Our history

What responsibilities do we have today, as a result of the history and legacies of slavery and colonialism? This is a question of direct relevance to our University and one we're currently exploring.

We estimate that around 89% of the wealth used to found our University depended on the labour of enslaved people. Notably, enslaved labour can be linked to all three of the names represented in our University crest: Wills, Fry and Colston. We have a responsibility to acknowledge this and to be forthright and creative in responding to our history today.

In March 2017 a group of Bristol students petitioned the University to rename the Wills Memorial Building. They argued that money donated by Henry Overton Wills III to found the University was originally made by importing and selling tobacco produced on plantations of the US South, where (until 1865) enslaved labour made up the majority of the workforce. In their view, a building named for Wills failed to respect the lives of those harmed by slavery.

The Black Lives Matter protests served to amplify existing concerns about the University's history and whether we should rename the Wills Memorial Building and other buildings named after families with links to slavery. We will also review our University logo, which carries the devices (heraldic designs) of Colston, Wills and Fry. We are exploring ways that we can initiate this debate with our staff, students, alumni and wider city communities.

The work of Professor Olivette Otele, who is actively investigating the University's links with the history of enslavement, will also inform these important debates with our staff, students, alumni, and wider city communities.

The University of Bristol is a member of the Universities Studying Slavery consortium.

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