Now this is who should be honored in public spaces.
In June, during worldwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement following the killing of George Floyd, racist statues found themselves toppled. Sculptures and statues of slave traders and owners, colonizers, oppressors, and makers of racist policies from Christopher Columbus to Confederate General Robert E. Lee were pulled down by protesters as a means to remove these looming figures from public spaces — here are 15 great photos of some rather creatively vandalized ones.
One of these statues was that of 17th century English slave trader and former member of Parliament Edward Colston, a bronze sculpture which was dragged through the streets of Bristol, England by protesters and thrown in the Avon river.
And now, after standing in the square since 1895, it’s been replaced — by a statue of Black Lives Matter protester Jen Reid.
Installed on Wednesday, the statue created by prominent British sculptor Marc Quinn, called A Surge of Power (Jen Reid), now stands on the plinth where Colston once resided. According to the Guardian, the black resin and steel statue was erected in the early morning by ten people who had been working with Quinn on the project. The team was reportedly able to install the statue before authorities arrived.
Reid, the publisher reports, attended the march on June 7 and was one of the protesters who removed the statue of Colston and ensured it found its way to the river. A photograph of Reid had been taken afterwards, when she stood on the empty plinth with her fist raised. According to the BBC, Quinn saw the photo and contacted Reid through social media to work on the project.
“When I was stood there on the plinth, and raised my arm in a Black Power salute, it was totally spontaneous,” she told the news outlet. “I didn’t even think about it. It was like an electrical charge of power was running through me. This sculpture is about making a stand for my mother, for my daughter, for Black people like me.”
The statue of Colson was retrieved from the water by Bristol City Council several days after it was thrown, and Mayor Marvin Rees confirmed plans to display it in a museum along with signs from the Black Lives Matter protest.
Whether or not the statue of Reid remains installed, it will inevitably reboot public discussion of statue removal in the UK, as politicians on both sides of the aisle condemned it — Prime Minister Boris Johson described the removal of Colston’s statue by protesters as a “criminal act,” and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called it “completely wrong,” though said the statue should have been removed “a long, long time ago.”
Colston was responsible for transporting more than 100,000 slaves from West Africa. It’s about time his watch over this public space has ended, making way for figures like Reid moving us forward.
Additional reporting by Adam Rosenberg.