Damaged Colston statue should be displayed in museum, commission finds | Bristol
The toppled statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston should be displayed in a city museum – horizontally and still daubed with paint – and its former plinth topped with temporary artworks but sometimes left empty, an independent commission has concluded.
After a citywide consultation, the We Are Bristol History Commission recommended the statue be preserved in the damaged state it was in after it was retrieved from the harbor after being pulled down and thrown into the dock. It has been exhibited at the city’s M Shed museum alongside information about the history of the enslavement of people of African descent.
The commission said the plinth in the city center should act as a focal point for temporary pieces and activities that reflect important issues for Bristol including the slave trade, and also at times be left empty to remind people of the statue’s fate.
Prof Tim Cole, chair of the commission, said there were some irreverent suggestions from people about what should happen to the statue, toppled during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020.
One claimed the city was so divided over it that it should be broken in two with half a put in the museum and the rest on the plinth. A second person suggested putting it back – but hauling it down and throwing it in the harbor once a year, a new “civic ritual”.
But Cole said the city was more united than may have been expected, with 80% of Bristolians saying it should go on display. Of the one in five who did not want it exhibited, half of this group said it should go back to the plinth and a quarter said it should be destroyed.
The commission was pleased with how many young people took part in the survey, with four out of five Bristolian 18- to 34-year-olds saying they were very positive or positive about the toppling. About half of those aged 65 and above were either very negative or negative.
The commissioners were surprised that black / African / Caribbean / black British residents were – by a slight margin – the least positive over the toppling. They dug into why and the comments from people in this group suggested they did not like the fact that it could be considered an unlawful act.
Men were less likely than women to feel positive about the fall of the statue but there was no difference in attitudes in richer or poorer areas of the city.
The commission’s suggested wording for a new plaque includes the phrase: “In the late 20th and early 21st century, the celebration of Colston was increasingly challenged, given its prominent role in the enslavement of African people.”
Some might want more detail – he rose to become the equivalent of a modern chief executive in the Royal African Company, which shipped 84,000 Africans into slavery, including 12,000 children.
Cleo Lake, a former lord mayor of Bristol who long campaigned to have the Colston statue removed, called for a permanent space in the city to tell the story of the transatlantic slave trade.
She said: “We need a dedicated space in Bristol to tell the full history, that is accessible for as many people as possible, and empowers people of African descent.”
The commission’s recommendations will be considered by the city’s mayor, Marvin Rees, and his cabinet in April.
Katie Finnegan-Clarke, co-founder of the Colston Countering campaign, said: “The commission’s report shows what we’ve always known: Bristolians have a strong, uniting belief in social justice, which means most people support the toppling of Colston’s statue. We hope Marvin will take this report as a green light to push for a permanent memorial for enslaved Africans in Bristol. ”
Last month four anti-racism campaigners responsible for toppling the statue were cleared of criminal damage by a jury in the city after their defense argued the monument was so indecent and potentially abusive that it constituted a crime.