The name Edward Colston looms large over Bristol, with streets and buildings named after the 17th Century merchant and slave trader.
On Sunday, protesters at an anti-racism demonstration in the city toppled a statue of Colston and dumped it in Bristol Harbour. The BBC’s Jack Grey witnessed the statue’s fall.
Thousands of people attended the demonstration in Bristol, one of many in the UK sparked by the death of George Floyd while he was under arrest in Minneapolis in the United States last month.
A group of protesters surrounded the statue on Colston Avenue, erected in honour of a man whose ships sent about 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Americas between 1672 and 1689.
Colston’s memory has divided the city for years, with some thinking history can’t be changed and others campaigning successfully for his name to be erased from streets, schools and venues.
There was clear frustration in Sunday’s crowd, partly because the statue still stood in 2020, but also because it had simply been covered for the protest.
The canvas covering, which had already been targeted by egg-throwers, was torn off with some people saying they wanted to look the man in the eyes. Soon ropes had been tied round the bronze monument and the process of removing it began.
Once the covering was removed, three protestors climbed atop the statue to fasten two ropes around the head.
Thirty seconds later Colston was on the floor. Many jumped on the fallen statue, others holding a Black Lives Matter banner climbed the plinth where it had stood.
There was not so much joy when the statue hit the ground as anger, but the crowd had not finished with the monument.
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It was dragged the short distance to Bristol Harbour and dumped over the quayside.
Who was Edward Colston? (1636-1721)
- Colston was born into a prosperous Bristol merchant’s family and, although he lived in London for many years, was always closely associated with the city
- By 1672 he had his own business in the capital trading in slaves, cloth, wine and sugar
- A significant proportion of Colston’s wealth came directly or indirectly from the slave trade
- In 1680, he became an official of the Royal African Company, which at the time held the monopoly in Britain on slave trading
- He donated to churches and hospitals in Bristol, also founding two almshouses and a school
- Colston also lent money to the Bristol corporation and was a city MP for a short time
Source: BBC History/Nigel Pocock
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