A more pertinent question is – why was a statue venerating a mass-murdering slave-trader, and former Tory MP, Edward Colston, allowed to stand in the centre of Bristol for 125 years? Even whilst objections, criticisms, and requests for some real context about that man have been raised consistently since 1920 (first by Rev H. J. Wilkins, Vicar of Westbury-on-Trym and Minister of Redland Chapel, in his book ‘Edward Colston’, 1920)? This History Walk on Friday 28 May, will explain why Colston was Toppled; and why it took so long.
As we approach the anniversary of the Toppling of the Statue of Edward Colston on 7th June 2020, battle has been rejoined on the subject, and on the historical narrative – the way in which the facts are portrayed – as to why Colston’s statue stood for so long. It is a battle with many sides:
– There are those who celebrate with joy the Toppling of Colston. Not just the 10,000 plus who participated on the Black Lives Matter protest last June, during which he was toppled. But also by the almost 173,000 people who signed the petition – ‘Protect the Colston protestors from prosecution’; and by the many more around the UK and globally who saw that the commemoration of such a figure, and others just like him, was no longer acceptable given his crimes against humanity via the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Most of these people want Colston in a museum, where his history and his role in activities such as the slave trade can be properly contextualised, and reported on factually.
– There are others though who still venerate Colston, and want him back on his plinth. This includes the just under 1,400 who signed this petition – ‘Restore the Statue of Edward Colston and place it back on it’s plinth’. These people either don’t think any of Colston’s activities were wrong, or that they were indicative of those times (17th & 18th centuries), and/or that Bristol did very well out of the slave trade thanks to the likes of Colston – and we should praise him for it. Surprisingly, these people no longer include those such as the Society of Merchant Venturers, who cheerleaded for Colston for so long, but changed their minds after his Statue was Toppled – see their statement on 12 June 2020: “The statue of Edward Colston was removed from Bristol’s city centre last weekend and the fact that it has gone is right for Bristol.”
– There is the current Tory UK Government, who essentially wish to maintain the narrative that the British Empire was by and large good and civilised the world. Whilst trying very hard to avoid facing up to the misery, enslavement and mass slaughter that Empire involved; and definitely ignoring the enormous profits gained by their class only during the creation of the Empire, that allows them the privilege & power they still hold today. They solely wish to retain that power & privilege, and will go to great lengths to ensure that happens – hence the denigration of any opposition to their narrative, and the criminalisation of any actions that call their power into question. Whilst they dare not call openly for the re-erection of the Colston statue, they are acting to ensure such things do not happen again – see for example the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill; and their many interventions into the debate around the Statue Toppling, even whilst a Court case remains in progress. The newly electected A&S PCC, Tory Mark Shelford, repeated the Tory view that the BLM protesters were a mob acting illegally in this recent interview…which might just place him in Contempt of Court (re the Colston Statue Defendant case).
– Then finally there are the likes of Bristol Labour Mayor Marvin Rees, essentially a part of the relatively new Bristish black middle class. People who have achieved positions of privilege, power & relative wealth/good income, and frankly do not want to rock the boat because they are seated comfortably in it. So Rees straddles the fence. On the one hand he often refers to his mixed heritage upbringing in the 1970-80’s working class areas of Bristol such as St Paul’s & Easton and the police racism at that time, and his personal & appalling experiences of racism then & now. He talks a lot about class and race. But he also now has power over other working class people – Council workers for example. Plus he surrounds himself with likeminded people, and networks, that he has helped take up positions of power & influence across the city, side-stepping traditional forms of local democracy in an authoritarian manner. He is wined & dined by the likes of YTL, travels the world, gets lots of media attention, and job offers. When push came to shove, as with the case of the Statue Toppling, he sides with the traditional authorities and is complicit with the state (police & courts) in prosecuting some of those allegedly involved in the Toppling…despite describing the Statue as an “…affront to humanity“, and a few days ago said this: “But I’m also not sad at the loss of a statue celebrating a slaver being in the middle of the city.” Talk about being a liberal reformist fence sitter! A typical and sad example of what the Labour Party has become.
But let’s return to the historical facts, and the History Walk, and the Talks that come with it, organised by the Countering Colston campaign & Bristol Radical History Group:
Friday 28th May: Meet at 3.30pm outside M Shed, Princes Wharf, Wapping Rd, Bristol BS1 4RN. Walk ends at Bristol Cathedral at 5.30pm (approx).
“With the imminent launch of a so-called ‘consultative display’ featuring Edward Colston’s statue at M Shed it seems apt to expose his involvement with transatlantic slavery and reveal the myths that were created about him and his philanthropy.
This two hour walk visits churches in the city centre where, until very recently, ‘the life and work’ of Edward Colston was provided with religious legitimacy. Along the way we will share the most recent historical research regarding this man’s involvement with the transatlantic slave trade and discover how and why the Victorian elite created a ‘cult of Colston’. Towards the end of our stroll we discuss how elite institutions such as the Church of England and the Society of Merchant Venturers that defended Colston’s status as an icon of the city were challenged over a century of dissent and protest. (Note: this is not an M Shed event).”
For more historical facts about Colston & those who have cheerleaded for him & supported him, see this BRHG Project: Edward Colston.