London to remove two statues over links to slavery

A man holds a placard in front of the Winston Churchill statue at Parliament Square in London, on Jan 6, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - The local authority that runs London's historic financial district is to remove the statues of two British colonial-era politicians over their links to the slave trade.

The City of London Corporation voted on Thursday (Jan 21) to remove the statues of two 17th and 18th century figures because they had accrued wealth through the slave trade.

The monuments to William Beckford, a former London mayor who drew his wealth from plantations in Jamaica that used slave labour, and John Cass, an MP and major figure in the Royal Africa Company that facilitated the transatlantic slave trade, will be re-sited.

The corporation launched a public consultation on monuments connected to slavery in September in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests that swept Britain and Europe following the death in US police custody of an unarmed black man, Mr George Floyd, months earlier.

The demonstrations, which culminated in the toppling of a statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston during an anti-racism protest, sparked nationwide calls to remove monuments linked to Britain's colonial past.

The movement also faced a significant backlash, particularly after a statue of Britain's wartime prime minister Winston Churchill was targeted by protesters.

Earlier this week, new legal protections came into force meaning historic statues will only be removed in "the most exceptional circumstances".

Under the legislation, if a local authority intends to remove a monument and the national heritage body Historic England objects, the final decision will rest with communities minister Robert Jenrick.

Mr Jenrick has said Britain should not try revise its past and wrote in the Sunday Telegraph last weekend that monuments which have stood for generations should not be "removed on a whim or at the behest of a baying mob".

Ms Catherine McGuinness, the City of London Corporation's policy chairman, said the decision to remove the statues from London's Guildhall was the result of "months of valuable work" by their Tackling Racism Taskforce.

The Tackling Racism Taskforce co-chairman Caroline Addy said the committee had voted for the "correct response to a sensitive issue".

"The slave trade is a stain on our history and putting those who profited from it literally on a pedestal is something that has no place in a modern, diverse city," she said.

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