Bristol's New Lord Mayor Removes Portrait Of Slave Trader From Office As Her First Order Of Business

Photo via: Bristol Post  

When artist and activist Cleo Lake entered office last month as the new Lord Mayor of Bristol, one of her first orders of business was to have a 316-year-old portrait of slave trader Edward Colston removed from her office. 

"I'm coming to the end of my first month in office, and this is my parlor, which is a lovely space," said Lake, who is a native Bristolian of Scottish and Afro-Caribbean heritage. "I spend a lot of time here — I am here nearly every day. I won’t be comfortable sharing it with the portrait of Colston.”

The 1702 portrait has hung in the British's town City Hall since its opening in 1953, but now, per Lake's request, will be installed at a museum on slavery and abolition that will acknowledge Colston's role in the slave trade. 

As reported by the Bristol Post, "Colston was a key player in the original Royal Africa Company in the mid-to-late 17th century, which turned the buying of slaves in West Africa and the shipping of them to work on plantations in the Caribbean and North America into an industrial-scale practice." 

Historians researched that Colston was responsible for the deaths of about 20,000 people on board his slave ships. His portrait will be replaced with a drawing of a lion. 


Photo via: Bristol Post

"Many of the issues today such as Afriphobia, racism and inequality stem from this episode of history where people of African descent were dehumanized to justify enslaving them," Lake told the Guardian. "We are partway through the UN Decade for People of African Descent, so change must also be ushered in and this is in line with that."

Lake added: "People have wondered why the portrait wasn’t already removed from the parlour. I first noticed it when I was invited in to meet the Jamaican high commissioner a couple of years back. Having it on the parlour wall in my view sent mixed messages about the city council’s values today, which are not the same as what they might have been centuries ago in Colston’s time."  

What a way to use the power of your platform! 


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