Controversy Over UK Statue Removals

Jane Werrell
By Jane Werrell
June 13, 2020UK

Demonstrators in the UK say statues with links to Britain’s imperialist past should be taken down in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, but some historians are urging caution in the rush to remove them.

“People do get carried away, especially today, by their notions of moral outrage. This is very much whipped up on social media and on the internet. That’s perhaps why feelings are more intense at the moment. That often does not help reflection,” historian Antony Beevor told NTD. “That I think is a pity because this is what we really need to do.”

He added, “The point of history is to understand the past, and realize why people acted in the way that they did then—rather than tell them that they were always wrong and they should have lived as we did today with our views.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday said to tear such statues down “would be to lie about our history.”

“They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong. But those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults,” he said.

Calls to pull down statues gathered momentum after demonstrators dismantled a statue of Edward Colston, an English philanthropist and politician who was heavily involved in the slave trade. His statue was dragged through the streets of Bristol then thrown into the city’s harbor on June 7.

It has since been pulled out of the water and Bristol’s mayor says it will be put in the city’s museum.

A long campaign to take down a statue in Oxford has also reignited. Protesters want to take down a statue of mining entrepreneur and colonialist Cecil Rhodes, saying he represents white supremacy. But Oxford University’s vice chancellor told The Daily Telegraph that removing the statue could amount to “hiding history.”

‘I’ll Fight for Him’

A far-left group called the Stop Trump Coalition has recently orchestrated a hit-list of 78 statues to target in the UK. It includes one of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Movement, in Poole, Dorset.

Local councilor Mark Howell said Baden-Powell did much to bring people with different backgrounds and races together, and was considering removing the statue temporarily for protection.

Activists accuse Baden-Powell of holding racist views and expressing admiration for Hitler.

There’s strong support from the locals in the town saying the statue should stay.

“I’ll fight for him!” said former scout Len Banister.

Howell said in a statement on Friday that the council would instead board up the statue.

“Many residents were concerned that the statue, if removed, might not return. We have therefore decided to board the statue up to protect it and reassure the public that it will remain as a fixture on Poole Quay,” he said.

Councils run by the UK’s opposition Labour Party have said they will review statues with links to slavery.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has ordered a commission to review the “diversity” of the city’s landmarks, which includes street names, murals, and memorials.

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