'Historic moment': M Shed to collect artefacts from protest that toppled Colston statue
Simon Stephens, 08.06.2020
Heritage community reacts to fall of statue dedicated to 17th-century slave trader
Museum and heritage professionals have been reacting to the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being pulled down and thrown into the harbour during an anti-racism protest in Bristol this weekend.
Campaigners have been calling for the removal of the statue for many years. Colston is believed to have helped oversee the transportation into slavery of an estimated 84,000 Africans between 1672 and 1689. The 5.5-metre bronze statue had stood on Colston Avenue since 1895.
Marvin Rees, the mayor of Bristol, wrote on Twitter: “We're preserving #BlackLivesMatter signs left at the former site of the #Colston statue so we can tell the story of this historic moment for our city at @mshedbristol.”
Historic England said it did not believe the statue must be returned to its former position, and called for a public conversation to decide what should happen to it. A statement from the organisation said: "Whilst we do not condone the unauthorised removal of a listed structure, we recognise and understand the emotion and the hurt that public historical commemoration can generate and we encourage Bristol City Council to engage in a city wide conversation about the future of the statue.
"We are here to offer guidance and support but believe the decision is best made at a local level - we do not believe it must be reinstated."
Laura Pye, the former head of culture for Bristol City Council, tweeted: “I don’t believe this is erasing history, it’s making it! #BlackLivesMatter.”
Pye is now the director of National Museums Liverpool, where she recently wrote a blog about the killing of George Floyd by US police in Minneapolis. In the blog, she wrote: “Our International Slavery Museum informs and helps visitors understand the history and legacies of the transatlantic slavery, such as racism, hate crime, and issues of freedom and injustice, prejudice and ignorance – so many of the elements that unfortunately still prevail in 2020.”
Historian and broadcaster David Olusoga has argued for many years that the statue should be removed. He wrote in The Guardian: “The fact that a man who died 299 years ago is today on the front pages of most of Britain’s newspapers suggests that Bristol has not been brilliant at coming to terms with its history. Despite the valiant and persistent efforts of campaigners, all attempts to have the statute peacefully removed were thwarted by Colston’s legion of defenders.
“Now is not the time for those who for so long defended the indefensible to contort themselves into some new, supposedly moral stance, or play the victim. Their strategy of heel-dragging and obfuscation was predicated on one fundamental assumption: that what happened on Sunday would never happen.
"They were confident that black people and brown people who call Bristol their home would forever tolerate living under the shadow of a man who traded in human flesh, that the power to decide whether Colston stood or fell lay in their hands. They were wrong on every level.”
Politicians have also voiced their opinions on the statue. Home secretary Priti Patel said the removal was "utterly disgraceful". Labour leader Keir Starmer said that while it was wrong for protesters to pull down the statue, the monument should never have been there in the first place. Starmer told LBC radio that the Colston statue should have been “brought down properly, with consent”, and placed in a museum.