Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 24, June 27, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Upsurge against State Racism

Statues and Symbols of Slavery, Genocide and Racism Come Crashing Down

Peoples express abhorrence of glorification of slavery, racism and genocide and
institutions, traditions, social relations and accumulation of wealth based on them

In Bristol on June 7, the statue of Edward Colston was torn down by protesters and thrown in the harbour

In many places in the US, as well as in Britain and throughout Europe, the ongoing protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd on May 26 are also giving expression to a vehement rejection of the glorification and exaltation of slavery, genocide, racism and the institutions, traditions, social relations and accumulation of wealth based on them. Statues, monuments and other symbols of slave traders, slave owners, advocates of slavery and racial segregation, a well as those responsible for the dispossession and genocide of the Indigenous peoples or promotion of racism are being torn down, defaced or, in some cases, pre-emptively removed by local authorities. Justice-loving people have fought for the removal of such symbols for decades. Today's actions express the determination of the people to bring an end to the social relations and institutions which harbour within them the promotion of enslavement and oppression of Blacks, indigenous peoples and the oppressed peoples of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and racism today. Tearing down these symbols is an expression of their striving for empowerment, for equality and a system which upholds the right to be and dignity of all.


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.

In Bristol on June 7, the statue of Edward Colston was 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 ports connected with trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans. From 1680 onwards, Colston was chiefly connected with the London-based Royal Africa Company (RAC), which had a monopoly of 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 Adventures in Bristol, a monopoly that controlled local government and trade, including the trafficking of enslaved Africans. The Society, with Colston's support, petitioned to end the royal monopoly on the trafficking of A fricans and he became a major benefactor to various schools and charities in Bristol to advance his own business interests, not those of the Crown.

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.

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."

Protest 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:

Another statue the public is demanding be removed is that of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University.

"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 organisations in Britain, we know that we have a duty to address the legacy of colonialism, racism and slavery in our work. We absolutely recognise 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 colonialism and the supremacy of the "Anglo-Saxon" race. A petition on has nearly 190,000 signatures calling on the university to remove the statue. The petition states in part:

In Edinburgh, protesters are calling to end the glorification of Henry Dundas.

"We believe that the colonialism, racism and patriarchy this statue is steeped 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 London's Parliament Square, has been targeted during recent protests, with the slogan "Churchill was a racist" spray-painted across its plinth. 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 defacement.


In Edinburgh, 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 responded with a plan to leave the statue in place, atop a high column, and signage to explain that he was "instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade".


King Leopold II of Belgian, his crimes in the Congo have led to desecration of his statues on an ongoing basis in recent years, especially since the killing of George Floyd.

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 sanitise 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.

United States and Canada

The majority of statues and monuments being torn down in the US at the present moment are those glorifying the Confederate side in the US 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.

This includes various statues of Robert E Lee, a commander of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. Protesters removed the statue of Robert E Lee at the high school that bears his name in Montgomery, Alabama, on June 1. Alabama, along with some other southern states, has legislation in place which makes it an offence which carries a $25,000 penalty to remove Confederate memorials. However, in Birmingham the city itself removed the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument that had become a converging point for the protests, saying the fine would cost less that the security the city had to provide to preserve the monument. Similarly, the Sons of Confederate Veterans removed a bust of Robert E Lee in Fort Myers, Florida, on June 1.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, two Confederate monuments were toppled by protesters such that, on June 20, Governor Roy Cooper ordered that all such monuments on the grounds of the state Capitol be removed. Cooper said he did it "to protect public safety". He said, "I am concerned about the dangerous efforts to pull down and carry off large, heavy statues and the strong potential for violent clashes at the site. Monuments to white supremacy don't belong in places of allegiance, and it's past time that these painful memorials be moved in a legal, safe way."

In Washington, DC, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, on June 11 ordered the removal of four portraits of Confederate slave owners from the gallery of the House.

Confederate monuments were in the main erected during the period of Jim Crow laws from about the 1870s up to the period of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, to buttress state-organized racism, dispossession and lynchings of African Americans.

Protesters have also singled out some of the so-called founding fathers, many of whom owned slaves to one degree or another and relied on the labour of enslaved peoples to enrich themselves. One is George Washington who is said to have "owned 317 slaves" on his estate at the time of his death in 1799. Protesters in Portland, Oregon, toppled a statue of George Washington on June 18. His counterpart Thomas Jefferson is said to have "owned" more than 600 enslaved labourers throughout his life. A statue of Thomas Jefferson was pulled down at Thomas Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon, on June 23. Officials at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, relocated a statue of Jefferson from outside the student centre to a museum.

Statues of Christopher Columbus have also been targeted, to highlight the enslavement of the Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and all countries of the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors, including the near genocide of the Taíno. The first was brought down in Richmond, Virginia, on June 9. Another was toppled in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on June 10. A third was decapitated in Boston on June 11, with the remainder removed by the city. Another 16 have either already been removed by municipal authorities, or are pending removal.

Along similar lines, statues in New Mexico and California dedicated to those involved in the genocide and enslavement of Indigenous peoples in the Americas have been removed by protesters or local authorities, including monuments praising Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate and Catholic priest Junípero Serra y Ferrer,


In Canada, recent protests and petitions are calling for the removal of statues of the historical figures directly involved in the dispossession and acts of genocide against Indigenous peoples, as well as those involved in promoting slavery.

A petition started in early June titled "Remove white supremacist John A Macdonald's Monument in Montréal" reads in part:

"We are calling to Montréal Mayor, Valérie Plante, as well as the city council to remove the monument of 'Canada's' first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. There is absolutely no reason or room for a racist, colonial, white nationalist to be celebrated on unceded Indigenous land. The very fact that this monument exists is an example of the white washing of cultural history, and true 'reconciliation' does not include the glorification of those that actively pursued Indigenous genocide.

"Some of Macdonald's lifelong projects include:
- Establishing the first residential school and creating the system in which over 130 more could be made.
- Openly promoting the preservation of a so-called 'Aryan' Canada.
- 1885 Electoral Franchise Act.
- Gradual Civilization of Indians Act.
- Chinese Exclusion Act and the Chinese Head Tax.
- Worked to ban the teaching of French in schools across numerous provinces.
- The death sentence of Metis leader, Louis Riel. 'Riel shall hang though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour.'"

Already in 2018, a statue of MacDonald was taken down in Victoria, BC. The artist who created it recently told CTV that "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. Also in Toronto, there is a petition to rename Dundas Street, which honours the British Empire's representative Henry Dundas. The petition explains that "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."

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, realising 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 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 Acadians settled the lands seized by the British when they arrived in 1604.

The proposal for the removal of Cornwallis' status 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 in the park to oppose the inaugural meet 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 with a white sheet and took the collective decision to rename the park as their very first act.


Link to Full Issue of Workers' Weekly

RCPB(ML) Home Page

Workers' Weekly Online Archive