Craig Berry: The Jim Crow rock in Hunters Quay should make us reflect on racism in Scotland

Electrical design engineer and writer Craig Berry calls on campaigners and residents to lobby their local authority and Holyrood over a controversial rock

OCTOBER is Black History Month, and Dr Michael Morris has been giving walking tours of George Square highlighting the 12 statues on the square's links to the slave trade. 

But of all the landmarks across Scotland, and the racist symbolism they represent, none is quite as blatant as the Jim Crow rock.

Hunters Quay is a small seaside village near Dunoon in the Cowal peninsula of Argyll and Bute. On the shore of this small town sits a large rock named Jim Crow. 

READ MORE: Black History Month 2017: Putting Scotland’s hidden history in the spotlight

The appearance of Jim Crow is rather striking; a blackened face and large red lips. First painted in 1904, the rock has faced local controversy for a number of years.

Groups of residents contest whether Jim Crow represents racism. The people that support the Jim Crow rock believe that there are a number of reasons as to why the rock is pained as it is. The first is the belief that it is named after a nearby builders’ yard, long since closed down. The second is that the rock is named after a jackdaw, which is a type of crow known for its black beak. Incidentally, the 'beak' of Jim Crow also features red lips.

Those opposed to the rock believe that the rock symbolises the caricature of a black man and have taken to local activism, painting over the rock on three separate occasions since 2009. Notably, on the second and third paintings, a tin of Drummond’s International Grey paint was left upon the rock. 

The tin carries the slogan: “Drummond’s International Grey can be used in the public arena to paint grey any object or institution that you find morally or aesthetically offensive.” 

The paint is the creation of Bill Drummond, former member of pop group KLF which became notable for allegedly burning £1m in cash on the Isle of Jura.

"Jump Jim Crow" was a popular song and dance routine performed in blackface by white minstrel performer Thomas D Rice, which had him play the role of a physically disabled African slave named Jim Crow. 

To understand opposition to the Jim Crow rock we must understand the history of Jim Crow.

Starting in 1828, "Jump Jim Crow" was a popular song and dance routine performed in blackface by white minstrel performer Thomas D Rice, which had him play the role of a physically disabled African slave named Jim Crow. 

As a result of this routine, the term Jim Crow became widely used as a pejorative referring to African Americans.

By 1870, after the end of the American Civil War, the freeing of slaves in America saw the politics of the southern states return to conservative whites. A series of racial segregation laws were enacted, known as the Jim Crow laws. The laws had a significant part to play in the equal rights movement in the 1960s.

Although the origins are contested, the offence is still caused to people of colour that visit the town. They still look upon the rock and see the symbolism it represents to them. The rock may not cause offence to you, but that does not mean that other people aren’t offended. 

The campaign to see the end of the Jim Crow rock needs to mature. Everyone who seeks to see the end of racism in Scotland must come together to fight this issue.

If we are to create an inclusive society, we must rid ourselves of the clear symbols of racism, no matter where that racism stands, be it a small town in the west coast or anywhere else. 

Many people talk of nostalgia, fond memories of playing on a rock in their childhoods. Those memories are not diminished by changing the appearance of the
rock.

Resident Giles Wheatley has previously written: "To say that it is mistaken to see the Jim Crow rock as racist is to misunderstand racism. What must visitors to Dunoon make of this anachronistic caricature?"

The time for painting is over. The campaign to see the end of the Jim Crow rock needs to mature. Everyone who seeks to see the end of racism in Scotland must come together to fight this issue. 

We need to build a support base to demand the end of Jim Crow. And if the Local authority does not listen to the people, we need to take the movement towards the 2022 Scottish local elections and fight with candidates that will run on a mandate to find an alternative, but an alternative that ends the racism perpetrated by this rock.

If we want to rid Scotland of racist symbolism, let’s perhaps start with the most blatant. It’s time to end Jim Crow and it’s time to do it together.

Picture courtesy of Craig Berry

Look at how important CommonSpace has become, and how vital it is for the future #SupportAReporter

CommonSpace journalism is completely free from the influence of advertisers and is only possible with your continued support. Please contribute a monthly amount towards our costs. Build the Scotland you want to live in - support our new media.