A MAN is exasperated after repeatedly being told he would have to pay hundreds of pounds to see a “deeply offensive” racial term removed from two gravestones.

Last week, St Margaret’s Church in Rottingdean covered up the headstones to two white music hall singers who performed in blackface.

It has now promised to put the memorials – both inscribed with the word “c**n” – into storage.

But it has since emerged that a man had been battling to have the offensive language erased since last April.

Joseph Letang from Telscombe Cliffs, who is of Caribbean heritage, was upset by the wording. He wrote emails to church authorities and took his complaint to the highest levels of the Church of England.

He was repeatedly told the Church could not consider changing the wording unless he paid a £296.20 fee to launch a petition in a church court.

The Argus:

He is astounded by the length of time it took the church to act, and that as someone hurt by the language, he should have to pay for its removal.

G H Elliott’s headstone refers to him by his stage name, the “Chocolate Coloured C**n”, while Alice Banford is described as a “C**n singer and dancer”. Both died in 1962.

Mr Letang said: “As someone with Caribbean heritage growing up in England in the 70s and 80s, I remember that word being used in an offensive way against people like me. It’s not used so much now, but it’s an ugly word and it still causes offence.”

He heard about the inscriptions from his 24-year-old daughter, who saw the graves on a walk in the churchyard.

She was shocked when her father explained the monuments did not belong to black people, but white performers who had impersonated them for entertainment.

The Argus:

Mr Letang brought the stones to the attention of the vicar Father Anthony Moore, the Archdeacon of Brighton and Lewes Martin Lloyd Williams and the Diocese of Chichester.

In April 2019, he told the vicar: “The graveyard is not a private collection or museum. It is a public space for all members of the community to use comfortably.

He added: “I am not comfortable with it.”

The Diocese of Chichester consistory court told Mr Letang that “the person making the application for any works or proposals is responsible for the costs” of bringing the case to the church court and carrying out any works.

Mr Letang feels the church should have shouldered responsibility given the offensiveness of the language.

Last year he told the registrar of the consistory court: “The costs of removing this offensive material should not be borne by those offended but by those continuing to permit the display of the offensive material.

“In other words, the Church needs to sort its house out here.”

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Earlier this year, Mr Letang raised his concerns with the then-Archbishop of York, John Sentamu and believes the graves were covered soon afterwards.

The Church insisted submitting a petition to the court was the only way to have the wording altered – but it has now taken action without Mr Letang having to pay a fee.

It also said it had needed permission from the legal heirs of the dead to change the headstones but conceded Alice Banford does not have any surviving relatives.

Mr Letang said he did not intend for the headstones to be taken away.

He said replacement stones without the offensive words should be put up to remember the dead and the originals, or photos of them, should be given to a museum.

The Argus:

The Diocese of Chichester, the Archdeacon and the vicar of Rottingdean issued a joint statement, saying the move to cover the headstones followed conversations with residents over the past year and recent high-profile campaigns which have “rightly drawn attention to issues surrounding racial prejudice”.

It said St Margaret’s has now decided to “apply for a faculty” to remove both headstones into safe storage as soon as possible.

The statement said the church had done so for two reasons. It said the church has a legal obligation to protect the gravestones because they are the property of of the two performers’ relatives. It said it would also welcome an “urgent conversation” with the relatives about the appropriateness of the wording.

The statement said: “In law, a headstone is the property of the heirs at law. Efforts will therefore continue in the attempt to contact the relatives of G H Elliott (Alice Banford is believed to have no surviving relatives).

“The PCC would like to speak urgently with G H Elliott’s relatives in order to work with them on the re-engraving of the memorial or the construction of a new headstone which properly commemorates and respects his life but which omits wording that causes hurt and offence in today’s society.

“It is proposed that these new headstones would be introduced into the churchyard once necessary permission is obtained.”

Fr Anthony said: “We are grateful for the patience of residents and are pleased that a way forward is being facilitated with other interested parties to agree an outcome which does not cause public offence but which continues to respect the memory of the deceased.”

The Archdeacon of Brighton and Lewes, Martin Lloyd Williams said: “History is always being curated in fresh ways. I am grateful to the PCC and to local residents for looking at this issue with a fresh eye and a new perspective, and for reflecting on the decision to remove wording which, in my opinion, causes significant offence in today’s world.”