World

Statue of slave trader removed in London amid anti-racism protests

A statue of Robert Milligan, an 18th-century slave trader, was removed from its plinth outside a London museum on Tuesday after global anti-racism protests triggered a debate about how Britain commemorates its imperial past.

More monuments of imperialist figures could be removed, says Mayor Sadiq Khan

A statue of 18th-century slave trader Robert Milligan was removed in London amid global anti-racism protests. 0:41

London's mayor announced Tuesday that more statues of imperialist figures could be removed from Britain's streets after protesters knocked down the monument to a slave trader, as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis continued to spark protests — and drive change — around the world.

On the day Floyd was buried in his hometown of Houston, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was setting up a commission to ensure the British 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.

Even before the new commission got underway, officials in east London removed a statue of 18th-century merchant and slave owner Robert Milligan from its place in the city's docklands.

Workers take down a statue of 18th century slave trader Robert Milligan in London on Tuesday. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

Joe Biggs, mayor of London's Tower Hamlets borough, said that following the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston by demonstrators in the city of Bristol on Sunday, "we've acted quickly to both ensure public safety and respond to the concerns of our residents, which I share."

It was the latest sign that international protests of racial injustice and police violence that Floyd's May 25 death spurred are already creating change. A white police officer who pressed a knee on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes has been charged with murder.

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

On Sunday, protesters in Bristol hauled down a statue of Colston, a 17th-century slave trader and philanthropist, and dumped in the city's harbour.

WATCH | Statue of slave trader toppled, thrown into river in Bristol:

A statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was toppled and thrown into a river in Bristol, England, amid worldwide anti-racism demonstrations. 2:41

That act revived calls for Oxford University to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a Victorian imperialist in southern Africa who made a fortune from mines and endowed Oxford University's Rhodes scholarships.

Several hundred supporters of the Rhodes Must Fall group gathered near the statue at the university's College on Tuesday, chanting "Take it down" before holding a silent sit-down vigil in the street to memorialize Floyd.

Oxford city officials urged the college to apply for permission to remove the statue so that it could be placed in a museum.

WATCH | Hundreds call for statue of Cecil Rhodes removed at Oxford:

Protesters gathered at Oxford University to demand a statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes be removed. 1:08

Another 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 Euro-centric.

In 2003, the Rhodes scholarships were renamed the Mandela Rhodes scholarships in South Africa, and a partnership was formed with the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

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 much of its people to collect rubber, reigning over a brutal regime under which some 10 million Congolese died.

A statue of former Belgian King Leopold II splattered with red paint by protesters is seen being removed in Ekeren, Belgium, on Tuesday. (Antwerp Television via Reuters)

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."

British 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."

Graffiti that reads 'Son of slaver and Colonialist Profiteer' appears on the statue of Robert Dundas, son of Henry Dundas, in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Tuesday. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)

Some historical figures have complex legacies.

At weekend protests in London, demonstrators scrawled "was a racist" on a statue of Winston Churchill.

Britain's wartime prime minister is revered as the man who led the country to victory against Nazi Germany. But he was also a staunch defender of the British Empire and expressed racist views.

Police officers stand in front of a statue of former British prime minister Winston Churchill during a rally in Parliament Square in London on Tuesday. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

Khan suggested Churchill's statue should stay up.

"Nobody's perfect, whether it's Churchill, whether it's Gandhi, whether it's Malcolm X," he told the BBC, adding that schools should teach children about historical figures "warts and all."

"But there are some statues that are quite clear-cut," Khan said. "Slavers are quite clear-cut in my view, plantation owners are quite clear-cut."

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