Thousands of people took to the streets of European cities Sunday to display their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, with demonstrators in the English port of Bristol releasing their outrage at the country’s colonial past by overthrowing a statue of a 17th-century slave trader.
Demonstrators fastened cords to the statue of Edward Colston before pulling it down to applause and shouts of approval from the crowd.
Pictures on social media revealed demonstrators then rising to kneel on the neck of the statue for eight minutes, remembering how George Floyd died in the US city of Minneapolis on May 25 at the hands of a white policeman.
The Colston statue was then turned into the nearby Bristol Harbour facing the bridge named Pero’s Bridge, after Pero Jones – an enslaved man who lived and died in the city in the latter part of the 18th century, after earlier being “bought” by slaveowners at the age of 12.
Edward Colston, who was born in 1636 to a wealthy merchant family, became prominently involved in England’s sole official slaving company at the time, the Royal African Company, and Bristol was at the heart of it.
The company transported tens of thousands of Africans across the Atlantic Ocean, mainly to work the sugar plantations in the Caribbean and cultivate the tobacco fields that were burgeoning in the new North American colony of Virginia. Each enslaved person had the company’s initials branded onto their chest.
Bristol, as an international port, was at the centre of the slave trade and profited hugely financially – not just shipbuilders and slavers, but also investors like Colston, who would buy a stake in the triangular slave voyage between England, West Africa and the Caribbean.
The bronze memorial, which had been in place since 1895, had been the subject of an 11,000-strong petition to have it removed. Residents, including the city’s large community that hails from the Caribbean, are ashamed of what Colston represents.
Colston has been a figure of huge controversy in Bristol with attempts made to rename Colston Hall, the biggest music venue in the city among many efforts to “decolonise” the city.