THE PEOPLE VS COLSTON
Over the years and through the hard work of activists in the city the painful legacy of Colston is becoming more and more known.It has been at times horrendously hard for members of the community to live within a city that so openly demonstrates ties to a slave trader and celebrates this history. As you can see with the listed locations, there are several spaces within the city that pay homage to the man. The community had been fighting to get rid of the Colston's presence within the city, or at the very least, contextualise him properly decades before the dethroning of the Colston statue (more on that in our next section!). Elders within the community have spoken for years about what he represents and why he should not be celebrated and it has, at times, fallen on deaf ears within the institutions that uphold his name and legacy.
For example, In November 2017, Colston's Girls' School, which is funded by the Society of Merchant Venturers, announced that it would not drop the name of Colston because it was of "no benefit" to the school to do so.
There was initially public outrage at the campaign to rename the building of Colston Hall to something that did not reflect Colston and what he represented.
In April 2017, the charity that runs the Colston Hall, the Bristol Music Trust, announced that it would drop the name of Colston when it reopened after refurbishment in 2020. There had been protests and petitions calling for a name change and some concertgoers and artists had boycotted the venue because of the Colston name. Following the decision, petitions to retain the name of Colston reached almost 10,000 signatures, though the charity confirmed that the name change would go ahead.
The "Colston Hall" lettering was physically removed from the building eight days after the Colston statue was toppled. It was recently renamed as the Bristol Beacon.
So there are signs of change on the way within the community, but not nearly enough has been done. In response to this idea, a committee of campaigners/activists/heroes created the “Countering Colston” movement. The aims and objectives can be found below:
Remember the full, true history of transatlantic slavery, colonialism and exploitation;
Commemorate and mourn the people who suffered and died as a result of the slave trade, and recognise the coerced economic contribution that they made;
Celebrate the people who courageously resisted slavery and fought for abolition and emancipation;
Acknowledge and repair, as far as possible, the negative effects in the present day of historical slavery;
Promote ideas of human dignity, equality and freedom
This is truly incredible work guys. Thank you for all that you do.
Based on what you now know about Colston, why do you think he is still here in Bristol?
Who do you think would be a better representative of the City of Bristol based on the content you have engaged with in on this website?
If you were to take on thing from this section to teach to someone else, what would it be and why?
This section aimed to one, provide more context of the man known as Edward Colston. We also wanted to show how the issue of Colston has been an issue close to the communities heart for many years. We talk as a community about Colston as if he is firmly in the past - but he lives alongside us today, still, reminding us of what he and many others did to our ancestors, and what he represents when it comes to the history of Bristol. In the next section, we will be looking at the most recent Black Lives Matter movement and how this ties into this section and what we have learned.
Has this section peaked your interest?
Here are some areas relating to the history of Colston as well as the history of Black Bristol as well.
The Society of Merchant Venturers (Associated with Colston)
The Royal African Company (Associated with Colston)
The CARGO Project (History of Bristol)
More About Zazi and Our Work
If you are interested in what it is that we do outside of this project, click here for information on our mental health interventions and school projects or click here for our social media channels.
For those who may be wondering why we have decided to include Colston in our timeline, our reasoning is very simple. If education systems will not educate their students about Colston and contextualise him properly - we will. Black children in Bristol grow up within a framework that positions Colston as a leader and hero, without realising what he was involved with and how he used his money to exploit and profit off of Black people. Even though he has been dead for hundreds of years, his presence is still a huge thorn in our communities side. We are still fighting against Colston and what he stood for today, in 21st Century Bristol!
WHY DO WE DESPISE COLSTON?
In 1680, Colston became a member of the Royal African Company (RAC), which had held the monopoly in England in trading along the west coast of Africa in gold, silver, ivory and slaves from 1662. Colston was deputy governor of the company from 1689 to 1690. His association with the company ended in 1692. The RAC was formerly headed by the brother of King Charles II who later took the throne as James II. The company branded their "slaves" – including women and children – with its RAC initials on their chests. The lives of these enslaved Africans were horrendous. They were kidnapped from their homes, forced onto ships where they were shackled closely together to the point where they could barely move and made to lay in their own faeces and disease. Suicide and murder claimed between 10 and 20 per cent of Africans on board the ship during the six to eight week voyage to the Americas. In regards to numbers,84,500 enslaved Africans were transported on RAC ships, with 23% dying before reaching shore (which would be about 19,300). This included women and children as young as six. Their bodies were simply thrown overboard. 12,209 of the captives were children of 10 years or below. 1 in 4 children died en route. Research by Reverend Wilkins in the 1920s showed that Colston served actively on all of the major managing committees of the RAC. Take from that what you will.
The Society of Merchant Venturers continue to play an active role in the management of institutions that bear Edward Colston’s name. In1696, Colston entrusted to the Society the Almshouse on St Michael’s Hill, which still functions today. Colston's School and Colston Girls School still exist and operate today too.
In 1895, 174 years after Colston's death, a statue designed by John Cassidy was positioned in the centre of Bristol, to commemorate Colston. There are however many places in Bristol that remind us of Colston’s legacy though. For example: