This statue now belongs to history. Source: Wikipedia This statue now belongs to history. Source: Wikipedia

Bristol’s Tom Whittaker on the impact of kicking over a symbol of oppression

The pulling down of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol today was a joyous and liberating moment that has reverberated across the world.

The involvement of Bristol merchants such as Edward Colston in the international slave trade has long cast a shadow over the city. The statue’s location in the centre of the city is an affront to the diverse and multiracial city that Bristol has become.

Bristol’s politicians and civic leaders have had opportunities to remove the statue before.

In 2007, the 200th anniversary of parliament voting to abolish the transatlantic slave trade was commemorated – the statue could have been taken down then alongside a public apology for Bristol’s role in the trade.

Instead, the city named a major new shopping centre Cabot circus, after the 15th-century merchant and coloniser John Cabot, a contemporary of Christopher Columbus.

Colston Girls, a private school, converted to academy status but retained its name despite receiving public funds. There is also another private school that bears the name of the slave trader.

Following a recent campaign headed up by the historian David Olusoga and Green Party councillor Cleo Lake, the music venue Colston Hall had announced it would be changing its name following a refurbishment. Massive Attack had always refused to play there whilst it bore the name Colston.

So today has been a long time in the making, but it is the power of an international movement that has given people the confidence to act and ensured that those actions received widespread support.

For now, Colston’s statue lies at the bottom of the harbour, a fitting end for a slave trader toppled by a mass movement. We should use this moment to demand funding for an International Slavery Museum in Bristol such as Liverpool has.

The fall of Colston in 2020 will no doubt come to rank alongside the Bus Boycott of 1963 and the St Paul’s Uprising of 1980 in Bristol’s contribution to the anti-racist struggle.

Any attempt by the police to pursue those involved for criminal damage should be resisted by a mass campaign across the city.

Let’s make sure this is only the beginning.

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

Tagged under: