London statues with slavery links ‘should be taken down’

London statues with slavery links 'should be taken down'

Thomas Guy

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Getty Images

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Thomas Guy made his fortune through ownership of a large number of shares in the South Sea Company

Statues and street names in London with links to slavery “should be taken down”, the city’s mayor has said.

Sadiq Khan said he had set up a commission to review the capital’s landmarks to ensure they reflect its diversity.

It comes after anti-racism protesters tore down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol on Sunday.

The Canal and River Trust has announced it will remove its statue of Robert Milligan, a noted slaveholder.

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The statue of Robert Milligan was covered with a blanket and Black Lives Matter sign

It follows a campaign to have the statue, which stands outside the Museum of London Docklands, removed.

The Canal and River Trust said it “recognised the wishes of the local community concerning the statue of Robert Milligan”.

It said it was working with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the Museum of London Docklands and partners in Canary Wharf to have it removed.

The Museum of London Docklands said the statue of the prominent British Slave trader, who owned two sugar plantations and 526 slaves in Jamaica, had “stood uncomfortably” outside its premises “for a long time”.

“The Museum of London recognises that the monument is part of the ongoing problematic regime of white-washing history, which disregards the pain of those who are still wrestling with the remnants of the crimes Milligan committed against humanity,” they added.

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Milligan was a noted slaveholder and founder of London’s global trade hub, West India Docks

Mr Khan said London had “an uncomfortable truth” with historical links to slavery.

The Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm will review the city’s landmarks – including murals, street art, street names, statues and other memorials – and consider which legacies should be celebrated before making recommendations.

Mr Khan said London was “one of the most diverse cities in the world”, but said recent Black Lives Matter protests had highlighted that the city’s statues, plaques and street names largely reflect Victorian Britain.

“It is an uncomfortable truth that our nation and city owes a large part of its wealth to its role in the slave trade,” he said.

“While this is reflected in our public realm, the contribution of many of our communities to life in our capital has been wilfully ignored.”

During a Black Lives Matter protest in central London on Sunday, a statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square was sprayed with graffiti.

But Mr Khan said he did not consider statues of the likes of Churchill to be included in the review.

He said pupils needed to be educated about famous figures “warts and all” and that “nobody was perfect”, including the likes of Churchill, Gandhi and Malcolm X.

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Reuters

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A statue of Sir Winston Churchill was sprayed with graffiti during a Black Lives Matter protest

Mr Khan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he did not have ownership of the statues and the land they are on.

He also said it would be “inappropriate” to single out which statues and street names he thinks should go.

Instead a number of new memorials in the capital have been pledged by Mr Khan, including ones for Stephen Lawrence, the Windrush generation, a National Slavery Museum or memorial and a National Sikh War Memorial.

The Local Government Association’s (LGA) Labour group has also announced that Labour councils across England and Wales are to review “the appropriateness” of monuments and statues in their towns and cities.

Campaigns calling for the removal or amendment of monuments celebrating controversial figures have increased in volume around the UK in recent days.

In Oxford, 26 councillors and an MP have called for a statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes to be removed from an Oxford University college.

A plaque is to be added to a Henry Dundas monument in Edinburgh to “reflect” the city’s links with slavery, while the leader of Cardiff Council said he would support the removal of a statue of slave-owner Sir Thomas Picton from the city’s civic building.

London statues with links to slavery

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Getty Images

Image caption

Sir John Cass (1660-1718) did business with slave agents in Africa and the Caribbean

  • Sir Thomas Guy made his fortune through ownership of a very large number of shares in the South Sea Company, whose main purpose was to sell slaves to the Spanish Colonies
  • Robert Milligan was a noted West Indian merchant, slaveholder and founder of London’s global trade hub, West India Docks.
  • Aside from founding an educational charity, Sir John Cass was a major figure in the early development of the slave trade and the Atlantic slave economy, directly dealing with slave agents in the African forts and in the Caribbean

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