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Black Lives Matter
June 7, 2020
This statue of Edward Colston has been the subject of constant complaint from Bristolians because of his history as a slave trader. Colston was a merchant in the Royal African Company, which held a monopoly in England in the West African slave trade. During Colston's time at the company it is estimated to have transported around 84,000 African men women and children as slaves. There has been an 11,000-strong petition to have it removed and attempts at adding an explanatory plaque. Today as part of the Black Lives Matter demonstraion in Bristol the statue was brought down and thrown into the harbour.
In today's Bristol Post Mike Norton wrote "It is a harsh truth, but too many Bristolians have spent too long prevaricating and handwringing about the legacy of Edward Colston. Our city has been in denial for decades about his role - and its own - in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. ...That Colston profited from the exploitation and deaths of thousands of African slaves is not in question. But Bristol has consistently managed to talk itself out of properly dealing with that uncomfortable truth. More than that, Colston has become a metaphor for the city’s own refusal to face up to the fact that much of its very fabric - its buildings, its wealth, its status - comes from the exploitation of human beings. Let’s face it, we couldn't even agree on the wording for a second plaque detailing Colston’s role in the slave trade to sit alongside the statue’s existing one. Even that was left festering and unresolved. And, in all that time, the statue - so increasingly offensive to many Bristolians - stood, as Shakespeare put it, like “patience on a monument, smiling at grief."
It has been the subject of previous protests -
"Today, however violent and illegal that some will judge them, it took the direct actions of angry young people to bring an end to Bristol’s prevarication. Their anger has finally forced Bristol to confront the harsh reality of its past in the space of one afternoon. And our city’s future may well be defined by how it reacts to what they’ve done."
There is a quiet persistent power in a statue and that truth has been acknowledged today. This could be the perfect time for Bristol to consider what healing might come from statues that honour the the good work of a diverse range of their people, including some women. At the last count there were 14 men, including Colston - and one woman - the ubiquitous Queen Victoria. Now is the time to ask all Bristolians who it s that they would really like to be looking up to.