‘May have been a particularly harsh [slave] master’
The McGill University student paper has excised the school founder’s name from its moniker due to his “violence, colonialism and racism.”
And the editorial board of The McGill Tribune — now just The Tribune — wants the university itself to follow suit.
Although the school “frames its founder as a philanthropist,” it skirts around the fact that James McGill’s fortune was “amassed through the exploitation of enslaved people in Canada, the Caribbean, and the slave trade more broadly,” the editors say.
Tribune Editor-in-Chief Madison McLauchlan (pictured) told the Toronto Sun that ditching “McGill” was “long overdue” and since the paper “continued to editorialize against racism, against colonialism, we felt that we couldn’t in good faith continue to publish about injustices with ‘McGill’ on our paper.”
The Sun reports the university website does note that McGill’s wealth was accrued in part due to “engagement in the colonial economic system and the transatlantic slave trade,” and it “acknowledges the deep, long-lasting adverse impacts that these practices have exerted on Black and Indigenous communities.”
According to the 2020 report “Slavery and McGill University: Bicentenary Recommendations,” McGill owned the “extraordinary” quantity of five slaves in the late 1700s-early 1800s and supplied the British army with rum and tobacco derived from the labor “and presumed expendability of thousands of enslaved people” in the Caribbean (emphasis added).
Despite the report conceding that “in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, any Canadian would have viewed slavery as commonplace,” it contends the number of McGill’s slaves was well out of the ordinary for Canada at the time.
It adds McGill “may have been a particularly harsh master” (emphasis added) given that two of his (indigenous) slaves died at a very young age.
In addition, “personal accounts from McGill’s colleagues suggest that he was excessively greedy,” which stands in contrast to the image the university conveys.
“Name changes are one small step, necessary but not sufficient in and of themselves,” the editors said. “The Tribune will accompany its name change by continuing to hold ourselves accountable through our own journalism, creating more avenues for community engagement and diverse perspectives, and engaging with more student groups on campus.”
McLauchlan claimed the response to the paper’s decision “ha[s] been largely positive” — thus far there’s only been one formal disagreement.
“I imagine there will be continuing discussion about it in the coming weeks,” McLauchlan said, “but as we say in the editorial, it’s by no means the end of the project. This is only the beginning of a new era for us.”
IMAGE: YouTube screencap; Linkedin screencap