Petitions launched to replace Colston statue with alternatives celebrating Bristol’s Black community

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By Filiz Emily Gurer, News Editor

Following yesterday’s Black Lives Matter Protest in Bristol, when protestors pulled down the 19th century statue of prominent slave trader Edward Colston and proceeded to push it into the dock, there has been discussion as to what should take its place.

In an interview with Sky News this morning, Marvin Rees described the incident as ‘iconic’ and stated that [he did not feel] ‘any real sense of loss for the statue.’

Bristolians have for years been petitioning for the City Council to remove the statue and, now that it has gone, new petitions proposing what could replace it have emerged.

Out of the many petitions set up in the last 24 hours currently garnering momentum, there are two which have gathered particularly high levels of support.

The ‘Replace the Colston Statue with Paul Stephenson’ petition proposes to have civil rights campaigner Paul Stephenson as a suitable candidate. The petition surpassed its 10,000 signature target by 11:15am today, less than 24 hours after being set up, and has since surpassed the 15,000 mark, approaching 25,000 signatures.

Paul Stephenson OBE was a leader of the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963, which campaigned for four months to challenge the discrimination which prevented black people from working on Bristol buses.

The campaign, which involved national politicians, is considered to have been influential in the creation of the 1965 and 1968 Race Relations Acts that legislated against racial discrimination in the workplace.

Edward Beeston, who started the Change.org petition yesterday, told Epigram that he was ‘astounded’ that it had received so much support in such a short space of time. He said he had started the petition in the hope that it ‘might create some conversation,’ and explained that ‘Stephenson seemed a perfect replacement as an advocate of black civil rights.’

Importantly, he also made the point that any discussion and decision around replacing the statue should involve Bristol’s Black community, a point which he has emphasized in his communications to the Bristol Mayor, Cabinet of the Council and MPs.

A second online petition, which suggests replacing Colston’s statue with one commemorating the victims of the slave trade, also looks close to meeting its 5,000-signature target after only 18 hours of being released.

This petition acknowledges that the City Council needs to do more to remove the traces of Bristol’s links to the slave trade, but states that a new statue could ‘celebrate the BME community in modern day Bristol.’

The petition suggests that a new statue could be designed by a member of the black community in Bristol, to bring recognition to Bristol’s thriving arts community, or otherwise be decided through a competition – it also proposes Paul Stephenson as a worthy inspiration for a new statue.

Sophia Choudhury, a University of Bristol student, told Epigram that she set up the petition in the belief that it would ‘offer a widely accessible and democratic way for many people to show their support,’ and that in light of ‘many people looking towards Bristol and its Council for their response to the removal of the statue, it is in the best interests of the City Council to react constructively and show their support for the BME community and its history.’

Statue of Edward Colston | Epigram / Rufus Atkins

Sophia went on to say she believes erecting a new statue, such as that of the victims of the slave trade would ‘recognise the role that the slave trade, and the profits made, played in the establishment of the city as we know it today.’

In addition, an alternative statue would ‘encourage everyone to feel that they belong and that they are welcomed and appreciated in their own city.’

Yesterday Bristol City Council published the following statement from Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol:

‘Today’s protest saw around 10,000 people take to the city streets to stand against injustice and racism, with many more joining in at home by Taking the Knee. Thank you to everyone who took part peacefully and respected the need to protect their communities as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.

‘I know the removal of the Colston Statue will divide opinion, as the statue itself has done for many years. However it’s important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity and make the legacy of today about the future of our city, tackling racism and inequality.    I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.’

Bristol City Council has been contacted for comment.

Featured Image: Change.org


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