John Mitchel is back in the headlines following the 'Black Lives Matter' movement that has followed the death of George Floyd at the hand of police officers in Minneapolis, America. Mitchel a Young Irelander died in Newry in 1875 and was a vocal supporter of slavery during his time in America.

A petition entitled "Take down the statue of slavery supporter John Mitchel in Newry" has been launched while last night a 'Black Lives Matters' placard was placed around the statue, although a few hours later it had been removed.

Racism Has No Place in Our Society

Newry city Councillors Michael Savage and Gary Stokes have said that John Mitchel’s racist views and stance on slavery should be central to a Good Relations Educational Programme rolled out across the city and district aimed at educating our citizens that racism has no place in our society.

Their comments follow the petition launch by Newry residents Patrick Hughes and Aidan McQuade asking for the removal of a statue of John Mitchel from John Mitchel Place, Newry and the re-naming of the area.

The John Mitchel Statue at John Mitchel Place, Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The John Mitchel Statue at John Mitchel Place, Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

The petition states "It is a matter of historical record that, by his own admission, John Mitchell was a white supremacist, an apologist for slavery and an advocate for the reintroduction of the genocidal trans-Atlantic slave trade. His statue does not deserve a place of honour in Newry City centre"

A Necessary Spotlight

Councillor Michael Savage said: “The Black Lives Matter campaign has shone a necessary spotlight on how we all need to deal with racism once and for all and send out a clear message that racism is wrong and unacceptable in any form and we must remove it from society.

“John Mitchel is acknowledged in Newry for his positive contribution to Ireland particularly during the Famine and the Young Ireland Movement - but we must recognise that he was also an ardent supporter of slavery and fought on the side of the Confederates in the American Civil War to retain slavery.

“His stance on slavery and his racist statements were unacceptable then and they are unacceptable now and it is time that these serious flaws in Mitchel’s character are exposed for what they are.

The John Mitchel statue with a Black Lives Matters placard. Photograph: Mark McLoughlin
The John Mitchel statue with a Black Lives Matters placard. Photograph: Mark McLoughlin

“Mitchel’s connection with Newry gives us an opportunity to expose where he got it wrong. We should use his story to show our citizens young and old that racism is wrong and has no place in our community.

“We need to start a process of consultation, education and engagement on how we can use Mitchel as a prime example of someone who was on the wrong side of the race debate and we have asked that the Council’s Good Relations Working Group looks into this as a matter of urgency.”

Change the Narrative

Cllr Gary Stokes said: “Newry has a long association with John Mitchel and has recognised the positive work he did in Ireland. We have the statue in the city which acknowledges this, but it does not do enough to expose the racist side to Mitchel and his views on slavery.

“The statue should have an inscription which details all sides of Mitchel’s character and the challenge we face is to change the narrative around Mitchel and use him as an example how someone, who did some positive things for people in Ireland, got it so wrong on the race issue and slavery in particular.

“The SDLP in Newry fully supports the idea of the Council’s Good Relations Working Group in exploring the possibility of developing an educational programme across the city and district, using Mitchel as an example of how racism is wrong. Mitchel’s story can be used in a positive way to enlighten our children and adults on how racism has no place in our community and how everyone should be treated equally regardless of the colour of their skin, their ethnicity or their beliefs.

“We need to turn the negative side of Mitchel into something positive and create a lasting legacy that will enhance community and race relations across our city and district and beyond for generations to come."

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