I have to say I wasn’t expecting THAT – six days after I wrote here about the fact that Benjamin Greene, the man who founded what became Greene King was a slave-owning apologist for slavery, Greene King’s chief executive has now stepped up and admitted that “It is inexcusable that one of our founders profited from slavery and argued against its abolition in the 1800s,” and today the company actually rewrote its corporate website to acknowledge Greene’s deeds:
“After founding the brewery, Benjamin went on to own cane sugar plantations in the West Indies where he was a slave owner. Even in the 1800s, his views on slavery were extremely unpopular and in the brewery’s home of Bury St Edmunds he wrote columns in his own newspaper that were critical of those campaigning for the abolition of slavery.”
Greene King GEO Nick Mackenzie told the Daily Telegraph that the company would make a “substantial investment to benefit the BAME [Black Asian and Minority Ethnic] community and support our race diversity in the business as we increase our focus on targeted work in this area.”
Well done them for standing up and admitting that yes, our ancestors did things in the past that were appalling, we cannot ignore that today, and we owe it to the present to ensure that our ancestors’ crimes have as little remaining impact today as possible.
I can’t claim any credit personally for this, although, bizarrely, the Daily Mail has actually emailed me for a comment: Greene King’s move came after a story appeared in the Daily Telegraph, and as the Telegraph (and I) admitted, the facts have been in the public domain since at least 1983, when Richard G. Wilson wrote about them in his magnificent history of Greene King. Indeed, you might ask why it has taken the company 37 years to finally acknowledge that its founder was guilty of crimes against humanity. (I notice, incidentally, that both the Mail and Telegraph lifted their picture of Benjamin Greene from my website – I recognise the Photoshopping I did to clean it up when I nicked it from somewhere else.).
A belated well done, too, to Camra, for a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement which, sadly but unsurprisingly, brought the real ale racists out from behind the snob screens. I suppose a movement that is rooted in defending a peculiar aspect of Britain’s past is going to attract a number of “British exceptionalist” idiots, but it’s – disappointing – that racist comments should have to be deleted from Camra’s Facebook page. These are people of my generation. WTF, frankly. Still, as I said to a senior member of Camra, at least the campaign seems to have found a cause that will finally rid it of the sclerotic reactionary gammon, as they tear up their membership cards in outrage at threats to vile racist caricatures on pub signs. (His reply was that if he had the time, he would love to investigate how many people saying they were going to resign from Camra over its “Black Lives Matter” support were actually members in the first place.)
The one problem with Camra no-platforming racists (and I have no difficulty about the campaign doing that – it’s not “censorship” to say “I’m not letting you use my premises to spout shite”) is that those racists them migrate to places such as the Pub History Society Facebook page, where they have, unfortunately, been free to reveal their utter, utter lack of understanding of the issues. When racists attempt to recruit George Orwell to support their position, you realise that not only do they not understand their own racism, they don’t understand Orwell, either. As I told one refugee from Camra, who was moaning about his posts being deleted, “The reason why your comments were deleted from the Camra Facebook page is that whatever you think your motivations were, your comments come across as those of a racist idiot, and Camra, quite rightly, wishes to distance itself as much as possible from appearing to endorse those sorts of views from its members. It’s hard enough for Camra to attract younger members: if young people see Camra members posting comments that look like they were made by racist gammon, it will become impossible to attract younger members. That’s nothing to do with free speech: you’re free to say whatever you like, but others are equally free to decide they don’t want to give a platform to views that may reflect badly on them.”
As a matter of actual pub history, the former Black Boy in Royston, Hertfordshire had its name changed to the Jockey in 1963, in reflection of the fact that the name was “problematical” – so this has been a recognised issue for 57 years, at least, and certainly not something that has only materialised since large numbers started taking to the streets over racist murders. (Curiously, the same pub was called the Red Cow in 1905 – how and why it was changed to the Black Boy I don’t know, but it certainly wasn’t a “historic” name.)