Outcry as Minstrel photo is removed

A historic photograph of a Minstrel group performing in a Sussex town has been removed from an information board after a complaint.

Wednesday, 10th August 2016, 12:15 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 2:49 am
The Minstrels photo SUS-161008-093908001

The illustration of Uncle Ben’s Eastbourne Minstrels on the town’s seafront had been included on an East of the Pier Group project information board on the promenade opposite the Pavilion, which was devoted to the entertainment forms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The information boards are part of a heritage trail to bring history to the streets of Eastbourne and show the importance of the area east of the pier in years gone by.

But since one board in particular was put up, Eastbourne Borough Council, acting on a complaint, has removed the illustration and replaced it with a picture of an all-white Pierrot show.

Theatre historians Edward Thomas, John Pick and Brian Freeland, who have between them spent many years researching, publishing and talking about Eastbourne’s theatrical history, are furious at what they call an act of censorship.

“It must be assumed with reasonable certainty that the photograph has been removed because of the act of white people in a minstrel troupe having blacked up their faces,” said the trio.

“If the complaint, and the acceptance of it by the relevant council official, has been made on such grounds, a veritable can of cultural worms is opened up.

“To begin with, research has shown that most of the early Minstrel Troupes in the USA, and a certain number performing in UK resorts, comprised black, not made-up white, faces.

“Furthermore, whether the personnel involved were black or white, burnt cork was applied to the faces of all.

“Eastbourne should be proud of its rich theatrical history and should not, from some misguided notion of political correctness, attempt to rewrite it.

“We ask that the photograph of the Minstrel Troupe be put back where it belongs.”

A spokesperson at Eastbourne Borough Council said, “Soon after the Heritage Trail signs were erected the council received complaints regarding the content of the board at the Pavilion Garden.

“The council spoke to the chair of the East of the Pier Group and it was agreed that one image on the board would be replaced. It was felt that the replacement image still reflected the theme.

“Please be assured that Eastbourne is proud of its rich theatrical heritage and the replacement image captures this.

“The Heritage Trail is a fantastic project that has been well received by both residents and visitors and we would like to take this opportunity to thank all those that contributed to the content of both the Heritage Trail and the history corners.”

The Heritage Trail Project was funded solely through the Pier Tourism Fund, which is the £2million given to the town to boost tourism in the aftermath of the pier fire.

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