McGill University, one of Canada's most prestigious post-secondary schools, has become the subject of controversy over revelations that its namesake, James McGill, was in fact a slave owner, according to Fresh Daily.
The famous Montreal university founded and named for McGill sports a statue bearing his likeness in front of the university in downtown Montreal. A petition was launched to remove the statue and replace it with a tree.
Born in 1744, James McGill was the founder of McGill University. He was a Scottish fur trader, businessman, and philanthropist. In 1792, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada for Montreal West and was then appointed to the Executive Council of Lower Canada a year later.
McGill died in 1813 and was the richest man in Montreal at the time of his passing. The majority of his wealth was attributed to his ownership of black and Indigenous slaves.
"As we all hopefully know, James McGill was a slave owner who enslaved Black and Indigenous people and used the wealth gained by their exploitation to start McGill University," reads the petition which now has as many as 4,000 signatures to date.
"It can be any type of tree," continues the petition's description, which was written by Hannah Wallace, a McGill graduate.
"Any tree would be better than looking at James McGill." Wallace is also frustrated that the university's website does not acknowledge that James McGill was a slave owner.
The description of James McGill on the university's website reads, "During his studies at Glasgow University, McGill was shaped by the values of the Scottish Enlightenment. Although he left university without completing a degree—a fact likely due to his family’s poor fortunes—his education instilled in him a lifelong love of new ideas, and a commitment to give serious thought to the beliefs and opinions of others, no matter how at odds they were with his own worldview."
Some students and activists are calling for a bigger change than simply removing statues. McGill's Black students' network is pushing for more black students and faculty to be engaged at the university. Iyanu Soyege, the political co-ordinator of the organization, is asking for access to black mental health professionals for students as well.
This is not the first time people have called for the McGill statue to be removed, however the resurgence of interest in the matter is undoubtedly tied to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 that has since sparked global-wide protests.