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Scrutiny of monuments and statues around north London ‘an opportunity for education’

PUBLISHED: 12:03 15 June 2020 | UPDATED: 12:04 15 June 2020

Protesters throw statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

Protesters throw statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

Monuments, names and memorials around north London have come under intense scrutiny as the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum.

Following a long-running dispute about its prominence in Bristol, a statue to the slave trader Edward Colston was thrown into Bristol Harbour on June 7 during an anti-racism protest.

In hurling his statue into the river, Black Lives Matter protesters prompted activists to reconsider figures celebrated around the country.

There are many statues with origins unacceptable to modern society in London and not just on racial grounds, for example there is a memorial to William Vincent in Westminster - headmaster of Westminster School from 1788 to 1802, who was a staunch supporter of corporal punishment and flogging, and the memorial representing Queen Victoria in Barnet, who was made empress of India to further tie the country into colonial rule.

Multiple local authorities - including Islington, Hackney, and Camden - have launched reviews into names and monuments.

READ MORE: Public spaces naming review launched in Hackney following Edward Colston statue toppling

READ MORE: Camden launches cross-party review into names of public spaces

READ MORE: Islington Council to launch review into statues and monuments in borough

There is a statue of Sir Robert Geffrye outside the former Geffrye Museum on Kingsland Road, now Museum of the Home.

A petition dedicated to removing the statue has already garnered more than 3,000 signatures.

It says: “Robert Geffrye should be condemned to the history books so that we can learn from the shameful past.

“He should no longer be celebrated with a prominent statue. Take him off the front of the building, perhaps stick it down in the basement of the museum as an exhibit where we can teach children about how horrible the slave trade was.”

The museum has now announced it was engaging with residents as to the future of the figure.

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Hackney South and Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier said: “The statue should be an opportunity to educate visitors to the museum and Hackney about the cruelty of the slave trade and the lives of those affected. Using it to educate could raise more awareness than just removing it.”

It comes as part of a wider review from Hackney Council into the naming of buildings, street names, parks and other public spaces.

A member of Hackney Stand Up To Racism, Sasha Simic, told this newspaper it is right to “cast down” monuments dedicated to slave owners: “Those in the media and in political life who are deploring it are displaying double standards on this issue. When the people of Russia and eastern Europe rose up thirty years ago and tore down the statues of Stalin, the British establishment cheered.

“When the giant statue of Saddam Hussein that stood in Firdos Square, Baghdad was pulled down in 2003 the event was celebrated by the Western elite.”

Although Islington Council says its initial searches indicate that there are no memorials to slavers in its borough, Cllr Asima Shaikh, executive member for inclusive economy and jobs, released a statement: “Systemic racism and injustice is much more than statues and plaques.

“It plagues local people and communities and we are committed to making Islington a fairer place for all, listening to, learning from and acting on the concerns of all communities, including residents from our black and minority ethnic communities, to tackle the inequalities and injustice they face every day.”

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan launched a new Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm on June 9, which will focus on increasing representation among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, women, LGBTQ+ people and disability groups.

Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn supported the move: “We need to celebrate our diversity, and our streets and public spaces must reflect that diversity.

“It is understandable that people in Bristol and elsewhere have finally become exasperated with the years of debate on having statues of men whose wealth was founded on slavery.”

Emily Thornberry, MP for Islington South and Finsbury, added: “I think this is a very important and long overdue moment of reflection for our society, and I think there’s a strong sense of momentum to rid ourselves of racism in whatever form it takes, and from whatever era it comes.

“So I hope people will make their views known to the council, and let that democratic process begin.”


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