Dozens more controversial statues face being pulled down after councils vowed to review their monuments following a series of Black Lives Matter protests.
Two slave trader statues have been pulled down in recent days – one by campaigners at an anti-racism protest and another with the approval of a local authority following a petition.
A statue of slave owner Robert Milligan was removed from its position in the docks he founded at West India Quay, east London, on Tuesday.
This followed demonstrators in Bristol tearing a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston from its plinth and rolling it into the harbour.
A statue of Robert Milligan was pictured being removed by workers outside the Museum of London Docklands near Canary Wharf, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
Labour-led councils across England and Wales have now agreed to work with their local communities to look at the “appropriateness” of certain monuments and statues.
The review, announced by the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Labour group, came as the killing of George Floyd in the US continued to provoke demonstrations against inequality.
Activists who tore down the Bristol monument on Sunday – who were condemned by Boris Johnson – were referenced at Mr Floyd’s funeral.
Civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton, who preached at the service, said: “I’ve seen grandchildren of slave masters tearing down a slave master statue over in England and put it in the river.”
Rev Sharpton said Mr Floyd’s death, after a police officer held his knee on his neck for several minutes, had touched the world.
To coincide with Mr Floyd’s funeral protesters in London observed a minute’s silence on their knees before marching from the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square to Downing Street.
The statue of slave owner Robert Milligan was quickly taken down from West India Quay in London’s Docklands on Tuesday evening.
The charity that owns the land where it stood had promised to organise its “safe removal” following a petition launched by Tower Hamlets Labour councillor Ehtasham Haque.
Ahead of the protest, the leader of Oxford City Council, Susan Brown, invited the college to apply for planning permission to have the statue removed, suggesting it should be placed in the Ashmolean or the Museum of Oxford.
Governors at Oriel College said the institution “abhors racism and discrimination in all its forms” but added that the college continues to “debate and discuss” the presence of the Rhodes statue.
A number of petitions have emerged demanding controversial monuments in the UK are taken down, including calls to remove a statue of two-time British prime minister Sir Robert Peel in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens.
Petition organiser Sami Pinarbasi described the statesman, who founded the Metropolitan Police Service, as an “icon of hate and racism”.
Similar petitions with the hashtag #RepealPeel have been launched to remove statues in Leeds and Bradford.
In Edinburgh, city council leader Adam McVey told the BBC he would feel “no sense of loss” if a statue to Henry Dundas, who delayed the abolition of slavery, was removed.
Cecil Rhodes will fall
When it was built more than 100 years ago, the statue of Cecil Rhodes that looms on the face of Oriel College was designed to look down on people as they entered the building he had paid for. With his hat in hand and his foot perched just over the ledge of a plinth bearing his name, the imperialist and diamond magnate donated the equivalent of £7.8m for the privilege to stare onto Oxford’s high street as the gatekeeper to one of the most prestigious learning establishments in the world.
However, on Tuesday, Rhodes’ stone eyes were trained not on those rushing to class or towards the city centre – but on a coalition of more than a thousand students, lecturers and local residents decrying his colonialist and white supremacist views.
The protest, one of a string of anti-racism rallies to have spread across the nation and the world in recent weeks, carried many of the hallmarks of those that have taken place since the death of black American George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer. The crowd sat and fell silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds – the time it took for Floyd to die in police custody with an officer’s knee on his neck. Protestors screamed that black lives mattered, and demanded justice for those who died at the hands of law enforcement. While framed by the international movement, one chant in particular anchored it in the local – Rhodes must fall.
“There has been a reigniting of the conversation of veneration of atrocious characters in world history”, protest organiser Ndjodi Ndeunyema told The Independent. “It’s allowed us to reinvigorate that conversation that we started in 2015 here in Oxford University”.
It has been more than five years since students first began to demand Oriel College reckon with the past of its imperialist benefactor. While part of a wider movement to decolonise academia by including more black and minority ethnic (Bame) voices in course literature and address prejudice faced by students – the removal of the statue became a flash point in a national conversation on how Britain’s modern day multicultural understanding of itself settled with its colonial past.
The campaign had begun more than 9,700km away in Cape Town, where the city’s namesake university also carried a statue of the imperialist – built in the country where Rhodes had paved the way for apartheid during his time as Cape Colony prime minister, while living out his white supremacist belief that humanity was improved by the spread of the Anglo-Saxon “first race”. That statue came down as a result of student action. But in Oxford, those agitating for their pleas for the founder of the De Beers diamond company to be deposed were met with opposition from both the university and the broader public.
Caught up in a national conversation about university safe spaces, the step towards decolonising one of the world’s most prestigious seats of learning was dismissed as a matter of student politics – and was ultimately met with the decision by college officials to keep the statue and add “a clear historical context to explain why it is there”. While university figures said they were seeking to preserve a complex and challenging history, activists accused the establishment of siding with wealthy donors who they alleged had threatened to remove funding.
But that was before a revived Black Lives Matters movement in the US sparked new life into calls for action on systemic racism the world over.
In the UK, around 200 protests took place across the weekend despite coronavirus guidelines ruling out gatherings of more than six. In Bristol, the statue of slaver Edward Colston was torn down and thrown into the river Avon. Shortly after images began to circulate of a sign held outside Oriel College – a red-lettered banner reading “Rhodes, you’re next”.
In USA, Christopher Columbus is drowned in nearby river
A statue of Christopher Columbus in Richmond, Virginia, has been torn down by protesters, set on fire and then thrown into a lake.
The figure was toppled less than two hours after protesters gathered in the US city’s Byrd Park were chanting for the statue to be taken down, it was reported.
After the figure was removed from its pedestal by protesters using several ropes, a sign that reads “Columbus represents genocide” was placed on the spray-painted foundation that once held the statue. It was then set on fire and rolled into a lake in the park, NBC reported.
There was no police presence in the park, but a police helicopter was seen circling the area after the city-owned figure was torn down, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Earlier during the day, activist Chelsea Higgs-Wise and other protesters spoke to a crowd gathered at Byrd Park about the struggles of indigenous people and African-Americans in America. “We have to start where it all began,” said Ms Higgs-Wise. “We have to start with the people who stood first on this land.”
The Columbus statue was dedicated in Richmond in December 1927, and had been the first statue of Christopher Columbus erected in the South, the newspaper reported.
Its toppling comes amid national protests over the death of George Floyd and several days after a statue of Confederate general Williams Carter Wickham was pulled from its pedestal in Monroe Park by demonstrators who also used ropes.