Historical figures reassessed around globe after Floyd death

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People stand around the fallen Christopher Columbus statue at the Minnesota state Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (Evan Frost/Minnesota Public Radio via AP)

The rapidly unfolding movement to pull down Confederate monuments around the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police has extended to statues of slave traders, imperialists, conquerors and explorers around the world, including Christopher Columbus, Cecil Rhodes and Belgium’s King Leopold II.

Protests and, in some cases, acts of vandalism have taken place in such cities as Boston; New York; Paris; Brussels; and Oxford, England, in an intense re-examination of racial injustices over the centuries. Scholars are divided over whether the campaign amounts to erasing history or updating it.

New Zealand's fourth-largest city removed a bronze statue of the British naval officer Capt. John Hamilton, the city's namesake, on Friday, a day after a Maori tribe asked for the statue be taken down and one Maori elder threatened to tear it down himself. The city of Hamilton said it was clear the statue of the man accused of killing indigenous Maori people in the 1860s would be vandalized. The city has no plans to change its name.

At the University of Oxford, protesters have stepped up their longtime push to remove a statue of Rhodes, the Victorian imperialist who served as prime minister of the Cape Colony in southern Africa. He made a fortune from gold and diamonds on the backs of miners who labored in brutal conditions.

Oxford’s vice chancellor Louise Richardson, in an interview with the BBC, balked at the idea.

“We need to confront our past,” she said. “My own view on this is that hiding our history is not the route to enlightenment.”

Near Santa Fe, New Mexico, activists are calling for the removal of a statue of Don Juan de Oñate, a 16th-century Spanish conquistador revered as a Hispanic founding father and reviled for brutality against Native Americans, including an order to cut off the feet of two dozen people. Vandals sawed off the statue’s right foot in the 1990s.

In Bristol, England, demonstrators over the weekend toppled a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston and threw it in the harbor. City authorities said it will be put in a museum.