Hull Live reports they are among a list of statues quietly under review by the Labour-controlled council, which allegedly didn’t want to be seen to do “nothing” after statues were targeted by Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020. Statues of poets Philip Larkin and Andrew Marvell as well as Mahatma Gandhi, all in the city centre, are also under review.
The leaked messages, seen by Daily Telegraph, also suggest officials were worried the racism review could cause a backlash.
“All this needs to be done sensitively. It is important we are reviewing things behind the scenes,” the emails allegedly read.
“We are not publicising any of this unless directly approached as [I] agree sometimes raising an issue creates the problem.
“But if asked, and we said we had done nothing, I think [it] would raise concerns in the current climate.”
Statues of poet Larkin, Gandhi and metaphysical poet Marvell, all in the city centre, are also under review. It is claimed the subjects held outdated views or links to the slave trade and imperialism.
But Mr Larkin’s biographer James Booth said: “Anyone who reads only Larkin’s published poems will find no trace of racism.
“[He] would have felt mortified by the posthumous criticism of his ‘racism’, and to an extent ashamed.”
He added: “He was a fundamentally decent and compassionate man and there is no record of him ever acting on a racist impulse.
“The offensive comments in his letters were meant to be read by a small number of correspondents only. He would be mortified to know that his words were causing hurt to vulnerable readers for whose ears they were not intended.
“Most of his rich and varied correspondence can give no offence. But, at the extreme, there are letters in which he shares with Monica Jones, Kingsley Amis, Robert Conquest and Colin Gunner the casual racism common in post-war England.”
Larkin died in 1985 but seven years later some of his correspondence with other notable poets was published in a work called Selected Letters.
It revealed his personal views on race and the use of racial epithets, including stating there were “too many f****** n****** about”.
Council staff arguing via email said that the poet was a “complicated” figure and that many in Hull “recall him with affection”. Others said: “We do need to be clear and careful, and recognise that views unpalatable to us may not detract from achievements.”
It was suggested that the council should ensure that “if challenged” they could “reflect the current recognition of what practices are no longer acceptable”.
This “subtle” attempt would be done by updating information on the named people to “recognise some of their shortcomings”.
“This way we aren’t rewriting history but just highlighted some of their deficiencies when we look back against today’s standards,” officials said.
Hull Live has approached Hull City Council for comment.