Wednesday 15 July 2020 is a date that will go down in history. A black woman has been honoured in place of a slave trader in the UK. As brilliant as this may be, the installation of Jen Reid’s statue may not be a permanent fixture as this was not requested nor approved by Bristol City Council. Regardless of the technicalities, would this have happened before the death of George Floyd? I certainly think not. The impact of this round of BLM has been insane, and I’m here for all of it.
So who was Edward Colston?
Colston was a sea merchant, initially trading in wine, fruits and textiles within Europe. By 1680, he became involved in the slave trade through his membership with the Royal African Company, which held a monopoly on the English trade in African slaves. Colston made his fortune through human trafficking, point blank. Between 1672 and 1689, his ships are believed to have transported about 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Americas.
Bristol was Colston’s hometown and the wealth he amassed for the City led to the erection of his statue in 1895. Colston’s name was also honoured throughout Bristol’s architecture including Colston Tower and Colston Hall as well as street names such as Colston Avenue and Colston Street. There have been active campaigns spanning decades calling for the removal of all of Colston’s commemorations after his prolific role in the slave trade was recognised; however no campaign was yet to be successful. That was of course until we all witnessed the powerful images of Edward Colston’s statue being torn down by people of all races during Bristol’s BLM protest and for me, this was unbelievably liberating!
The fact that a person who made their fortune treating other humans as commodities, can be celebrated is astonishing. I understand that we operate under democratic systems, but there are just some things that shouldn’t be up for debate. Edward Colston and all other slave traders should be viewed in the same light as Hilter. Disregard for human life, no matter who the victims are, should be publically condoned. Slave traders and owners did not value the lives of black men, women and children therefore it is ignorant to have such people honoured without considering the pain and anguish that would certainly be caused by their public accolades.
A Surge of Power (Jen Reid)
The powerful image of protestor Jen Reid standing fist raised on the plinth after the removal of Colston cannot be forgotten. It is this image that has been honoured by the work of artist Marc Quinn who states that Reid’s black resin statue, called A Surge of Power, is a temporary installation to continue the conversation about racism. What I found so compelling was the celebration of Jen’s raised fist. What has commonly been seen as an antagonistic gesture, is now being put front and centre of this growing movement. For me, I have always acknowledged this as a symbol of black people’s resolve and resilience in the journey to true equality and if we are able to keep this monument in place, maybe the negative associations that the black raised fist evokes for some, can begin to be challenged.
I’d like to take this opportunity to shout out the Countering Colston campaign group, who have been a primary driving force in the quest to remove celebrated references of Colston from Bristol. Although the journey is not over, it’s passionate organisations such as these, who bring the much needed conversations to the table. We’ll wait to see what will be Bristol Council’s next move, but for now, let’s revel in the thought that we may be witnessing Britain’s first Black Lives Matter monument.
Other ‘Colston toppling’ successes:
- Colston Primary School renamed Cotham Gardens Primary School
- St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School announced that it would rename its Colston ‘school house’, after the American mathematician Katherine Johnson
- Entertainers, including Massive Attack, continue to boycott playing at all Colston honoured venues
*UPDATE: Jen Reid’s statue was removed by Bristol Council just over 24 hours after it’s erection however it’s important to maintain engaged with this campaign to help influence what the new and permanent more inclusive fixture will be.*
Sending love and light always.