BRISTOL – BRISTOL, EnglandIn an English port city that once launched slave ships, an empty plinth has become the center of a debate about racism, history and memory.
For over a century the pedestal in Bristol held the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader whose wealth helped the city grow. On Sunday, anti-racism demonstrators pulled the 18-foot (5.5 meter) bronze likeness down, dragged it to the nearby harbor and dumped it in the River Avon — sparking both delight and dismay in Britain and beyond.
On Monday the empty base, surrounded by Black Lives Matter placards, drew a stream of activists, office workers and onlookers. Some posed proudly in front of it, others stood in silence, a few argued. Some Bristolians said toppling the statue was historical vandalism. Others welcomed the removal of a stain on their city.
“It should have happened a long time ago,” said Katrina Darke, a family doctor.
Chyna Lee, a 24-year-old recruitment consultant, said that she didn’t advocate vandalism, but “I’m quite happy it got dumped in the river.”
“There have been petitions and requests to get the statue removed,” she said. “I just think people weren’t listening to anything at all, and everyone is very fed up."
Images of protesters toppling the statue — one posing with his knee on its neck, evoking the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police — made news around the world. They resonated especially in the United States, where campaigners have sought to remove Confederate memorials.
Colston’s demise also reinvigorated Oxford University campaigners calling for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a Victorian imperialist in southern Africa who made a fortune from mines and endowed the university’s Rhodes scholarships.