At the weekend, protestors at Bristol’s Black Lives Matter protests dismantled a statue of slave trader Edward Colston before throwing it into the harbour – a scene that has made international headlines and sparked a wider debate in cities around the world. It’s now led Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to launch a review of the monuments and memorials in our own city in order to ‘improve diversity across London’s public realm.’
The Mayor’s Office has initiated the campaign because, despite the capital’s diversity, its statues and memorials hark back to a ‘Victorian Britain’. It stated that the Black Lives Matter protests had particularly illuminated the issue.
Khan has today (Tuesday June 9) formed the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm to consider the legacies celebrated in not only statues but other memorials, murals, street art and even street names in London. The aim of the project is to increase representation among BAME communities, as well as women, the LGBTQ+ community and disability groups.
‘We must ensure that we celebrate the achievements and diversity of all in our city, and that we commemorate those who have made London what it is – that includes questioning which legacies are being celebrated,’ said the Mayor.
Events in Bristol have also triggered a petition for the removal of slaver Robert Milligan’s statue from West India Quay (pictured). The petition against the statue outside the Museum of London Docklands was started yesterday (Monday June 8) by Tower Hamlets councillor Ehtasham Haque, and received more than 2,500 signatures in its first 24 hours.
‘The East End has a proud history of fighting against injustice and inequality. Today it is our duty to remove this symbol which only resonates pain, suffering and inhuman treatments of fellow human beings for profit,’ said Haque on the petition’s page.
Speaking in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, Sadiq Khan stated that he hoped the commission would lead to the removal of some statues, particularly those of slavers and plantation owners – although he added that he didn’t own the statues or the land on which they lie.