Statue of slave trader toppled by BLM protesters to go on public display

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The toppled statue of slave trader Edward Colston is to go on public display in Bristol alongside placards held by the protestors who witnessed the historic event.


The bronze memorial to the 17th century merchant was pulled down from its plinth during a Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June last year in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in the US. It was rolled to the harbourside, where it was thrown in the water at Pero’s Bridge, named in honour of enslaved man Pero Jones who lived and died in the city.

The empty plinth where the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston sat before it was pulled down by Black Lives Matter protestors (Ben Birchall/PA)
The empty plinth where the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston sat before it was pulled down (Ben Birchall/PA)

Days later the statute was recovered from the water by Bristol City Council and put into storage. It will now go on temporary display at the M Shed museum from 4 June alongside placards used during the protest.

Bristol residents are also being asked by the We Are Bristol History Commission about what should happen next to the statue.

Mayor Marvin Rees said:

Read on...

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June 7 2020 is undoubtedly a significant day in Bristol’s history and had a profound impact not just in our city but also across the country and around the world.

The Colston statue: What next? display at M Shed is a temporary exhibition which aims to start a conversation about our history.

The We Are Bristol History Commission will be leading that conversation with citizens over the coming months.

The future of the statue must be decided by the people of Bristol and so I urge everyone to take the opportunity to share their views and help inform future decisions by taking part in the survey.

A local decision

Feedback from the public survey will inform the History Commission’s recommendation on the long-term future of the Colston statue later this year. Responses will also be archived and made publicly accessible as a resource for researchers, schools, and those who wish to learn more about Bristol’s history and the city’s links to the transatlantic traffic of enslaved African people and its present-day legacy.

Professor Tim Cole, chair of the commission, said:

This is an opportunity for everyone to have your say on how we move forward together.

The display is not a comprehensive exhibition about Colston or transatlantic slavery in Bristol, but it is intended to be a departure point for continuing conversations about our shared history.

M Shed

After its retrieval from the harbour, the conservation team at M Shed cleaned the statue and stabilised the spray paint graffiti to prevent flaking. The bike tyre that emerged from the water with the statue will also form part of the display.

Fran Coles, conservation and documentation manager at M Shed, said:

The aim of our conservation work was to stabilise the statue and prevent deterioration from the water and silt it had been exposed to. This will prepare the statue for whatever its future may be. M Shed’s role is to reflect the history and contemporary issues relating to Bristol, telling the stories that matter to the people of Bristol.

Therefore, it is a very suitable location for this short-term display of the statue. It will enable visitors to take stock and make their own minds up concerning the future of the statue.

The display and survey will also be online, helping to reach people across the city and beyond.

“Bristol Topplers’ Defence Fund”

On 27 May, a legal fund launched to protect the people who toppled the statue of Colston. According to the GoFundMe:

On 7th June 2020, ten thousand people in Bristol succeeded where countless petitions,  articles and other public objections had fallen short, removing a century-old public tribute  to racism and slavery. For toppling the Colston statue, four of the ten thousand have been  singled-out to face criminal damage charges and need our support before they go to trial  later this year.

It adds:

The four protesters facing charges are due to appear at Bristol Crown Court on the 13th  December 2021 for a jury trial lasting up to eight days. That means hefty additional legal  costs, along with lost income and other expenses that we hope the rest of the ten  thousand people who brought the Colston statue down, and supporters around the world,  will ensure are covered.

How can Bristol hope to address its ongoing racial inequalities, if a slave trader is still  venerated in the heart of the city? The toppling was a justified and necessary action that  we believe the vast majority of Bristol stands behind. Despite the fact that calls to drop the  charges are ongoing, it is likely the four will still have to stand trial.

If you are #GladColstonsGone, please donate and help spread the word!

Your donations will go towards, in priority order:
– Legal fees not covered by legal aid (estimated at £12,000).
– Covering loss of earnings sustained as a result of attending court.
– Any travel costs related to court case.
– Any other costs related to the court case.
– In the event that there are funds remaining, they will be donated to
local black-led anti-racist & community groups.

You can donate to the crowdfunder here.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Fingers crossed the mindless thugs get a decent prison sentence. Bristol is a city of nearly 700,000 people. In no way can the supposed 10k people involved claim to represent the majority of Bristolians.
      Thankfully that crap attempt at a statue that was put up shortly afterwards was swiftly removed in a garbage truck. Very fitting.

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