News, Opinion

11th June 2020

The Impact Of Tearing Down Statues

Opinion pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflects the views of the Liverpool Guild Student Media or Liverpool Guild of Students.

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter Movement has been reignited, stronger than ever before. Over the past week, we have witnessed historic scenes all over the world, to campaign for the rights of black people. 

In particular, powerful scenes in Bristol demonstrated protestors tearing down the statue of famed slave-trader Edward Colston, and placing his statue in the waters in which his slave ships used to dock. 

So Why Should These Statues Be Taken Down?

Statues are erected as a piece of public history. They are used to commemorate and recognise work of figureheads. These people are then immortalised for life for future generations to see and learn about. 

But these are not figureheads we should be commemorating.   

A Brief History Of The Figureheads Behind Britain’s Statues 

Edward Colston 

Colston was a well-known merchant and MP for the Tory Party, hailing from Bristol. He was well known for donating a significant amount of money to charities in his home town, and as such he has been immortalised all over Bristol.

However, his wealth came at a severe cost. Between 1672 and 1869 Colston was responsible for the transportation of 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Americas as a part of the slave trade.

Robert Milligan 

Milligan was a Scottish merchant, well known for creating the West India Docks in London. The docks played a massive part in the trade of the British Empire, and essentially aided and abetted the slave trade. 

Milligan was also the owner of 2 sugar plantations and 526 slaves in Jamaica. 

Cecil Rhodes

Rhodes was a well-known advocate for the development of the British Empire and British Imperialism, pushing for the colonisation of many areas in Southern Africa. 

He attended Oriel College, Oxford, where his statue is erected outside of his namesake building. 

He held a deep rooted belief in British superiority, famously stating that- “You are an Englishman and have subsequently drawn the greatest prize in the lottery of life”. 

Renaming Gladstone Hall In Greenbank 

In the wake of the problematic issues surrounding these statues, the debate surrounding the naming of Gladstone Hall in Greenbank Halls of Residence has been reignited. 

Who Was William Gladstone?

William Gladstone was a Prime Minister of Britain, born in Liverpool. His father was a notable slave trader, and Gladstone was against abolition laws due to the impact it would have on him and his family financially. 

When the slave trade was eventually abolished he and his family received £90,000 (equivalent to £9.5 million today), as compensation for the loss of their slaves. 

The name of the hall has been a point of contention for many years, with the Guild eventually reaching the decision to place a plaque outside the hall, recognising the negative actions Gladstone had committed.

However, it is now clear that that is not enough, and in order to demonstrate solidarity with the BLM movement it is necessary to strip Gladstone’s name off of the building.

As a result, University of Liverpool students, came together to sign a joint letter to Vice Chancellor Dame Janet Beer, citing the ethical issues surrounding naming the hall after a man with staunch links to the slave trade.

The joint letter has proved successful, and the Guild are working with UoL students in the process of renaming the halls.

You can read and sign this letter here.

Why Should We Continue To Challenge These Commemorations?

As I mentioned prior, naming buildings and erecting statues are examples of public history. They are a way to continue the legacy of these figureheads, long after they have died. However, in the case of many of these figureheads, it is simply not right to continue to commemorate them any further. 

Many of their actions were absolutely abhorrent, and have played a key part in influencing the racism we see around the world today. 

By tearing down these statues, and removing their names from our streets, we are effectively tearing down the glorification and legacy of their namesakes, who were in the wrong. 

How Else Can I Support The Black Lives Matter Movement…..

Here at LGSM, we have curated a number of articles in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement, which also feature links to a number of educational resources which are vital in showing your solidarity and support of the movement. 

You can find these articles below;

Black Lives MatterHow To Offer A Hand To Black Lives Matter A Brief History of Racism and Violence

Feature Image Credit: The Independent