Sadiq Khan calls for London's slave trader statues to be removed

Sadiq Khan calls for ALL London’s slave trader landmarks to be removed as anti-racism protestors target Oxford’s Cecil Rhodes statue today amid fears it could be torn down next

  • Sadiq Khan will ‘review and improve’ London diversity in wake of BLM protests
  • London Mayor said capital’s landmarks largely reflect Victorian Britain
  • Khan called for the urgent removal of statues of slave traders across the capital  
  • Announcement comes ahead of anti-racism protest in Parliament Square today
  • BLM demonstrators will gather around Cecil Rhodes statue in Oxford at 5pm 

Sadiq Khan has announced he will ‘review and improve’ the diversity of London’s public landmarks and called for the removal of all slave trader statues in the capital.

It follows the tearing down of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol over the weekend by Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrators.

Last night, some people attempted to fish the Colston statue out of the harbour, in a growing sign of public division over the manner of the protests.

Mr Khan’s declaration comes ahead of planned anti-racism protests in front of the Nelson Mandela memorial in Parliament Square this afternoon.

It also comes ahead of demonstrations by the Cecil Rhodes statue in Oxford at 5pm. 

Mr Khan’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm will review London’s landmarks, including murals, street art, street names, statues and other memorials.

It will also consider which legacies should be celebrated before making recommendations, the Mayor of London’s office said. 

Statues of slave traders and owners Robert Milligan, William Beckford, John Cass and Thomas Guy are likely to be targeted by Mr Khan’s commission. 

Some people attempted to retrieve the Edward Colston statue which was torn down over the weekend and thrown into Bristol’s harbour last night 

It comes amid growing public division over the controversial conduct of the BLM protests

Sadiq Khan has announced he will ‘review and improve’ the diversity of London’s public landmarks following Black Lives Matter demonstrations at the weekend

City Hall called London ‘one of the most diverse cities in the world’, but said the capital’s statues, plaques and street names largely reflect Victorian Britain. 

Mr Khan said he ‘hopes’ the new Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm will recommend some memorials in the capital should be removed.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Mayor of London: ‘One of the things that I realise is that I’ve not got ownership of the statutes or indeed some of the land that these statues are on. But it is a wider conversation I want to have about the diversity of the public realm in our city.

‘When you look at the public realm – street names, street squares, murals – not only are there some of slavers that I think should be taken down, and the commission will advise us on that, but actually we don’t have enough representation of people of colour, black people, women, those from the LGBT community.’ 

The statue of Milligan, a 18th century Scottish merchant who owned 526 slaves at his Jamaican sugar plantation, stands outside the Museum of the Docklands near the West India Dock he helped to create near Canary Wharf.

Beckford, a wealthy politician who twice held the office of Lord Mayor of London in the 18th century, is believed to have owned around 3,000 slaves on his plantations in Jamaica. His statue stands inside London’s Guildhall.   

Cass was involved in the slave trade, as a member of the Royal African Company’s Court of Assistants between 1705 and 1708. 

Statues of Robert Milligan (right) and William Beckford (left) are likely to be targeted

Statues of Thomas Guy (left) and John Cass (right) are also likely to be targeted for removal

Company records show Cass having been on the ‘committee of correspondence’ which dealt with slave agents in the African forts and the Caribbean. Cass also retained shared in the Company until his death in 1718.

A copycat statue stands outside the Sir John Cass School, at Duke’s Place and Mitre Street. The original is housed in London’s Guidhall.

Guy, the founder of Guy’s Hospital, held a large stake in the South Sea Company, which was given a monopoly over the slave trade to the Spanish Colonies in the Americas before the famous ‘South Sea Bubble’ burst.

A statues dedicated to Guy stands in the courtyard of Guy’s Hospital. 

Mr Khan 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 wilfully ignored. This cannot continue.

‘We must ensure that we celebrate the achievements and diversity of all in our city, and that we commemorate those who have made London what it is – that includes questioning which legacies are being celebrated.

‘The Black Lives Matter protests have rightly brought this to the public’s attention, but it’s important that we take the right steps to work together to bring change and ensure that we can all be proud of our public landscape.’

The commission will be co-chaired by Debbie Weekes-Bernard, the deputy mayor for social integration, social mobility and community engagement, and deputy mayor for culture and creative industries Justine Simons.

It will also include historians as well as arts, council and community leaders.

Other statues likely to be targeted by the diversity commission are those of Cecil Rhodes, whose Oxford memorial will be the site of a demonstration at 5pm today, and of Robert Peel, which stands in Parliament Square.

Peel, the founder of the Metropolitan Police Service, regarded the Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill as a threat to the cotton industry. He raised a petition highlighting the risk it presented to the merchants and their trade interests.

A statue dedicated to the former PM now stands in Parliament Square.  

Mr Khan (pictured on GMB) said he ‘hopes’ the new Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm will recommend some memorials in the capital should be removed

Other statues likely to be targeted are those of Cecil Rhodes (left), whose Oxford memorial will be the site of a demonstration today, and of Robert Peel (right) in Parliament Square

The announcement comes ahead of planned anti-racism demonstrations in London as George Floyd is laid to rest in the US, after a killing which Boris Johnson said had awakened an ‘incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice’ worldwide.

Mr Floyd, who died after a police officer in Minneapolis restrained him by holding a knee on his neck, will be buried in his home town of Houston in Texas today.

A symbolic and socially distanced commemoration is planned at the Nelson Mandela statue in Parliament Square in London at 5pm, organised by Stand Up To Racism.

Following protests across the UK on the weekend, Boris Johnson – who previously condemned the ‘thuggery’ that marred some of the demonstrations – acknowledged many of the activists’ concerns were ‘founded on a cold reality’.

He said leaders ‘simply can’t ignore’ concerns that black, Asian and minority ethnic groups face discrimination in education, employment and in law, but warned that those who harmed police or property would face the ‘full force of the law’. 

After campaigners pulled down the statue of Mr Colston in Bristol, graffiti was scrawled on the plinth of the Sir Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square. 

Nearly 50 London police officers were injured during the protests at the weekend.

The PM warned legal repercussions must follow, and called for people to ‘work peacefully, lawfully, to defeat racism’.

But Mr Khan said he did not consider statues of the likes of Sir Winston Churchill to be included in the review, after the former prime minister’s statue in Parliament Square had ‘was a racist’ scribbled onto it by protesters.

He said pupils needed to be educated about famous figures ‘warts and all’ and that ‘nobody was perfect’, including the likes of Churchill, Gandhi and Malcolm X.

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