The toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, a city in the southwest of England, by anti-racism protesters was greeted with joyous scenes, recognition of the fact that he was a notorious slave trader.
Demonstrators on Sunday attached ropes to the 5.5-metre (18ft) bronze statue that had stood on Colston Avenue since 1895 as a memorial to his philanthropic works before pulling it down.
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Images on social media showed protesters then appearing to kneel on the neck of the statue for eight minutes, recalling how unarmed Black man George Floyd died in the US city of Minneapolis on May 25 at the hands of a white policeman.
The Colston statue was then rolled into the nearby Bristol Harbour overlooking the bridge named Pero’s Bridge, after Pero Jones – an enslaved man who lived and died in the city in the latter part of the 18th century, after earlier being “bought” by slaveowners at the age of 12.
Edward Colston, who was born in 1636 to a wealthy merchant family, became prominently involved in England’s sole official slaving company at the time, the Royal African Company, and Bristol was at the heart of it.
The company transported tens of thousands of Africans across the Atlantic Ocean, mainly to work the sugar plantations in the Caribbean and cultivate the tobacco fields that were burgeoning in the new North American colony of Virginia. Each enslaved person had the company’s initials branded onto their chest.
Bristol, as an international port, was at the centre of the slave trade and profited hugely financially – not just shipbuilders and slavers, but also investors like Colston, who would buy a stake in the triangular slave voyage between England, West Africa and the Caribbean.
If you’re one of the people who thinks throwing a statue of Edward Colston into the sea is bad, wait until you find out about the 19,000 slaves who died whilst his company transported them to the Caribbean. pic.twitter.com/xahaC16G7E
— James Felton (@JimMFelton) June 7, 2020
The bronze memorial, which had been in place since 1895, had been the subject of an 11,000-strong petition to have it removed. Residents, including the city’s large community that hails from the Caribbean, are ashamed of what Colston represents.
Colston has been a figure of huge controversy in Bristol with attempts made to rename Colston Hall, the biggest music venue in the city among many efforts to “decolonise” the city.
People who say – authorities should take statues down after discussion. Yes. But it isn't happening. Bristol'sbeen debating #EdwardColston for years and wasn't getting anywhere. In 2018, it was agreed that statue would bear a plaque noting his involvement in the slave trade. BUT
— Prof Kate Williams (@KateWilliamsme) June 7, 2020
Colston gave a lot of money to local charities and that helps explain why his name dons so many public buildings in the city, including educational and economic institutions.
Britain formally abolished the slave trade in 1807 by an Act of Parliament but slavery itself was only formally outlawed in British territories in 1834.
Overall, more than 12 million Africans are estimated to have been exported to the New World, of whom about two million are believed to have perished en route.