log in

Edward Colston, slave trader, statue demolished. Source: Wikipedia and Counterfire

Edward Colston, slave trader, statue demolished. Source: Wikipedia and Counterfire

Black Lives Matter protests in Bristol brought its citizens face-to-face with its ugly past, a ground report by Susan Newman and Jeni Van Heerden

bristol_blm_02_sv_lg.jpg
History repeating banner
bristol_blm_03_sv_lg.jpg
Protestors and BLM banner

Sunday’s Bristol Black Lives Matter protest was the latest and largest of a string of protests that have taken place in the city since the murder of George Floyd. What began as another city's solidarity demonstration focused upon the contemporary systemic injustices experienced by black people became a historical moment in the story of Bristol’s connections with the transatlantic slave trade and the failure of the city’s official institutions to recognise and break from its historical past through education and decolonisation of the city, for example, by renaming of streets, buildings and schools and a dedicated museum on the interconnection of commerce, colonialism, and slavery that has shaped the city.

bristol_blm_04_sv_lg.jpg
Protestors and banner
bristol_blm_05_sv_lg.jpg
Banners around plinth

Thousands gathered on College Green at one o’clock for speeches carried by voices of rage. Volunteers distributed masks and hand sanitizer. The names of those who have died at the hands of police violence were read as demonstrators kneeled for 8 minutes and 45 seconds. The depth of silence was punctuated by the cathedral bells chiming two. The relative discomfort of kneeling on the ground was a reminder of the agonising duration of Floyd’s murder. The crowd rose with resounding applause and prepared to march into the commercial centre of the city towards Castle Park. But events would transform the march into a moment of genuine historical significance.

bristol_blm_06_sv_lg.jpg
Banner
bristol_blm_07_sv_lg.jpg
Protestors and banners

A statue of Edward Colston, the Bristol-born merchant and slave trader, stood in the shadow of a high-rise office block sharing his name. It would always be a focal point of today’s demonstration but few would have anticipated the level of militancy that saw protestors entwining the statue with rope and forcefully dislodging it from its plinth. The toppling of the statue was met with raucous cheers of celebration, anger, and defiance.

bristol_blm_08_sv_lg.jpg
Banners
bristol_blm_09_sv_lg.jpg
Protestors and banners

The plinth was quickly occupied by black demonstrators that expressed the pain of their trauma and call for unity, mobilisation, and persistence in taking this movement forwards. One woman ended her emotional impromptu speech with a call for revolution. It felt like a revolution.

bristol_blm_10_sv_lg.jpg
Protestors and banners

A gathering remained around the plinth as most protestors continued on the march through town to assemble peacefully at Castle Park for a final round of speeches. Back at the plinth, demonstrators took turns to kneel on the neck of Edward Colston before carrying the statue towards the water’s edge and threw it into the harbour in view of Peros Bridge, named in 2000 after a known slave from the 18th century. What had begun as part of a worldwide movement caught the heart of the city and forced a confrontation with its colonial past and the continuity of this legacy today.

Before you go...we need your help

Counterfire is expanding fast as a website and an organisation. We are trying to organise a dynamic extra-parliamentary left in every part of the country to help build resistance to the government and their billionaire backers. If you like what you have read and you want to help, please join us or just get in touch by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Now is the time!

BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS

Help boost radical media and socialist organisation

Join Counterfire today

Join Now