Toppled UK slave trader’s statue fished out of harbour

London (AFP)

The statue of a slave trader toppled by anti-racism protesters was on Thursday fished out of the harbour in the English port of Bristol, as debate raged over Britain’s past.

Authorities in the seaside town of Bournemouth were preparing to remove a small statue of Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement who also supported the Nazis.

A Bristol City council picture shows the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being retrieved from the  harbour where anti-racism protesters had thrown it at the weekend
A Bristol City council picture shows the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being retrieved from the harbour where anti-racism protesters had thrown it at the weekend Handout BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL/AFP

And other buildings and statues were either being renamed or decorated with new explanatory plaques, as protests sparked by the death of African American George Floyd forced Britain to take another look at its historical heroes.

Demonstrators in Bristol pulled down the statue to Edward Colston on Sunday and threw it into the water, drawing condemnation from UK officials but huge cheers from the protesting crowd.

The city council said on its retrieval that the statue was “being taken to a secure location before later forming part of our museums collection”.

Colston was a top official in the Royal African Company in the late 17th century, which sent into slavery tens of thousands of people from West Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas.

Born into a wealthy Bristol family, he was also a member of parliament and philanthropist, funding schools, churches and almshouses across the city.

The destruction of his statue drew condemnation from the government but reignited calls across the country to remove other historical monuments.

– Far-right anger –

In Bournemouth, the council said it wanted to “create time” for debate on Baden-Powell’s legacy and “minimise the risk of any public disorder” that could be provoked by leaving his statue on the quay.

The University of Liverpool said it would rename a building named after former prime minister William Gladstone because of his links to the slave trade.

And in Scotland, the city of Edinburgh prepared to attach a plaque to a 150-foot (45-metre) monument topped with a statue of Henry Dundas, noting the late 18th and early 19th century’s politician’s ties to the African slave trade.

The proposed plaque would be dedicated to the “memory of the more than half a million Africans whose enslavement was a consequence of Henry Dundas’s actions”.

Yet the cultural revolution sweeping UK cities has stirred deep discontent in the far-right.

The newly-formed Democratic Football Lads Alliance said it will be “protecting” monuments this weekend, saying its actions will be peaceful but asking that “no women or children attend”.

“We are not defining women as being weak but we are concerned for your safety,” the group said in a Facebook post.

In Bournemouth, a group of around 20 mostly elderly, white protesters gathered around the statue of Baden-Powell sitting on a tree stump to express their support for his legacy.

– ‘Learning the truth’ –

Colston’s name remains on many streets and buildings in Bristol, but his legacy has long been controversial.

The city council had already decided to re-label his statue before it was torn down, but talks on what exactly to write had become deadlocked.

Mayor Marvin Rees has announced a new commission to research Bristol’s past.

“The only way we can work together on our future is by learning the truth of our beginnings, embracing the facts, and sharing those stories with others,” he said.

He confirmed the statue would be put on display alongside placards from the Black Lives Matter protest, and said the public would be asked what should replace it.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has also announced a review of landmarks and monuments, to look at whether they could better reflect the city’s diversity.

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