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Dear Editor: UWI’s Milner Hall an enduring monument to post-colonial mindlessness

“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:

Photo: Shabaka Kambon of Cross Rhodes TT discusses Milner Hall at the Central Bank Auditorium in July 2017.

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.

Photo: UWI’s Milner Hall.

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.

Photo: The late Viscount Alfred Milner.

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.

Photo: UWI Chancellor Phillip Copeland.
(Copyright UWI)

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.

Photo: Henry Sylvester Williams was a Trinidadian lawyer, councillor and writer, most noted for his involvement in the Pan-African Movement.

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.

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56 comments

  1. Many said we could not do it but now it is official Caribbean People: The oldest hall of residence at the University of the West Indies will no Longer celebrate the Father of Apartheid Lord Viscount Alfred Milner.

  2. Tell me one Nation that has not enslaved it’s own from time immemorial and show me the honesty of all mankind today in respect of treatment to persons of lower priviliges/class in our societies.

    • This is another one of those lazy, disingenuous excuses that need t be confronted whenever it arises.

      Enforced servitude is something that is practically universal and is as old as mankind. But the dishonesty here stems from the way Western chattel slavery is spoken of as if *that* was universal. It is brought out whenever people bring up their atrocities and then its applied across the board and read back into history as if all cultures engaged in that lifelong, dehumanising form of slavery.

      In Africa, the slave systems that existed were for the most part not slavery at all but forms of bond service. The slave was often a prisoner of war or someone who offered himself/herself into servitude to pay off a debt. They, however, were afforded proper treatment, could seek redress for any abuses, often married into the master’s family and even rose to royal prominence in the community (for comparison, show me one enslaved African who became the king of France, England or Spain. On the other hand, Malick Ambar, who was sold into slavery in the Indian Ocean, eventually became Prince Regent in India, is buried there and there is either a library or university named after him in India.

      In the region known as Darfur, it was the slaves, who were the ones who were empowered to elect a new monarch or Prince. Their bond service also frequently ended whereas in Europe it was lifelong, it was essentially capitalistic, and there was a racial or racist element in it. So let’s be honest when we are going to bring out the topic of “universal” slavery

    • Whatever is chosen to glorify, support, explain, discriminate, justify, etc. it would still be “slavery”, an apple by any other name is still an apple. When we use ” education” to explain things in our favour or to justify our own thinking, that is reprehensible.

    • Douglas Fisher I don’t know about you, but I use “education” to make sense of and to explain the immense complexity and diversity of human behaviour. I have no time for mental laziness and even less for people who choose to be disingenuous.

      I am not excusing slavery of any kind; I am simply pointing out something that is *not* pointed out — for obvious reasons — in Western academia. Eurocentric academia has a tendency to generalise specific types of domination and oppression, read it back into history as of all people, all cultures did the same thing the same way and so justify current forms of domination being undertaken by the political and military institutions on behalf of the economic elites. All slavery was NOT the same, the dehumanising conditions of European chattel slavery was NOT universal, please be informed accordingly.

  3. Shabaka, this is what I was referring to. For all those who insist that the names and statues to Columbus, Milner, Churchill, Picton, Harris, Scrimgeour, Abercrombie, et all to remain (as they are part of our history), ok; note the proposed wording on the plaque. If you want to talk about not erasing history or being selective, then there should be no objections to something like this:
    http://abcnews4.com/news/local/city-takes-first-look-at-plaque-that-would-add-slavery-context-to-john-c-calhoun-statue

  4. Wow! I guess woke has fallen asleep.

  5. After UWI Vice Chancellor Professor Hillary Beckles painstakingly outlined the facts at the UWi Town Hall Meeting on Renaming. After he explained that Milner was indeed the Father of Apartheid and that South Africans were planning to posthumously charge him with crimes against humanity. After he deconstructed his diabolical plans for Africa and Asia and laid them bare for all to see. After he explained Milner’s view of non white people as the most primitive savages, and demonstrated that through his power and his policies he was able to make those views effective in the marginalization of those people up to the present and into the foreseeable future. This student, Chair of Milner Hall Daytean Mitchell lead residents of the Hall to stand and to put a hand over their heart and to raise the other to the sky recite their pledge then leave the auditorium chanting Milner! Milner! Milner! And believe it or not, he had the full support of certain senior lecturers.Try as i might I cannot un-see or un-remember this incident. By far the worst thing I have seen since I started this project back in January last year. A sad day for the people of the Plug Caribbeanean. A sad day for the University of the West Indies…Shame Shame Shame !

  6. I will go and look for that sign post….

  7. Vice Chancellor drops bombshell at Town Hall Meeting: Cobley (pic below) report concurs with Cross Rhodes Freedom Project “Lord Milner is not a fit and proper person to be revered by the University of the West Indies.” #RhodesMustFallCaribbean #RenameMilnerHall #UoWIStAugustine

  8. Shocking footage has emerged of Milner Hall Chair defending Slavery Colonialism and Imperialism in order to continue the heedless veneration of the father of Apartheid. Read transcript then click link below to view video #RenameMilnerHall …….. Hall Chair Dayteon Mitchell: Hi good night everyone, a couple points I want to bring across, with all the negative impacts colonialism has had, colonialism and imperialism, without this where would we be today? that’s a real question I’m asking you all the panelists. Where would we be for today?
    So, you all are saying that the fact that I applauded slavery is a bad thing, but it is not because ideally without it, you would not be here today.
    None of us would be here for today!
    Mohammed Muwakil: What about slavery are you applauding?
    Anonymous other: So you had no faith in yourself as a Blackman before that?
    Tobago: I never said that
    Shabaka Kambon: guys hold on I want everybody to have a chance to make their contributions, please let the brother finish, go ahead brother
    Dayteon Mitchell: all right, what I’m saying right, is we can’t know where we are going without knowing where we came from, so using Viscount Milner as the sole point to change the name because of what he has done should not affect us as who we are, we should look back at what he has done and look away from that in order to move forward solely and holistically as a Caribbean, because without imperialism and colonialism we wouldn’t be here today; and this has brought so much positive things to the Caribbean, because as a Caribbean person when they go to Europe they are seen as an icon.
    Some may see it negative, some may see it positive, everywhere in the world you go there is negative and positive but there is mostly positive when we go away, a person will say well he is from the Caribbean so he is special.
    Persons don’t know about Caribbean identity until they come here and when you come is a whole lot of things you have to experience because Trinidad is not Trinidad alone, Trinidad has a different identity from other Caribbean islands as well. Carnival, Easter, things like this, without imperialism and colonialism what would we have to speak about for today? that’s my real question. http://www.kizoa.com/Movie-Video-Slideshow-Maker/d147040357k9622025o1l1/raw-uwi-milner-hall-chair-in-shocking-defense-of-slavey-imperialism-and-colonialism

  9. The tragedy is that this kids are our future leaders, and professionals so instead of moving on to a more liberated society, we are going to continue the legacy of the past centuries which is white supremacy. Those kids believed they are lucky Europeans kidnaped and enslaved their ancestors for hundreds of years so they can be out of what they called “a wild and savage land” Africa. I have heard some members of the indigenous community expressed similar views such as “if it wasn’t for Columbus we will be barbarians we’ve got to be grateful that he brought civilization and God to us”
    It is precisely through this kind f public discussion and dialogue that we can evaluate where we are as a people and where we want to be. What is our responsibility to future generations? To leave things untouched, not to bother now because we have more important things to worry about? This argument translate into intelectual laziness. As an evolving, developing society we have a responsibility according to Frantz Fanon, to clinically detect and remove the germ of rot that imperialism leaves behind in our minds and land as well. If as a people we are incapable of embracing enlightenment we might as well leave all the names as they are except one change Trinidad and Tobago to Jurassic Park.

  10. The way they are going about changing all names, I think we should just name everything after Nature. Use trees, flowers, etc and end the confusion. Any name they choose might be a no-no in fifty years.

  11. Majoring in minors, the hallmark of the Kambon brand. My father was in Milner Hall. He studied at the Imperial College for Tropical Agriculture, as it was known then, in the 1950’s. He came from Ghana. My brother lived on Milner Hall in the 1990’s. What will the change of a name do? When I came here from Ghana in the 1980’s, the Kambons, who were talking Black Power had never even set foot in the “Africa: which they pretended to love. What is in a name? The reality is that ICTA was a colonial institution. Deal with it. We cannot erase our past by changing a name. UWI has already erased the cocoa research facilites -Republic Bank has built a Branch on the green space which was part of the Experimental Farm. The Faculty of Education has built on the Cocoa Reserves. The important research which was done on the campus has been eradicated,unlamented. So you are not worried about the important academic research, but the name? SMH

  12. Lasana I appreciate the tag but I am still wary of making input on this due to the unclear nature of the movement advocating for changes. I am not a history expert and I have done a little reading on the current personage after whom Milner Hall is named and on the figure whose name it has been suggested should replace it. It seems that the argument comes down to replacing the name of the one purported in some references to be a “racist” with the other who is symbolic in the fight for the rights of those who have suffered in the name of imperialism/slavery. However, the intents as described in differing narratives of the two wrt the West Indies suggests that there are conflicts in the way that history documents their ‘contributions’ i.e. the two had other ambitions and political motives. If I had to take only history in here I think the problem lies in what you are looking at; is it the struggle of black people in the fight against imperialism/slavery or is it the building of the West Indies? What aspect of the two are you taking into account when making this decision? I honestly can’t say. I would leave that call for the history experts. Thus far, I have not seen this movement’s specific objectives and I look forward to being pointed to their resource page that describes what they are setting out to do, why and what will it accomplish for the Caribbean. The symbolism of monuments and a colonial past are more than just names and statues. The symbols that we build from now on, if the old order needs to be reviewed and possibly replaced, cannot come down to a war of historical representation. I think the argument would need to originate in a discussion on where we stand in representing the history, culture and contributions of the many different peoples who make up this region.

  13. If they are lucky, if we are lucky, they will graduate soon and be gone. They even say they are consulting past Hitlerites, oh, sorry, Milnerites.

  14. tell Mr Beckles with all due respect there are far more important tings to be done at Uwi you an use your good office to work on ,this is just an ego trip,we in the region did not suffer a civil war the national anthem of the usa is the issue here ,then end the rhodes scholarship then in a similar vein.

  15. Explain to me after reading the history behind the naming MIlner Hall , one can justify retaining the name and talk about bonds f brother hood? Really! I agree with Sir Hilary Beckles change the name. Act now Prof Copeland, don’t dodge this issue. why we want to hold on to this name? we talk about ‘we free’

  16. I like that … The Henry Sylvester Williams and George Padmore Hall of Residence.
    It’s about time to correct this! Decolonisation of the mind and the right place to start … at UWI.

  17. Hmm, I’ve been saying so since my UG days. However, there are those who lived on hall, and are protesting it because of the fraternal bonds.

  18. No response in 4 months?! What, pray tell, could possibly be the issue?

  19. “Without imperialism and colonialism, we would not be here today. It has brought so much positive things to the Caribbean.” – Dayteon Mitchell

    I wonder if successful Jews in New York does say “Thank goodness we had the Holocaust, or else we would not be here today.”?

  20. It is about time. We really are a clueless people. And it starts with UWI. Why, in 2017, is the main auditorium named after a man who has nothing to do with the West Indies and, indeed, almost launched a nuclear bomb within the region? (JFK, if you were wondering). Is he a Caribbean man?

  21. They should organise beach limes at Columbus Bay.

  22. The name needs changing. Punto finale.