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Samuel Whitbread Academy

Online talk with Sir Geoffrey Palmer

On Thursday 14th January over 100 people from as far afield as Ghana, West Lothian and Shefford came together as part of a drive towards Equality and Diversity from Samuel Whitbread Academy.

With the Fair Justice System for Scotland group, SWA’s Equality and Diversity Group organised the opportunity for students and staff of Samuel Whitbread Academy to listen to an online talk given by the first black Scottish Professor Sir Geoffrey Palmer OBE. Sir Geoffrey has been in the news, particularly since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, due to his research and fight to get information put on statues about their links to the slave trade. He has argued that they should not be torn down, but used as an educational tool, stating ‘if you remove the evidence you remove the deed’.

The link between the FJSS and Samuel Whitbread Academy came from a book they had produced on West Lothian’s links to the British slave trade being dedicated to Samuel Whitbread II by their Chairman, Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer started his talk, explaining his own link to the Whitbread breweries, through his scientific studies of cereal grains. Our school is named after the brewery owner, JP, MP, and prominent abolitionist, Samuel Whitbread. His son Samuel Whitbread II took on this mantle and extended the significant role the family played in ending the British slave trade in 1807. Sir Geoffrey highlighted the key role played by Samuel Whitbread II as a young MP to defeat Henry Dundas’ (then Secretary of State) attempts to prevent the profitable slave trade from being abolished. Dundas had the word ‘gradual’ inserted into the Abolition Bill, this delayed the end of slavery by 15 years. This in turn, led to the enslavement of a further 630,000 Africans before the slave trade was finally abolished. It was Samuel Whitbread II who managed to get the word ‘gradual’ removed, and the slave trade finally abolished. He managed this by pursuing Dundas and having him impeached for misuse of Navy funds, so his influence was removed from discussions of the Abolition Bill because he lost his position and status. The slave trade could finally be stopped. Sir Geoffrey Palmer has campaigned for a plaque explaining this to be placed on the 150-foot-high Melville Monument in St Andrew Square which was built to honour Henry Dundas. Sir Geoffrey believes that information and education are important, and that removing statues like this would be a loss of an educational opportunity, leading to this controversial part of our past being forgotten. He left us with a key quote from Samuel Whitbread II ‘if we are too poor to be robbed, we are not too poor to demand justice’. In other words, everyone should challenge injustice, there is no excuse for allowing it to happen.

A number of SWA students were given the opportunity to ask Sir Geoffrey Palmer questions, the students devised their own questions, from asking about his personal reasons for involvement, the impact of the BLM movement on his work, and his understanding of racism and relevance in the 21st century.

This talk was the start of a link between SWA and the FJSS. Future collaborations on projects linked to equality and diversity are planned that will involve students and staff of SWA and the FJSS. This event has also led to the establishment of working links with other schools in the local area, but also schools in West Lothian.