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‘A puzzle piece to understand our university’: Plaque highlighting connections to slavery installed

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Installation part of University project to recognise and examine historic ties to slavery

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

courtesy of Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

A plaque explaining the controversial origins of the Powis Gateway has been erected on College Bounds at the University’s Old Aberdeen Campus. The pair of towering minarets guard the entrance to the campus Starbucks, among other University buildings.

The towers were built using government funds paid to the Leslie family after slavery was outlawed in most British colonies in 1834. The Leslies owned a large Jamaican estate upon which a number of enslaved African people were forced to work, as well as Powis House, to which the gateway served as the primary entrance.

The oval-shaped notice, installed as part of Aberdeen City Council’s series of commemorative plaques, will be a permanent addition to the Gateway, after a temporary exhibition commissioned by Aberdeen Art Gallery was erected at the location across from the University’s King’s College in May 2021.

As the press release announcing the installation of the plaque states, ‘The gates were built using wealth from plantations and compensation paid to the Leslie family by the British government of more than £7,000 (in excess of £600,000 today) for the loss of their enslaved “property.”’

As The Gaudie reported in early July, the installation of the plaque is part of a wider project which seeks to examine and understand the connections between slavery and the University. The head of the project, Dr Richard Anderson, commented, ‘We recognise that much more is still required both in contextualising the history of the Powis Gateway, [including] understanding and addressing the benefits which still exist today which were built on wealth from slavery and in decolonising our curriculum.’

Student President Vanessa Mabonso Nzolo also commented, saying, ‘We consider this plaque as a puzzle piece to understand our university; as a piece of valuable evidence to help us trace and navigate the academic practices, culture, and knowledge that are embedded in the history of empire.

‘The plaque invites us to engage in conversations [about] the legacy of empire in the university today. It gives us an opportunity to link the anti-racist and decolonial resistance in our community in 2022 to hundred years back as something that haunts us to this day.’

'The plaque invites us to engage in conversations [about] the legacy of empire in the university today.'

Councillor Alexander McLellan, Convener of Aberdeen City Council’s City Growth and Resources Committee, noted, ‘The Powis Gateway is a significant landmark in Old Aberdeen and I’m pleased that this commemorative Place Plaque has been installed as part of a wider commitment to recognising the legacies of historic slavery in Aberdeen.’

The University also revealed that the Sir Duncan Rice Library will play host to an ‘exhibition exploring the legacy of slavery in the North-East,’ which will begin in the spring of 2023.


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