Bristol Council has been slammed after announcing plans to add an “enslaver of Africans” plaque to a 123-year-old statue of philanthropist Edward Colston.
The monument, built in the city centre in 1895, currently carries the words: “Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city.”
Sir Edward was indeed a player in the slave trade in Bristol in the 17th century. However, attitudes were different then, and the council has been accused of being left-wing and “revisionist”.
The episode echoes the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign in Oxford in 2015, where students demanded the removal of a statue to the British colonialist Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, claiming it caused them “psychological harm”.
Following the Oxford movement, there have been protests across the nation against historical artefacts deemed offensive, and the statue of Sir Edward has been attacked and vandalised a number of times.
According to the Bristol Post, the suggested text will read: “As a high official of the Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692, Edward Colston played an active role in the enslavement of over 84,000 Africans (including 12,000 children) of whom over 19,000 died en route to the Caribbean and America.
Activists in Bristol have attached this blood-red ball and chain to the statue of slave trader Edward Colston. A powerful symbol of the city's failure to really engage with its dark past. #Bristol #CounteringColston pic.twitter.com/ehDp2PBgMW
— Dónal Hassett (@donalhassett1) May 7, 2018
“Colston also invested in the Spanish slave trade and in slave-produced sugar. As Tory MP for Bristol (1710-1713), he defended the city’s ‘right’ to trade in enslaved Africans.
“Bristolians who did not subscribe to his religious and political beliefs were not permitted to benefit from his charities.”
However, Tory councillor Richard Eddy hit back, labelling it “revisionist” and “historically-illiterate”.
“This pathetic bid to mount a secondary revisionist plaque on Colston’s Statue is historically-illiterate and a further stunt to try to reinvent Bristol’s history,” he said.
Adding: “If it goes through, it will be a further slap-in-the-face for true Bristolians and our city’s history delivered by ignorant, left-wing incomers.”
Recently a plaque bearing the words “unauthorised heritage” was added, which read: “This commemorates the 12,000,000 enslaved of whom 6,000,000 died as captives.” It was removed by council workers but has since returned.
Bristol City Council said in a statement: “There have been calls to remove the statue to a museum that can provide this historic context.
“The view of the council is that keeping the statue in the public realm with the additional context provided by a plaque encourages further debate about these important issues concerning Bristol’s heritage.”
A new plaque has appeared on the Statue of Edward Colston in the City Centre – the source states "unauthorised heritage" pic.twitter.com/QRrr2jqx2D
— One Love Breakfast (@onelovebrekky) August 17, 2017