Photos: Olumide Osinoiki
Today’s Black Lives Matter protest, attended by an estimated 10,000 people was dominated by one event: the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave trader.
The bronze memorial to Colston which has stood in Bristol’s city centre since 1895, came to an inglorious demise. A rope was tied around his neck, before being pulled down by protesters, rolled down the road and pushed into the river while cheered on by a crowd of onlookers.
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said: “We have a statue of someone who made their money by throwing our people into water…and now he’s on the bottom of the water,” when giving his reaction to Channel 4.
“I pushed it for about two minutes before my arms got really tired!” said one of the protesters. “But I feel nothing but elation!”
“I have never been so proud of Bristol!” said another triumphant protester.
Avon and Somerset Police released a statement shortly afterwards calling the act one of “criminal damage”, and saying they will investigate to identify those involved.
Thousands of people took to Bristol’s streets for the Black Lives Matter protest following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. The protest itself had been debated given the risks of mass gatherings during Covid-19, but other protests took place today in London, Manchester, Glasgow and a number of other cities.
The existence of the controversial statue, along with the buildings in Bristol that bear Colston’s name, have been contested by campaign groups for decades who have pursued its removal through the conventional channels. The campaign intensified in the last few years and some institutions decided to get rid of his name, such as music venue Colston Hall and Colston’s Primary School. But the statue remained standing.
Until today as the statue was encircled by a disbelieving yet jubilant crowd. It was covered in red paint, a rope placed around its neck, an afro comb symbolically placed on top. Protesters also posed with their knee on the neck of the fallen statue, replicating the murder of George Floyd.
“You got what coming to you!” said one protestor, while others swore and cussed at the fallen figure.
Defenders of the Colston statue will assert this as erasing history, but for the vast majority of the crowd assembled and many others the statue was seen as a symbolic denial about his role – and its own – in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Edward Colston was a 17th century manager and deputy governor of the slave trading Royal African Company, which in the years of Colston’s involvement (1680 – 1692) transported around 85,000 enslaved Africans across the Atlantic. Of these, nearly 20,00 died on the crossing, including several thousand children.
Prominent historian David Olusoga, who is an expert on race in British history, said on BBC News the statue should have been taken down long before. “Statues are about saying ‘This was a great man who did great things.’ That is not true, he [Colston] was a slave trader and a murderer.”
In recent years, statues of Confederate General Robert E Lee have been pulled down in Amercian cities during anti-racism protests. It has happened again in recents riots in the US; one city, Richmond, Virginina, has agreed to take their statue down. Governor Ralph Northam said the state will no longer preach a “false version of history”.