Edward Colston
Getty Images / Matthew Horwood

The widespread protests that began in the United States in response to the police murder of George Floyd have reverberated around the world. In what feels like a long-overdue reckoning, a number of statues and memorials celebrating the racist past have been torn down.

The move was seemingly kicked off on Sunday when Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol toppled the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader. They rolled it through the streets and then pushed it into the harbor. This move followed failed lobbying and negotiation to remove the statue. What happened in Bristol was filmed and shared across social media, setting off a global domino effect.

As more statues of problematic figures are being torn down across the globe, it has sparked a fierce debate about whether destroying historical relics of Europe and America’s slave-trading past is actually good. While many celebrate the move, others are outraged by protester’s actions on social media.

Sajid Javid, a Member of Parliament in the UK, commented, “If Bristolians want to remove a monument it should be done democratically – not by criminal damage.”

On the other hand, another British historian, David Olusoga, remarked on Twitter, “The toppling of Edward Colston‘s statue is not an attack on history. It is history.”

Debates over criminal damage and vandalism as they relate to anti-racist protests have been at the forefront of the news cycle in past weeks. What these arguments often miss is the acute issue of black lives at stake. Black Lives Matter isn’t a slogan, it’s a demand for justice by people that have been systematically oppressed and killed for centuries. Arguing that property should not be damaged in the process simply means you believe things matter more than black lives.

To the matter of (forcibly) removing statues memorializing a racist history, it’s not an issue of “rewriting history,” but rather refusing to celebrate it. In a statement earlier this week, London Mayor Sadiq Khan explained, “Whilst it’s a sad truth that much of our city and nation’s wealth was derived from the slave trade – this does not have to be celebrated in our public spaces.”

Furthermore, the historic figures in question are more than simply problematic, they’re mass murderers. Edward Colston gained his wealth by trading 90,000 Africans, killing 19,000. Robert Milligan built London’s global slave trade docks and held 526 slaves in Jamaica. While King Leopold II’s tyrannic rule killed between 10 to 15 million Africans. The same way there are no German monuments celebrating Adolf Hitler’s genocide of 6 million Jews, these historical statues should not remain standing.

Edward Colston’s and countless other statues have been torn down over the course of a week, with many more scheduled to be taken down in response by city officials. Find an overview below of all the monuments that were toppled by protesters in what feels like a much-needed cultural revolution.

United States

  • In Richmond, Virginia, the statue of Christopher Columbus was toppled, lit on fire, and dumped in a nearby lake by protestors who stated they were acting in solidarity with Native Americans.
  • Also in Richmond, protesters pulled down a statue of slave owner Williams Carter Wickham.
  • In Saint Paul, Minnesota, another Columbus statue was toppled by members of the American Indian Movement.
  • In Birmingham, Alabama, a statue of Confederate Navy captain Charles Linn was torn down by protesters.
  • In Montgomery, Alabama, four people were charged with felony criminal mischief over the removal of a statue of Confederate soldier Robert E. Lee.
  • In Boston, Massachusetts, protesters decapitated a statue of Columbus.
  • In Portsmouth, Virginia, protesters destroyed a Confederate Monument. Four statues were decapitated and one pulled down by protesters.

UK

  • In Bristol, protesters tore down a statue of Edward Colston and dumped it in the harbor.
  • In London, local authorities removed a statue of Robert Milligan in response to protests.

Belgium

  • In Ekeren, a statue of King Leopold II was removed by the municipality after it had been vandalized and set on fire.

New Zealand

  • Hamilton City Council finally removed a statue of colonist Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton after requests by Maori tribal confederation Waikato Tainui.
Words by Sarah Osei
Staff Writer