Statues celebrating racists torn down and defaced in Europe

The renewed push to remove monuments that celebrate racists in the United States spread across the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday when Black Lives Matter protesters toppled the statue of a British slave trader.

The statue of Edward Colston was removed in the city of Bristol; protesters pulled it off its pedestal, knelt on its neck in acknowledgement of the death of George Floyd and then tossed it into the harbor. Historians estimate Colston’s company was responsible for the selling of approximately 100,000 slaves to the Americas in the late 17th century.

There has been a push to remove the 18-foot bronze statue — erected in 1895 in Colston’s hometown to honor his philanthropy — and a petition garnered thousands of signatures in recent weeks.

U.K. Protesters throw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol Harbor on Sunday.
U.K. protesters throw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol Harbor on Sunday.

“Whilst history shouldn’t be forgotten, these people who benefited from the enslavement of individuals do not deserve the honour of a statue,” read the petition. “This should be reserved for those who bring about positive change and who fight for peace, equality and social unity.”

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, who is of Jamaican heritage, told BBC Radio that he agreed the statue should be removed. “I cannot pretend it was anything other than a personal affront to me to have it in the middle of Bristol, the city in which I grew up,” he said.

A petition has been started to replace the Colston statue with one of Paul Stephenson, a British anti-racism campaigner.

The Colston removal lent momentum to an effort at Oxford University to take down the statue of Cecil Rhodes, who supported apartheid-style policies in Africa. Belgians targeted statues of King Leopold II, whose African colonization resulted in the death of millions of Congolese. A bust of Leopold in the city of Ghent was painted with “I can’t breathe,” Floyd’s final words.

In the United States, multiple statues have already been removed by government officials after being targeted by protesters. Confederate monuments were taken down in Birmingham, Ala., and Alexandria, Va., while a statue of controversial former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo was taken down in Philadelphia. Rizzo oversaw a police department that engaged in numerous acts of police brutality, and encouraged city residents to “vote white” during his unsuccessful bid for reelection in the late 1970s.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced last week that the state would remove the massive statue of General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, which was once the capital of the Confederacy.

People gather around the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va.(Vivien Killilea/Getty Images)
People gather around the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va. (Vivien Killilea/Getty Images)

“It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now,” Northam said. “So we’re taking it down.”

“It’s time to put an end to the lost cause; Richmond is no longer the capital of the Confederacy,” said Mayor Levar Stoney. No timetable has been set for the removal.

In a retweet of the video of the Colston removal, former University of Mississippi wide receiver D.K. Metcalf tweeted, “Oxford, MS we next.” Oxford, where the university is located, has a large Confederate monument on campus that has been defaced during the Floyd protests.

Ole Miss administrators and students have attempted for years to move the monument to a nearby Confederate cemetery, but their efforts have been stalled by the state’s college board.


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