Dozens of statues could fall over slavery links as review announced

10 June 2020, 06:01

Cecil Rhodes statue stands at the front facade of the Oriel College in Oxford during the protest
Cecil Rhodes statue stands at the front facade of the Oriel College in Oxford during the protest. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Dozens of statues across the country could fall after councils pledged to review monuments amid anti-racism protests under the Black Lives Matter banner.

Statues of slave-traders could be taken down after 130 councils across England and Wales said they would work with local communities to assess the "appropriateness" of monuments.

The move comes days after protesters in Bristol tore down a statue of the slave-trader Edward Colston and rolled it into the harbour.

On Tuesday, a statue honouring the 18th-century slave owner Robert Milligan in London Docklands was taken down following a petition.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the US demonstrations have broken out across the globe as anti-racism campaigners take to the streets demanding racial equality.

Tower Hamlets council said: “We have removed the statue of the slave trader Robert Milligan that previously stood at West India Quay. We have also announced a review into monuments and other sites in our borough to understand how we should represent the more troubling periods in our history.”

The Canal and River Trust charity, which owns the land where the statue stood, had said it would organise a “safe removal” after a petition started by Ehtasham Haque, a Labour councillor, demanded it be taken down.

The review of monuments, announced by the Local Government Association's (LGA) Labour group, comes after Sadiq Khan the Mayor of London pledged to review statues and street names across the capital.

Activists who tore down the monument to slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol on Sunday - who were condemned by Boris Johnson - were referenced at Mr Floyd's funeral.

Civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton, who preached at the service on Tuesday, said: "I've seen grandchildren of slave masters tearing down a slave master statue over in England and put it in the river."

Rev Sharpton said Mr Floyd's death, after a police officer held his knee on his neck for several minutes, had touched the world.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who has announced a review of landmarks in the capital, said: "It's a sad truth that much of our wealth was derived from the slave trade - but this does not have to be celebrated in our public spaces."

The leader of Labour-led Exeter City Council is calling for a review into the future of the city's famous statue of General Sir Redvers Buller, who was a lieutenant-colonel in the Zulu campaign of 1878 and general commanding of the Natal army in South Africa between 1899 and 1900, according to the National Archives.

In Oxford, hundreds of protesters demonstrated at the city's university, demanding the removal of a statue of Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

Ahead of the protest, the leader of Oxford City Council, Susan Brown, invited the college to apply for planning permission to have the statue removed, suggesting it should be placed in the Ashmolean or the Museum of Oxford.

Governors at Oriel College said the institution "abhors racism and discrimination in all its forms" but added that the college continues to "debate and discuss" the presence of the Rhodes statue.

A number of petitions have emerged demanding controversial monuments in the UK are taken down, including calls to remove a statue of two-time British prime minister Sir Robert Peel in Manchester's Piccadilly Gardens.

Petition organiser Sami Pinarbasi described the statesman, who founded the Metropolitan Police Service, as an "icon of hate and racism".

Similar petitions with the hashtag #RepealPeel have been launched to remove statues in Leeds and Bradford.

In Edinburgh, city council leader Adam McVey told the BBC he would feel "no sense of loss" if a statue to Henry Dundas, who delayed the abolition of slavery, was removed.

Stand Up To Racism is calling on people across Britain to "take the knee" at 6pm on Wednesday on their doorstep, at their workplace or in their local area in a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and in a demand for change.