Edward Colston: Why the toppled slave trader statue is going on public display in England


Written by Toyin Owoseje, CNN

A statue of colonial slave trader Edward Colston has gone on public display in Bristol, England, almost a year after it was toppled during Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the city.

On June 7 last year, demonstrators denouncing historic and systemic racism and oppression defaced the controversial monument with red and blue graffiti. They used ropes to tear down it down from its plinth before rolling it through the streets and dumping it into the River Avon.

Days later, the bronze statue was recovered from the riverbed by Bristol City Council and put into storage.

6/3/2021 - EMBARGOED TO 1930 THURSDAY JUNE 3 The statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston, which was retrieved from the water after being toppled during a Black Lives Matter protest on 7th June 2020 and thrown into Bristol Harbour, is now being displayed at M Shed, Bristol, during the preview of 'The Colston statue: What next?'. Picture date: Thursday June 3, 2021. (Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA) *** US Rights Only ***

6/3/2021 – EMBARGOED TO 1930 THURSDAY JUNE 3 The statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston, which was retrieved from the water after being toppled during a Black Lives Matter protest on 7th June 2020 and thrown into Bristol Harbour, is now being displayed at M Shed, Bristol, during the preview of ‘The Colston statue: What next?’. Picture date: Thursday June 3, 2021. (Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA) *** US Rights Only *** Credit: PA/Sipa

The statue — which for many was a symbol of Britain’s colonial legacy — is now displayed at the M Shed museum, alongside placards from the protest and a timeline of events. The figure is lying down on its back, on a specially crafted wooden structure.

According to museum authorities, the new, temporary display is intended to “start a conversation about its (the statue’s) future.”

The M Shed website reads: “This is an opportunity to have your say about how we move forward together.”

Colston, born to a wealthy merchant family in Bristol, rose to prominence through his role in the Royal African Company (RAC) during the Atlantic slave trade. He helped facilitate the transportation of tens of thousands of people from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean, mainly to work the sugar plantations in the Caribbean and Virginia. The company branded the people it transported as slaves — including children — with its RAC initials on their chests. The presence of the statue in Bristol, as well as streets and buildings dedicated to Colston, has long been a source of contention.

After it was pulled down, Colston’s effigy — which had stood in the city since 1895 — was briefly replaced with a life-sized sculpture created by British artist Marc Quinn. His statue depicted a black woman with her fist raised in a Black Power salute.

At the time, Quinn said in a press statement that he was “committed to reflecting what I see, including inequalities and injustices. Prejudice, such as racism, is part of that.

“Keeping the issue of Black people’s lives and experiences in the public eye and doing whatever I can to help is so important.”

As the artist did not receive permission from authorities to erect the statue, it was removed by Bristol City Council the following day.

The statue of Colston is pushed into the river Avon. Edward Colston was a slave trader of the late 17th century who played a major role in the development of the city of Bristol, England, on June 7, 2020. (Photo by Giulia Spadafora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The statue of Colston is pushed into the river Avon. Edward Colston was a slave trader of the late 17th century who played a major role in the development of the city of Bristol, England, on June 7, 2020. (Photo by Giulia Spadafora/NurPhoto via Getty Images) Credit: Giulia Spadafora/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The question of how to deal with historical monuments depicting colonial figures such as slave traders has been a subject of debate in many countries in recent years, with calls for their removal intensifying amid global protests over the death of George Floyd last year.

In the US, a string of Confederate statues have been removed by authorities because of links to the slave trade.



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