‘It represents years of hurt’: Statue of slave trader toppled by UK protesters

The statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston torn down by protesters in the UK city of Bristol on Sunday has long been a source of contention in the city, with one demonstrator calling it “a kick in the teeth to all black people”.

A statue of Edward Colston was toppled by protesters in Bristol, UK, on Sunday, June 7.
A statue of Edward Colston was toppled by protesters in Bristol, UK, on Sunday, June 7. © Reuters / France 24

The stature was toppled amid anti-racism protests triggered by the death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of police in the US that have now spread to countries around the world.

But Colston and the statue commemorating him has been a controversial figure in Bristol for years.

Born in Bristol in 1636 Colston made the bulk of his fortune as part of the Royal African Company (RAC) which for decades held a monopoly on the West African slave trade, transporting around 212,000 slaves between 1662 and 1731.

Colston sold his shares in the company in 1689 then gained a reputation as a generous philanthropist, making donations to schools, hospitals and churches in Britstol and London. It was for his charitable work that the statue of Colston was erected in 1895.

But calls for the statue’s removal have grown in recent years, with one online petition gaining more than 11,000 signatures.

“It represents years of hurt and just a lot of emotion and hatred that has been built up inside of us that we have internalised for years and that coming down today hopefully signifies change,” protester Elliot McLean said Sunday.

“Hopefully, we’ve sent a message not just to everyone in the UK or the US, worldwide, we need worldwide difference.”

The statue is not the only memorial to Colston in Bristol, which itself was at the centre of Britain’s role in the international slave trade.

His name has also been given to tower blocks, schools, several streets and a concert hall, though plans are in place to rename Colston Hall later this year.

“Colston is a slave owner and Bristol is pasted with Colston, there is streets named after Colston, there is a school called Colston and they’ve just ripped that down and ripped everything that Colston symbolises down,” said one protester, who gave her name only as Jasmine.

“And people might say that’s vandalism but black people have to walk these streets. Black slaves built Bristol, we have to walk these streets and see that statue of Colston every day, that’s what it means. That statue is a kick in the face to all black people, it’s a disgrace. Now look at it, now look at it. Gone.”

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