The majority of statues and monuments being torn
down in the U.S. at the present moment are those
glorifying the Confederate side in the U.S. Civil
War because they exalt those who promoted slavery
and the dispossession and disenfranchisement of
African Americans. More than 50 such statues and
monuments have been torn down, defaced or
pre-emptively removed by authorities since George
Floyd was killed by the police on May 26.
Statue of John A. Macdonald in
Already in 2018, a statue of Macdonald was taken
down in Victoria, BC. The artist who created it
recently told CTV "he is ashamed to admit that he
didn't know about residential schools until after
he crafted the statue and now believes these
monuments should also be taken down."
In Toronto, there is a call for Ryerson University to remove the statue of its founder Egerton Ryerson. A petition expressing this demand noted that Ryerson "aided the Canadian government in the creation of Residential Schools" and "opposed the education of women." The petition can be read in full and signed here.
Also in Toronto, there is a petition to rename
Dundas Street, which honours the British Empire's
representative Henry Dundas. The petition
explains, "As the MP for Midlothian in Westminster
and as Secretary of State he actively participated
in obstructing the abolition of slavery in the
British Empire from 1791 to the end of his
political career in 1806. Slavery was eventually
abolished in 1833 and officially in British North
America in 1834. But Dundas' actions to preserve
the profiteering of his friends in the slave trade
cost tens of thousands of lives, if not more."
That petition can be read in full and signed here.
Recent removals of symbols glorifying those who committed acts of genocide against Indigenous peoples include the renaming of Amherst Street in Montreal to Atateken Street on National Indigenous Day (June 21) 2019, which realized a decades-long demand of local residents and businesses. British general Jeffrey Amherst is infamous for carrying out biological warfare against the Indigenous peoples by using blankets contaminated with smallpox. Atatekan is a Mohawk word meaning "Brothers and Sisters."
In Halifax, in 2017 the statue of Edward
Cornwallis was removed from the park also named
after him. Cornwallis was the British Governor of
Nova Scotia who is said to have founded Halifax.
In 1749, Cornwallis put a bounty on the scalp of
every Mi'kmaq man, woman and child in the province
-- a move tantamount to genocide. This practice
was also used against the Acadians between 1755
and 1763, during the British takeover of part of
the former French colonies. The lands seized by
the British had been settled by the Acadians when
they arrived in 1604.
The proposal for the removal of Cornwallis' statue and to rename the park Halifax Peace and Freedom Park, was first made on November 21, 2009 when some 200 people gathered at a rally there to oppose the inaugural meeting of the Halifax International Security Forum, the warmongering agency based in Washington, DC and funded by Canada's Department of National Defence and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. With Mi'kmaq approval, the activists covered the statue of Cornwallis and took the collective decision to rename the park as their very first act.
In England, people have removed or are demanding
the removal of statues of slave traders and
notorious racists, symbols of the ruling elites'
glorification of empire, racism and slavery.
Base of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, after statue was torn down.
In Bristol on June 7, a statue of Edward Colston
torn down by protesters and thrown in the harbour.
Colston was a
notorious human trafficker in the late 17th
century who was associated
with Bristol, one of the main British ports
trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans. From
1680 onwards, Colston
was chiefly connected with the London-based Royal
(RAC), which had a monopoly on Britain's slave
trade in that period,
transporting Africans to Britain's colonies in
North America and the
Caribbean. In 1689 he became deputy governor of
the RAC. He was also
involved in sugar production, another industry
based on the labour of
enslaved Africans. On the basis of his great
wealth as well as a Tory
MP he was associated with the Society of Merchant
Venturers in Bristol,
a monopoly that controlled local government and
trade. The Society,
with Colston's support, petitioned to end the
royal monopoly on the
trafficking of Africans, allowing the merchants of
Bristol to engage in
the trafficking of enslaved Africans, which the
controlled. He became a major benefactor to
various schools and
charities in Bristol to advance his own business
interests, as opposed
to those of the Crown.
Several Bristol schools have been named after Edward Colston as was until recently Colston Hall, a major concert venue. A statue was erected in his honour in 1895 with a plaque reading "Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city."
Protests about the statue have been ongoing for more than 20 years. In 2018 a second plaque was proposed which added:
"As a high official of the Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692, Edward Colston played an active role in the enslavement of over 84,000 Africans (including 12,000 children) of whom over 19,000 died en route to the Caribbean and America. Colston also invested in the Spanish slave trade and in slave-produced sugar. As Tory MP for Bristol (1710-1713), he defended the city's 'right' to trade in enslaved Africans. Bristolians who did not subscribe to his religious and political beliefs were not permitted to benefit from his charities."
There was opposition to this wording and after several other attempts no resolution was reached, until finally the statue has been brought down altogether.
In London, a statue of Robert Milligan at West
India Quay in the Docklands was removed in a
pre-emptive move by authorities on June 9. Erected
in Milligan's honour following his death in 1809,
there have long been demands for its removal. In
early June, a petition from a local councillor to
remove the statue received thousands of
signatures. The Museum of London Docklands issued
a statement prior to the statue's removal that
said in part:
"Now more than ever at a time when Black Lives Matter is calling for an end to public monuments honouring slave owners, we advocate for the statue of Robert Milligan to be removed on the grounds of its historical links to colonial violence and exploitation.
"We are currently working with a consortium to remove this statue and are aware of other legacies and landmarks within the area. The statue presently stands shrouded with placards and is now an object of protest, we believe these protests should remain as long as the statue remains."
Milligan inherited sugar plantations in Jamaica and was the owner of over 500 enslaved Africans. He later led the consortia that built West India Dock in London to facilitate the import of slave-produced products from the Caribbean.
Also in London, a statement from Guy's and St. Thomas' Charity, Guy's and St. Thomas' National Health Service Foundation Trust and King's College London announced on June 11 that the figures depicting Robert Clayton and Thomas Guy will be taken out of public view. "Like many organizations in Britain, we know that we have a duty to address the legacy of colonialism, racism and slavery in our work. We absolutely recognize the public hurt and anger that is generated by the symbolism of public statues of historical figures associated with the slave trade in some way," the statement said.
Clayton, a former Lord Mayor of London, had ties to the Royal African Company while Guy invested in the South Sea Company, which was also involved in the slave trade of 4,800 adult men every year.
Another statue the public is demanding be removed is that of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University. Rhodes was an ardent advocate of British imperialism and the supremacy of the "Anglo-Saxon" race. A petition on Change.org has nearly 190,000 signatures calling on the university to remove the statue. The petition states in part:
"We believe that the colonialism, racism and patriarchy this statue is seeped in has no place in our university -- which for many of us is also our home. The removal of this statue would be a welcome first step in the University's attempt to redress the ways in which it has been an active beneficiary of empire. While it remains standing, the statue of Rhodes remains a celebration not just of the crimes of the man himself, but of the imperialist legacy on which Oxford University has thrived, and continues to thrive. While the statue remains standing, Oxford University continues to condone the persistent racism that shadows this institution."
The university has voted to remove it but has not said when. Students have sought to have the statue removed since at least 2015, taking up the Rhodes Must Fall campaign that began at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, which succeeded in having a statue of Rhodes removed.
A statue of a more recent figure, that of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Parliament Square in London, has been defaced during recent protests, with the slogan "Churchill was a racist" spray-painted across its base. There are numerous accounts of his racist outlook directed against East Asians, South Asians and Black people, and his belief in white supremacy, as part of his ardent British imperialist outlook. The statue has now been boarded up to prevent further vandalism.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, as in Toronto, protesters are calling to end the glorification of Henry Dundas. Reporting on the ongoing protests for the removal of his statue, 570 News notes, "The late 18th-century Scottish politician was responsible for delaying Britain's abolition of the slave trade by 15 years until 1807. During that time, more than half a million enslaved Africans were trafficked across the Atlantic." In an attempt to avoid the inevitable, the City of Edinburgh has responded with a plan to leave the statue in place, atop a high column, with signage to explain that he was "instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade."
There are many statues across Belgium to honour
King Leopold II "of the Belgians," who plundered
the Congo Free State and carried out atrocities
and crimes against the people including mass
murder, mass mutilation, forced labour on pain of
death, rape, assassinations and more, besides
expropriating Congo's wealth, especially for the
production of rubber, in the period of 1885-1908.
The statues aim to sanitize and glorify Belgium's and King Leopold II's crimes in the Congo. They have been desecrated on an ongoing basis in recent years, especially since the killing of George Floyd. In Antwerp, authorities removed a statue of King Leopold II on June 9 after it sustained serious damage during protests.
(Photos: TML, Shara, M. Edwards, B. Karp, China Daily, G. Davis, S. Villiani, J. Lefty, J. Morris, T. Roache, N. Khawaji, B.J. Sky, J. Biggs, C. Onyango-Obbo)
This article was published in
Volume 50 Number 23 - June 27, 2020