Robert Milligan: London statue of 18th-century slaver removed

Move comes as London mayor says he is setting up commission to ensure UK capital’s monuments reflected its diversity.

A statue of Robert Milligan is pictured being removed by workers outside the Museum of London Docklands [John Sibley/Reuters]
A statue of Robert Milligan is pictured being removed by workers outside the Museum of London Docklands [John Sibley/Reuters]

A statue of 18th-century slave trader Robert Milligan has been removed from its plinth outside a museum in the British capital after officials decided it was no longer acceptable to the local community.

The statue in front of the Museum of London Docklands came into focus after demonstrators taking part in a global anti-racism protest movement on Sunday tore down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, southwest England, and dumped it into the river.

The pulling down of Milligan’s statue on Tuesday came as London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan said more statues of imperialist figures could be removed from the United Kingdom’s streets as the May 25 killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of white police in the US city of Minneapolis continued to spark protests and drive change around the world.

On the day Floyd was being buried in his hometown of Houston, Texas, Khan said he was setting up a commission to ensure the UK capital’s monuments reflected its diversity. It will review statues, murals, street art, street names and other memorials and consider which legacies should be celebrated, the mayor’s office said.

“It is an uncomfortable truth that our nation and city owes a large part of its wealth to its role in the slave trade and while this is reflected in our public realm, the contribution of many of our communities to life in our capital has been willfully ignored,” Khan said.

International protests against racial injustice and police violence sparked by Floyd’s killing show no sign of abating. 

In Britain, where more than 200 demonstrations have been held so far, people gathered in London’s Parliament Square for a vigil timed to coincide with Floyd’s funeral.

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Elsewhere in the UK, demonstrators gathered to demand the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a Victorian imperialist in southern Africa who made a fortune from mines and endowed the University of Oxford’s Rhodes scholarships.

Several hundred supporters of the Rhodes Must Fall group chanted “Take it down” before holding a silent sit-down vigil in the street to memorialise Floyd.

A large statue of Rhodes that had stood since 1934 was removed from South Africa’s University of Cape Town in April 2015, after a student-led campaign that also urged the university to increase its numbers of Black lecturers and to make the curriculum less Eurocentric.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, there are calls to tear down a statue of Henry Dundas, an 18th-century politician who delayed Britain’s abolition of slavery by 15 years.

The leader of Edinburgh City Council, Adam McVey, said he would “have absolutely no sense of loss if the Dundas statue was removed and replaced with something else or left as a plinth.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged that it was “a cold reality” that people of colour in Britain experienced discrimination, but said those who attacked police or desecrated public monuments should face “the full force of the law.”

King Leopold II statue taken down in Antwerp

Protests in France, Belgium

Statues, as long-lasting symbols of a society’s values, have become a focus of protest around the world.

In Antwerp, authorities used a crane on Tuesday to remove a statue of Belgium’s former King Leopold II that had been splattered with red paint by protesters, taking it away for repairs. It was unclear whether it would be re-erected.

Leopold took control of Congo in 1885 and enslaved many of its people to collect rubber, reigning over a brutal regime under which some 10 million Congolese died.

France has seen nationwide protests calling for greater law enforcement accountability, and more demonstrations were being held on Tuesday evening.

Protesters marching in solidarity with United States demonstrations over Floyd’s death have also called for justice for Adama Traore, a young man of Malian origin whose death in French police custody in 2016 is still under investigation.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has met police and citizens’ groups as part of efforts to calm tensions. He said on Tuesday that the code of police ethics would be reviewed. The French government has also announced that the chokehold would no longer be taught in police training.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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