British High Commissioner to Cape Colony (South Africa) in the late 1890s. He quickly provoked the Second Boer War (1899-1902) to seize control for Britain of the richest colony in Africa.
Believing that they would have a chance of regaining the lands that the Boers had stolen from them, Africans threw their support behind his war effort. That ensured a British victory but Milner refused to honour the legitimate expectations of a people he regarded disdainfully as “the most primitive savages.”
Instead of protecting the interests of his black allies, the self-proclaimed “British race patriot” cut a deal with his former white enemies, then worked with them to formulate a new framework of racial segregation which would eventually become known as “Apartheid.” This makes Milner if not the “father of Apartheid,” at least one of the founding fathers of a set up that Historian William Pomeroy described as, “an internal colonial system of the most ruthless kind,” in which “racism [is] carried to an extreme.”
Accordingly, in the peace treaty of 1902, he restored the two Boer republics as autonomous states and agreed with the Boer generals to forcibly appropriate the vast majority of native lands still under African control. By 1925, the year of Milner’s death, Africans had been dispossessed of 87% of their land and herded onto reservations—later called Bantustans—systematically organised to perpetuate absolute underdevelopment.
Milner understood the critical importance of education as the primary agency of colonisation of the mind and as a critical medium to disseminate his ideology of imperial federation. Immediately after the war, he created a new institution of imperial indoctrination, commonly called Milner’s Kindergarten.
His young protégés included Oxford graduates, whom he would train as the next generation of colonial administrators—their mission similar to that of graduates of the French École Coloniale (Colonial School, established 1889)—to become the new captains of British race supremacy and imperial federation across the globe.
Unknown to most people, the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA), which became the Faculty of Agriculture at The UWI’s St Augustine Campus, was his brainchild. It was conceived in the period when he served as Britain’s Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1919 to 1921 during the Milner’s Kindergarten era of global supremacy through the control and advancement of scientific knowledge.
Milner Hall got its name two years after the Britisher’s death in 1925. Since then, many name changes have been effected. In 1948, the ICTA became the University College of the West Indies and, in 1960, it became the St Augustine Campus of The University of the West Indies.
Many buildings on the Campus have been named to reflect the humanitarian values of The UWI and the Caribbean community it serves: “The Alma Jordan Library,” the “Dudley Huggins Building” and “Daaga Hall” are but three well-known examples. Yet for 90-plus years, Milner Hall has steadfastly, and heedlessly, continued to glorify the founding father of Apartheid.
At the CRFP Milner Hall student forum in April, current Hall Chairperson Dayteon Mitchell was among a group of students who argued, in all seriousness, that we should be thankful for slavery. Mitchell explained his opposition to a name change this way: “Without imperialism and colonialism, we would not be here today. It has brought so much positive things to the Caribbean.”
In stark contrast, current St Vincent MP and former Hall Chair (1999-2000) Roland Matthews finds Mitchell’s position absurd. Speaking for a group of former Hall residents who would welcome a name change, he declared: “As a Caribbean person, I think it is insulting to have this hall named after Milner.”
In full agreement with the position taken by this group, the CRFP on 22 June wrote Principal of the St Augustine Campus Professor Brian Copeland to tell him succinctly that: “We can no longer tolerate the continuation of this abomination.”
The organisation has requested that The University consider renaming the Hall after Caribbean hero, Henry Sylvester Williams, whose travels took him to practise law in South Africa, where he opposed the efforts of Milner and his colleagues to establish their racialised system of oppression.
Williams was born in Barbados and grew up in Trinidad and Tobago not far from the St Augustine Campus before going on to become internationally renowned as the Father of Pan Africanism.
We are one week short of four months since that request was made and, despite growing disquiet across the region since the CRFP first raised the issue, Dr Copeland has not so far issued a formal response.
Whatever the university’s response, CRFP are likely to have a fight on their hands; Mitchell and his team are said to be determined to stand in the way of any change of name.