We don’t care about statues until they’re toppled – so why defend those that honour dishonourable men? – The Sun

WE'VE been here before. We’ve been through these same debate about the same statues.

Cecil Rhodes in Oxford, Edward Colston in Bristol and countless others scattered across the country. But this time something is radically different.

This time a statue that had stood in the centre of the British city for over a century has fallen.

Not as many might have liked it to happen – orderly and through the official channels – but dramatically and decisively by a crowd of young demonstrators who, in an instant, solved what had been, for decades, an intractable problem in their city.

Edward Colston was a slave trader who became Deputy Governor of the Royal African Company.

In that role he helped oversee the enslavement of more than 80,000 people, of which, almost 20,000 had died in the holds of the company’s slave ships, before they even reached the plantations.

Yet this is the man who was described on a plaque fixed to the pedestal on which his statue stood as, ‘one of the most wise and virtuous sons’ of Bristol.

Outcry over Livingston's bid to remove Trafalgar Square statues

Before statues became the focus of Britain’s "history wars" few people thought much about them.

What is strange is that few of us cares about statues until the idea of removing them is raised.

When Ken Livingstone was London Mayor he tried to have a debate about removing some of the statues in Trafalgar Square.

There are seven of them, only one of which is Nelson on his column.

Let’s be honest. How many of us can name all the men memorialised in Trafalgar Square? In writing this article I realised I had forgotten who two of them are.

Yet when Livingstone suggested moving some of them there was an outcry.

If you didn’t know who they were today why is the prospect of them being moved tomorrow – perhaps to a museum – so appalling?

And here’s the irony, Trafalgar Square’s empty fourth plinth is more famous than five of its statues.

Pleas to remove Colston statue ignored for decades

The fact is statues are removed all the time. Go to any museum, or even better, go into their storage rooms, and you will find rows and rows of old statues, gathering dust.

Most of them are there because no one remembers who the men (and they almost always are men) they depict were, or what they did.

Statues are often put up in haste only for the fame of their subjects to rapidly fade.

Walk around any British city and the chances are that many of the statues you will pass are of men people you’ve never heard of.

It’s because we are forgetful that Edward Colston was able to loiter on the streets of Bristol for 125 years.

But over that time the city became more diverse, home to thousands of people who are the descendants of the Africans Colston enslaved.

For decades they asked for his statue to be removed. For decades they were ignored.

And then more Colstons, other slave traders in other cities. Men who engaged in a trade all of us in the 21st-century find abhorrent.

It’s because we are forgetful that Edward Colston was able to loiter on the streets of Bristol for 125 years.

The question we have to ask ourselves is do we in the 21st-century want to celebrate and memorialise men who did terrible things in the past?

Because that is what some of these statues are.

They are not a way of remembering the past, they are a way of honouring often dishonourable men.

Professor Olusoga is Professor of Public History at The University of Manchester and presenter of Civilisations, A House Through Time and the BAFTA award-winning Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners.

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