Top­pling of slave trader’s statue a ma­jor mo­ment

Jamaica Gleaner - - INTERNATIO­NAL -


IN AN English port city that once launched slave ships, an empty plinth has be­come the cen­tre of a de­bate about racism, his­tory, and mem­ory.

For over a cen­tury, the pedestal in Bris­tol held the statue of Ed­ward Col­ston, a 17th-cen­tury slave trader whose wealth helped the city grow. On Sun­day, anti-racism demon­stra­tors pulled the 18-foot (5.5 me­tre) bronze like­ness down, dragged it to the nearby har­bour, and dumped it in the River Avon.

On Mon­day, the empty base, sur­rounded by Black Lives Mat­ter plac­ards, drew a stream of ac­tivists, of­fice work­ers, and on­look­ers. Some posed proudly in front of it, others stood in si­lence, a few ar­gued. Some Bris­to­lians said that top­pling the statue was his­tor­i­cal van­dal­ism. Others wel­comed the re­moval of a stain on their city.

“It should have hap­pened a long time ago,” said Ka­t­rina Darke, a fam­ily doc­tor.

Chyna Lee, a 24-year-old re­cruit­ment con­sul­tant, said that she didn’t ad­vo­cate van­dal­ism, but “I’m quite happy it got dumped in the river”.

“There have been pe­ti­tions and re­quests to get the statue re­moved,” she said. “I just think peo­ple weren’t lis­ten­ing to any­thing at all, and ev­ery­one is very fed up.”

Im­ages of pro­test­ers top­pling the statue – one pos­ing with his knee on its neck, evok­ing the death of Ge­orge Floyd at the hands of Min­neapo­lis po­lice – made news around the world. They res­onated, es­pe­cially in the United States, where cam­paign­ers have sought to re­move Con­fed­er­ate memo­ri­als.

Since Floyd’s death, Black Lives

Mat­ter protests have spread across the US and to coun­tries around the globe, in­clud­ing Bri­tain. Demon­stra­tors in London, Glas­gow, Bris­tol, and other UK cities – whose cul­tural di­ver­sity is rooted in Bri­tain’s long-van­ished em­pire – have ex­pressed sol­i­dar­ity with the United States and also de­manded change closer to home.

The protests have been pre­dom­i­nantly peace­ful, but af­ter some demon­stra­tors in London hurled ob­jects at po­lice and spray-painted a statue of Win­ston Churchill, Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son con­demned the out­breaks of “thug­gery.”

John­son’s spokesman, James Slack, said the prime min­is­ter viewed the statue-top­pling in Bris­tol as “a crim­i­nal act” and said the po­lice should “hold to ac­count those re­spon­si­ble”. Home Sec­re­tary Priti Pa­tel, Bri­tain’s in­te­rior min­is­ter, said the top­pling of Col­ston’s statue was “sheer van­dal­ism” and “com­pletely un­ac­cept­able”.

But Bris­tol Mayor Marvin Rees said it was a sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment in the city’s his­tory.

“I can­not con­done crim­i­nal dam­age,” said Rees, who is the city’s first black mayor. “But also, as the de­scen­dant of Ja­maicans who were en­slaved at some point, and this man was a slaver, I won’t deny that the statue was an af­front to me.”

Col­ston has long been a prob­lem­atic pres­ence in Bris­tol, 120 miles (195 kilo­me­ters) south­west of London. He was a se­nior of­fi­cial in the Royal African Com­pany, which, in the late 1600s, traf­ficked 80,000 African men, women, and chil­dren to slav­ery in the Amer­i­cas.

Bris­tol went on to be­come Bri­tain’s big­gest port for slave ships dur­ing the early 18th cen­tury. Ships based in the city trans­ported at least half a mil­lion Africans into slav­ery be­fore Bri­tain out­lawed the slave trade in 1807. Many 18th-cen­tury Bris­to­lians helped fund the trade and shared in the prof­its, which also built hand­some Ge­or­gian houses and build­ings that still dot the city.


Pro­test­ers throw a statue of slave trader Ed­ward Col­ston into Bris­tol har­bour, dur­ing a Black Lives Mat­ter protest rally, in Bris­tol, Eng­land, on Sun­day, in re­sponse to the re­cent killing of Ge­orge Floyd by po­lice of­fi­cers in Min­neapo­lis, USA.

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