The movement to take down racist statues has gone international. Over the weekend, protesters in Bristol, England, toppled a statue of slave trader Edward Colston and tossed it into a nearby harbor.
Colston made his fortune rising to the highest ranks of the Royal African Company, which enslaved an estimated 84,000 African people throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. He later became a philanthropist in his hometown of Bristol. The statue honoring him stood from 1895 until last week.
The moment a statue of slave trader Edward Colston toppled into Bristol’s harbour. ‘It’s what he deserves. I’ve been waiting all my life for this moment’ someone told me in the moments after. pic.twitter.com/6juqVrsJ6V
— Sarah Turnnidge (@sarah_turnnidge) June 7, 2020
The removal of the statue came as a long-awaited relief to demonstrators, some of whom had campaigned for years to tell the full truth of Colston’s history.
In an interview with the BBC, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said that he would have preferred the statue to have been taken down through a formal political process, but also acknowledged the particular bind he was in, as the city’s first Black mayor, to lead such an effort.
“The irony of politics and race is that perhaps Black politicians do not have the same freedoms to talk about race in the same way as white politicians,” Rees said.
Not everyone was pleased with the statue’s removal. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it a “criminal act,” and some men were seen trying to fish the statue out of the water.
Loooooollll how funny is this, lads trying to get the statue out today 😭 pic.twitter.com/kqem7KdjGM
— MADELEINE (@Frenchd0gblues) June 8, 2020
Protesters in Brussels, meanwhile, surrounded a statue of King Leopold II, chanting “murderer” and waving the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Leopold oversaw a genocide of between one and 15 million Congolese people during his colonial rule in the 19th century. The Leopold statue in Brussels is still standing—for now.
A crowd has climbed onto the statue of colonial King Léopold II in #Brussels chanting “murderer” and waving the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo where his atrocities took place. #DRC 🇨🇩 #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/DIH9MGu39M
— Jack Parrock (@jackeparrock) June 7, 2020
These latest incidents join the wave of people dismantling symbols of racism mostly in the US. Over the weekend, a slave auction block was removed from a public square in Virginia, a Confederate statue was taken down in Kentucky, and the US Marine Corps banned displays of the Confederate flag from all its bases.
A full list of all the racist symbols that have been burned, occupied, or brought down in protests can be found here.