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21.06.18

Portrait of slave trader removed from Bristol mayor’s office

The lord mayor of Bristol has ordered the portrait of a slave trader to be removed from her office after she decided that she could not share her office with the image.

The portrait of Edward Colston, which dates back to the beginning of the 18th century, has hung in the office of Bristol’s mayor since 1953.

Colston was an English born merchant and member of Parliament, who was raised in Bristol and acquired much of his wealth through the trade and exploitation of slaves.

Cllr Cleo Lake explained to the Guardian why celebrating someone who played such a large role in Bristol’s slave trade is a problem: “Many of the issues today such as Afriphobia, racism and inequality stem from this episode of history where people of African descent were dehumanised to justify enslaving them.

“We are partway through the UN Decade for People of African Descent, so change must also be ushered in and this is in line with that.”

According to the mayor, people have questioned why the portrait hadn’t been removed from the parlour sooner.

“Having it on the parlour wall in my view sent mixed messages about the city council’s values today, which are not the same as what they might have been centuries ago in Colston’s time,” she said.

The portrait has been replaced by a picture of a lion, painted by a Bristol-based artist, which Cllr Lake bought at a Help Bristol’s Homeless auction.

Lake’s move has not been universally popular, with Conservative councillor Richard Eddy calling it an “outrageous stunt.”

He told the Guardian: “The occupier of this distinguished position should know better than to pander to politically-correct partisan opinion.”

Eddy accused Lake, who identifies as first-generation Bristolian, born to a “proud African man” and a mother of Scottish heritage, of deciding to “abandon the impartial role of the lord mayor less than a month into her reign.”

The portrait has been placed into storage, and Lake, a member of the Countering Colston campaign group, hopes that it will be hung in a museum about the slave trade and its abolition.

She denies wanting to airbrush Colton out of history, saying that more needs to be known and understood.

Top image: Brockswood

 

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