A notorious and controversial statue dedicated to a slave trader in Bristol city centre has been torn down and thrown into the harbour by protesters. After a second day of anti-racism protests across the UK, this was taken as a positive action by many. Following a peaceful demonstration, protesters used ropes to pull down the bronze statue of Edward Colston, a prominent 17th Century slave trader. The statue has been a source of controversy in the city for many years. Bristol council refused to remove the sculpture but planned to put a plaque up explaining his connection to slavery. Like many statues produced in the late 19th century, this depiction is strictly pedestrian with little aesthetic value. It is no great loss to civilization to see it destroyed.
Bristol’s wealth was largely built on the slave trade Home Secretary Priti Patel called the tearing down of the statue “utterly disgraceful”
Bristol’s wealth was largely built on the slave trade and few slave traders were more infamous or wealthy than Edward Colston. Almost 300 years since his death, his past is set to be formally acknowledged by the city for the first time. Colston made his fortune through human suffering. Between 1672 and 1689, his ships are believed to have transported about 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Americas.
However, in the city he called home, his memory has been honoured for centuries. On his death in 1721, he bequeathed his wealth to charities and his legacy can still be seen on Bristol’s streets, memorials and buildings. His statue, which stood on Colston Avenue in the city centre, made no mention of his notorious past. The city council was proposing to put a plaque on the statue which recognised and acknowledged the people Colston and others in the city enslaved but due to the wording being rejected by committees hadn’t got around to it. It’s a move that has been a long time coming, said Ros Martin, one of the driving forces behind the Countering Colston campaign group.
“The plaque was a good idea but we need it to be part of an ongoing examination of historical narrative and a change of attitudes and culture. “What we want goes beyond tokenism – we want institutions and organisations in the city to examine their history and acknowledge their individual roles in the slave trade and beyond.”Colston was a member of the Royal African Company, which transported about 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Americas. On his death in 1721, he bequeathed his wealth to charities and his legacy can still be seen on Bristol’s streets, memorials and buildings.
After the statue was toppled, a protester posed with his knee on the figure’s neck – reminiscent of the video showing George Floyd, the black man who died while being restrained by a Minnesota police officer. The statue was later dragged through the streets of Bristol and thrown into the harbour. The empty plinth was used as a makeshift stage for protesters.
Home Secretary Priti Patel called the tearing down of the statue “utterly disgraceful”, adding that “it speaks to the acts of public disorder that have become a distraction from the cause people are protesting about”.
“It’s right the police follow up and make sure that justice is undertaken with those individuals that are responsible for such disorderly and lawless behaviour,” she said. In a statement, Avon & Somerset police confirmed there would be an investigation into the “act of criminal damage”.
Historian Prof David Olusoga told BBC News that the statue should have been taken down long before. He said: “Statues are about saying ‘This was a great man who did That is not true, he [Colston] was a slave trader and a murderer.” Aerial footage in London showed thousands of protesters flooding the roads outside the US embassy in Vauxhall, south London before marching towards Parliament Square and Downing Street.
They appeared to be ignoring warnings from both the police commissioner and Health Secretary Matt Hancock not to congregate and risk spreading the coronavirus. But free masks, gloves and hand gel were being handed out by volunteers. Labour’s Lisa Nandy backed the demonstrations, saying people “cannot be silent in the face of racism”.
The shadow foreign secretary said young people were “right to raise their voices” but urged demonstrators to take precautions and socially distance amid fears that the mass gatherings could prompt another spike in coronavirus cases. Ms Nandy told the BBC’s Andrew Marr she was “proud” of young people demanding change following mass anti-racism protests across the UK on Saturday. “I think it’s one of the most important things about living in a free society is that people can go out and protest,” she said.