South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay has said he is ‘dismayed’ at the decision to remove the Uncle Mack plaque in Broadstairs.
The plaque is to James Summerson, known as ‘Uncle Mack’, a seaside entertainer in Broadstairs between the 1880s and 1940s.
A decision notice from Thanet council says: “This plaque has given rise to offence and hurt because the entertainment celebrated by it involved a Black and White Minstrels troupe where white entertainers blacked up their faces and behaved with distorted African-American stereotypes.”
Council leader Rick Everitt has taken responsibility for the decision for the plaque’s removal, effective from July 8 dependent on the outcome of a call in of the decision.
The decision notice says: “Following the recent Black Lives Matter campaign and the concern about statues and other commemorative artefacts which are no longer acceptable, the Leader gave consideration to similar artefacts in the district.”
The practice of ‘black face’ was used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a derogatory caricature of a black people shaping perceptions and prejudices based on race and colour.
Once removed, consideration will be given to the future of the plaque and whether it can usefully be put on display in a museum setting which describes its historical context.
Thanet Independent councillor Lynda Piper has written to TDC to call in the decision, meaning it will need to be debated by all councillors.
In his weekly column Mr Mackinlay says it is time to ‘stop this nonsense.’
He says: “I am dismayed to see that the TDC leader has decided that the plaque to ‘Uncle Mack’ in Broadstairs should be taken down. Let us get this into context – this was an entertainer who worked from age 7 between the 1880s and the 1940s. There is no indication that he was an evil man– quite the contrary from what I can gather; I can but guess that at age 7 he was entirely innocent of almost everything.
“By the same standard the BBC should surely be closed and erased from memory for airing shows deemed inappropriate now. The Black & White Minstrel show was aired until 1978. We wince now at this and other television output of the era, but that was then and was deemed acceptable by the standards of the time.
“James Summerson – ‘Uncle Mack’ was an entertainer, an artist, an actor selling his skills to earn a living from a public willing to pay for it. Should we take down the various plaques to Sir Laurence Olivier (I am thinking of his role in the 1976 film Marathon Man) and others for playing evil characters or using language that a script demands? Stop this nonsense now.
“When this decision is ‘called in’ I hope that Councillors from all parties represented on Thanet District Council will simply employ common sense. We’re a happy community, let’s celebrate our diversity not highlight our differences.”
The call in has been backed by Thanet Independent group leader Cllr Stuart Piper, who said: “It is important that the decision is debated in public. The outcome will be whatever it will be but it must not give rise to any suggestion that its removal was at the request of one man or even his cabinet.
“Councillors should open it up for discussion and then the decision will be cross party in terms of its politics.”
However, the MP has come under fire for being ‘blind to racism.’ A “shocking” report of racism in the area has been sent to Mr Mackinlay by Broadstairs councillor Aram Rawf who is imploring him to investigate.
The report includes accounts of racist attacks on young children, assaults on shopworkers and abuse of a young baby.
Cllr Rawf said: “Mr Mackinlay stated publicly that if he was presented with documentary evidence of racism here, he would investigate. I have presented him with this evidence. I am now calling on him to keep his promise and launch an investigation immediately.”
Last month Mr Rawf, who is a Labour member of both Thanet District Council and Broadstairs Town Council, accused Mr Mackinlay of being “blind” to racism in the area.
Mr Rawf said: “Mr Mackinkay failed to mention two big Black Lives Matter marches which had taken place in his constituency and he said that he had received, few, if any, reports, of racism in Thanet.
“I don’t think Mr Mackinlay realises how deeply his comments have upset people in Thanet, ignoring or downplaying an issue of the greatest concern to them. And many have written to me with their own experiences of racism here.”
Mr Rawf’s report includes data showing a rise of hate crime, reports of attacks on young people and shop workers, and personal testimony from Thanet residents about racist experiences.
Cllr Rawf said: “This is an absolutely shocking report with some truly heart-breaking stories. One woman said even her young baby received racist abuse.
“I really hope my report will give Mackinlay pause for thought and he will now join with me in tackling the real problems of our community.”
Ramsgate councillor and mayor Raushan Ara has also slammed Mr Mackinlay’s stance, saying: “Mr Mackinlay has chosen to ignore his constituents in order to appeal to the minority of bigots who he believes are more important.
“In June, 1948, the MV Windrush brought the first of the “Windrush generation” to the UK, from the Carribbean. These migrants, all Commonwealth citizens, were invited to the UK, in order to deal with the manpower shortage, brought about by World War Two.
“In 2018, the “Windrush scandal” emerged. This involved these, now elderly, West Indian migrants and their descendants being declared illegal, and sent back to where their ancestors had come from. Many of these people never even been to the Caribbean, and had no roots there.
“They were denied equality of citizenship, despite many having been born in the UK. This disgraceful situation was a catalyst in the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. The death of George Floyd in the USA has helped to highlight this racism.
“Although racism in some parts of the USA is far worse than it is in the UK, it nevertheless has highlighted what is going on around us. The BLM marches that have taken place across the UK have shown that people, of all ages and backgrounds, acknowledge that a change in attitude, not to mention language, is needed.
“Many people will retaliate with ‘All lives matter’. True, of course they do, but it is black lives that are in jeopardy, so therefore, the focus needs to be on them.”