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Actions against memorials in the United Kingdom during the George Floyd protests

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The empty plinth of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol

A number of statues and memorials have been the subject of protests and petitions during the George Floyd protests in the United Kingdom in 2020.

Background[edit source | edit]

A list of 60 statues, monuments and plaques considered by activists to "celebrate slavery and racism" was published online as an interactive map titled Topple the Racists by the Stop Trump Coalition. Historical figures listed included Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, Oliver Cromwell, King Charles II, Admiral Lord Nelson, prime ministers Earl Grey and William Ewart Gladstone, and Cecil Rhodes.[1][2]

England[edit source | edit]

The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London, had graffiti sprayed on it over two successive days, including the phrase "Churchill was a racist";[3][4][5] this alludes to his controversial racial views.[6] The memorial to Queen Victoria in Leeds was also vandalised.[7] On 5 June, a group of protesters sprayed the abbreviation "ACAB", meaning All Cops Are Bastards, on the memorial to Earl Haig in Whitehall, London; when soldiers from the Household Cavalry in plain clothes scrubbed the graffiti off, protesters shouted abuse at them for doing so.[8]

The statue of Edward Colston in The Centre, Bristol, was toppled and thrown into Bristol Harbour on 7 June.[9][10] On the same day, a protester climbed onto the Cenotaph in London and unsuccessfully attempted to set fire to the Union Flag.[11]

A sculpted head of a black man was removed from the 18th-century inn sign of the Green Man in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. The act was performed by residents of the town, who said that they had done so in order to protect it from vandalism. The sculpture was later returned to the local council, its legal owner.[12]

In Oxford, a crowd of protesters gathered outside Oriel College, demanding that its statue of Cecil Rhodes be removed.[13]

The statue of Robert Milligan on 9 June 2020, the day of its removal

On 9 June the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced the formation of the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm, which would conduct a review of the capital's public landmarks.[14] The Labour politician Lord Adonis asked the Government to begin a public consultation on the statue of Robert Clive outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.[15] That evening the statue of Robert Milligan, a merchant and slave trader, outside the Museum of London Docklands was removed following a request from the Canal & River Trust.[16]

On 11 June the Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, the Guy's and St Thomas' Charity and King's College London issued a joint statement announcing that the statue of Robert Clayton at St Thomas' Hospital and that of Thomas Guy at the hospital named after him would be removed from public view.[17]

A statue of an exoticised black man in a kneeling position was removed from the forecourt of Dunham Massey Hall near Altrincham in Greater Manchester.[18]

A statue of Robert Baden-Powell in Poole, Dorset, was slated for temporary removal after criticism over events during his army career and his comments of support concerning Adolf Hitler and Mein Kampf,[19][20] but initial attempts to remove it faced technical difficulties and local people later protected the statue from both council workers and activists.[21]

In Shrewsbury, a petition to remove the town's statue of Robert Clive received 10,000 signatures, whereas a rival petition to keep the statue in place received nearly 6,000.[22]

The Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy raised concerns about the Empire murals (1914–1921) by Sigismund Goetze in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in a letter to the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab.[23]

Scotland[edit source | edit]

There were protests against the Melville Monument in Edinburgh due to the efforts of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, whom it commemorates, to delay the abolition of slavery, and due to his long association with the slave trade. Graffiti was sprayed onto the monument and calls were made for it to be taken down.[24][25]

In a number of streets in Glasgow, activists placed new name placards under the names of streets named after individuals with connections to the slave trade. Among these is Buchanan Street, named after Andrew Buchanan, who owned plantations in Virginia, which was renamed to George Floyd Street.[26]

A statue of Robert the Bruce located at the Bannockburn Visitor Centre was defaced with graffiti on June 12.[27][28]

Wales[edit source | edit]

Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council announced "an urgent review of all local authority-owned sites and buildings in the county borough to determine what statues, busts, plaques and memorials are present at these locations. If it is the case that any of these may be deemed inappropriate then we will be requesting officers to ensure that they are removed from those particular locations".[29]

Thomas Picton[edit source | edit]

A statue of Thomas Picton is part of a display of statues named "Heroes of Wales" in Cardiff's City Hall, unveiled in 1916. In June 2020 the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Dan De'Ath, and the leader of Cardiff Council, Huw Thomas, supported calls to remove the statue due to Picton's treatment of slaves.[30]

A campaign to remove Picton's monument in Carmarthen also arose.[31]

Thomas Phillips[edit source | edit]

A plaque in Brecon dedicated to Thomas Phillips, the captain of the slave ship Hannibal, was removed by an unknown person. Brecon town council said in a statement that it would "...in consultation with the local community and interested parties will take time to consider what, if anything, should take its place". The plaque had been "under review" by the council before its disappearance but no decision had been made on its future.[32]

References[edit source | edit]

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