(GIN)––Years of inaction over the fate of an 18 foot statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave trader with the Royal African Company (RAC) was decided this week with the toppling of Colston’s bronze statue in Bristol, England.
The statue was pulled down by protestors at a demonstration in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and George Floyd. The figure was dragged to the Bristol harbor and flung into the River Avon.
During Colston’s employ at the RAC between 1672 and 1689, some 80,000 men, women and children were trafficked––of whom 19,000 died on voyages from West Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas. After retiring from slave trading, Colston turned to philanthropy, leaving a trail of schools, a concert hall, a high-rise office building, a street and an avenue with his name.
Activists have argued for years that his connections with slavery meant his contribution to the city should be reassessed.
“He was a slave trader and a murderer,” declared David Adetayo Olusoga, a British-Nigerian history professor at the University of Manchester, prize-winning writer, broadcaster and filmmaker who supported the figure’s removal.
“Statues are not about remembering history,” he declared in a BBC interview. “They’re about saying ‘this man was a great man who did great things.’ That’s not true. He was involved in the Royal African Company, the company that trafficked more people into slavery than any in British history.”
Still, some government officials stood up for Colston’s statue and denounced its removal. “Utterly disgraceful,” said home secretary Priti Patel. “Sheer vandalism and disorder are completely unacceptable.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed that the UK protests were fueled by events in America “rather than here.” But Shadow justice secretary David Lammy, a Black man, observed that racism and prejudice exist in the UK, as well as across the Atlantic, and that to suggest there is only a problem in the U.S. “shows real ignorance”.
Lammy tweeted: “People in this country are not only showing solidarity with George Floyd and other African Americans. We must turn this moment into one of change and justice in the UK too.”
A young Britisher caught on CNN echoed Lammy’s remarks: “This is not a trend. This is not a hashtag. We’re not here for a fashion. We’re here to change something. Racism cannot be tolerated in our society. We need to change this.”