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Descendant of enslaved person says Colston’s statue remaining in place was ‘profoundly shameful’

The act ‘centred’ a global conversation about Britain’s role in the slave trade, she told the trial of the Colston 4.

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Photo: Aphra Evans

The toppling of Edward Colston’s statue is an example of how the “dehumanisation of Black people” is no longer being tolerated, the descendant of an enslaved person has told the trial of those who helped pull it down.

Gloria Daniel’s family name is her great-grandfather’s plantation name, she told the court on Tuesday. He was “owned” by a man named Thomas Daniel, the Mayor of Bristol in 1797 and once president of the Colston Society.

Giving evidence for the defence in the trial, she described the “wave” of relief she experienced when the figure of 17th century slaver Colston was torn down during a Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June, 2020.

Milo Ponsford, Rhian Graham, Sage Willoughby and Jake Skuse are on trial accused of criminal damage following the toppling of the monument at the demonstration, which was sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the US city on Minneapolis two weeks earlier. 

‘A wave of huge relief’

“When I heard the statue of slave trader Colston had been toppled, I felt a wave of huge relief,” Daniel said in a statement read to Bristol Crown Court. “The fact the statue of a slave trader had remained up for so long, and without contextualisation, was in my view profoundly shameful.”

“The world had witnessed the public execution of George Floyd and we finally arrived at a place in history where people would no longer tolerate the continuing dehumanisation of Black people.”

She added that the toppling of Colston’s monument “centred” a global conversation on the role Britain played in the transatlantic slave trade. “[The act] has not only removed a statue that caused a huge amount of hurt to the community, it has also served to educate people about the role and about Colston himself.”

Daniels told the court that the Colston Society – a group that the man who enslaved her great-grandfather had been president of – was disbanded after the statue was toppled. “I do not believe that would have happened otherwise,” she said.

Thomas Daniel became an elected member of Bristol Common Council in 1785 and the Sheriff of Bristol between 1786 and 1787, the court heard. In 1796, he became an Alderman, and a year later became Mayor of Bristol.

He was also a member and Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers, and president of the Colston Society, the Dolphin Society and the Anchor Society, the jury was told. 

Historian David Olusoga, also speaking for the defence, told the court last week how members of these groups had been part of a “cult” that sought to protect Colston’s name. They celebrated his philanthropy that led to the erection of his statue in 1895 – 174 years after his death, the professor said.

Colston was the ‘CEO of enslavement’

Cleo Lake, lord mayor of Bristol from 2018 to 2019, also told the court that many of the city’s former mayors had been Merchant Venturers. 

She told the jury on Monday that when she became lord mayor she had a portrait of Colston removed from her office, saying that she could not share the space with someone of his “criminality”.

“I was shocked, alarmed, startled that it was there,” she said of the portrait, and described Colston as the ”CEO of enslavement.”

Lake, also a former Green councillor, told the court she was a member of campaign group Countering Colston, which petitioned and protested against the public “celebration” of Colston.

As a young girl, Lake attended Colston Girls’ School. Every November, Lake told the jury she would have to join her classmates in a commemoration of Colston. She said pupils were asked to wear his favourite flower – the bronze chrysanthemum.

She recalled a time in which she questioned a teacher about Colston’s life, after hearing in the mid-nineties that there was a protest against how he was being remembered in the city. It was explained to her, Lake said, that it was only “uneducated” people calling for the statue’s removal.

Graham, 30, of Colston Road, Easton, Milo Ponsford, 26, of Otter Close, Bishopstoke, Jake Skuse, 33, of Farley Close in Little Stoke, South Gloucestershire, and Sage Willoughby, 22, of Gloucester Road, Bristol, all deny a charge of criminal damage.

The trial continues.

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How do you feel about the not guilty verdict of the Colston 4?

We want to know what you think about the verdict in the landmark trial and what needs to happen next in the wider debate about statues and how we remember our past.

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Watch: One year since Colston fell

Priyanka Raval speaks to anti-racism campaigners on the year since the Edward Colston statue was toppled, and questions whether the controversy surrounding it helped the movement – or simply unveiled divisions within the city.

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