Bristol should make peace with slavery past, says Colston descendant

Exclusive: City should twin with metropolises in west Africa most affected by slavery, says Philip Colston Robins

A descendant of Edward Colston has written to Bristol’s mayor to suggest ways of “making peace with the past” such as twinning Bristol with cities in west African countries most affected by slavery

Philip Colston Robins, a former university dean and Treasury civil servant, told the Guardian he was disappointed that a peaceful demonstration with “a moral cause” had descended into an “unruly mob”, after Black Lives Matter demonstrators toppled Colston’s statue in the city.

Demonstrators attached a rope to the Grade II-listed statue of the slave trader on Colston Avenue and pulled it to the ground as crowds cheered.

They then jumped on it and rolled it down the street before pushing it into Bristol Harbour. It has been retrieved and Bristol city council has said it will eventually be housed in a museum.

Robins said he had written to Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, to outline suggestions for how developed countries can make “peace with the past” by recognising their moral obligations to provide development aid to countries most affected by the slave trade.

This could be through a “Colston development foundation” in the case of Bristol, which he said could “lead the way” and should be twinned with cities in west Africa.

“It should be inclusive, positive and forward-looking. We should look to bring reconciliation and through the work of these projects redemption as well. A better reaction to the past than statue toppling and worse.”

He said Rees “could do his bit by leading Bristol in a way that extends the hand of reconciliation to those places in Africa that suffered most from the slave trade, as well as encouraging the government to act and to do its bit to prevent further social disunity”.

Asked how he felt about the toppling of the statue, he replied: “I think it is one of disappointment. Disappointment that a peaceful demonstration, with a moral cause, should descend into an unruly mob with anger and resentment spilling over, made worse by the disingenuous response of the government of calling for another inquiry.

“The other part of the disappointment is that many, perhaps most, taking part in the Bristol demonstration relied on social media to inform them about the wickedness of Edward Colston,” said Robins.

“He may not have been a personally attractive character and he kept bad company but the evidence that he was the biggest player in the slave trade out of Bristol is lacking. He was rich from fruit, wine and cloth-trading, money-lending and his investments but linking this wealth to his involvement in the slave trade is hard to do.

“He is a convenient target on which anger and frustration can be vented, at the expense of understanding, and with the folly of judging others, in a different time, by our standards – which are evidently so superior to theirs.”

In the US, a lawyer in North Carolina who advocates for fair elections and believes that her family are also linked to Edward Colston expressed her approval for the toppling of the statue.

Aylett Colston also told the Guardian:More importantly, however, I think that all ‘white’ Americans have a duty to confront and change systemic racism in America regardless of their particular ancestry.

“Racism is a societal problem, so it must be addressed by society. Racial inequity is not caused by ‘a few bad apples’ with ‘hate in their hearts’. Truly achieving racial equity in America will take systemic change, and it is the solemn obligation of all Americans to make that change.”


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Minister vows to close ‘loophole’ after court clears Colston statue topplers
Grant Shapps leads calls to change law limiting prosecution of people who damage memorials

Aubrey Allegretti Political correspondent

06, Jan, 2022 @12:14 PM

Article image
Bristol mayor wants 'citywide conversation' on future of Edward Colston statue
Marvin Rees urges discussion on memorials and places with slavery links

Steven Morris

10, Jun, 2020 @3:56 PM

Article image
Path of resistance: a timeline of protest against Edward Colston
Key dates, from a clergyman speaking up in 1921 to the 2022 trial verdict that cleared protesters

Damien Gayle

05, Jan, 2022 @5:07 PM

Article image
BLM protesters topple statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston
Statue that had long been a focal point of local anger rolled down to harbour and pushed into the water

Haroon Siddique and Clea Skopeliti

07, Jun, 2020 @3:50 PM

Article image
Statue of slave trader Edward Colston to go on display in Bristol museum
Temporary exhibition will launch with survey to discover what people think should happen next to statue

Steven Morris

28, May, 2021 @12:27 PM

Article image
I shared my home with Edward Colston for more than 20 years. Good riddance
The toppling of the statue was a win for multiracial, radical Bristol – and the whole of the UK. Now it must face up to its shameful role in the slave trade

David Olusoga

11, Jun, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Britain's urban fabric comes under spotlight shone by BLM protests
Force of history demands re-evaluation of colonial statues and street names

Charlotte Higgins

08, Jun, 2020 @4:57 PM

Article image
Bristol council calls for parliamentary inquiry on slavery reparations
Motion backed by councillors says experiences of African heritage groups needed to help shape plan

Steven Morris

02, Mar, 2021 @7:04 PM

Article image
The reckoning: the toppling of monuments to slavery in the UK
From Birmingham to Bristol, how the Black Lives Matter protests started a movement for change

Aamna Mohdin and Rhi Storer

29, Jan, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
Marvin Rees, mayor of Bristol: 'Symbolic acts should be linked to change'
The toppling of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue provoked conversations on race – now policy change needs to happen too, says Bristol’s mayor

Steven Morris

12, Jan, 2021 @7:00 AM