The new Lord Mayor of Bristol has yet to finish her first month in office, and she is already making some major changes.
Councillor Cleo Lake, who is a mixed-race woman, has had the portrait of the slave trader Edward Colston removed from her office. The move happened after she decided that she did not want to share her working space with the painting.
“I spend a lot of time here, I’m here nearly every day,” she said. “It made me feel uncomfortable sharing the parlor with the portrait.”
The portrait, which Colston sat for in 1702, has belonged to the Bristol city council for decades and has hung in the office of the Lord Mayor since at least 1953 when City Hall was opened. It has now been placed in a museum about the city’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, the Guardian reports.
According to the Bristol Post, Colston made his fortune through the slave trade: “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.”
He gave a lot of his wealth to good causes, and like Civil War and Southern heroes here in America, Colston’s name, and image are found on buildings, institutions, and streets throughout the city.
Lake, who was elected in May, is part of a coalition that is openly questioning Colston’s role in the slave trade and how the city should view him today. The “Countering Colston” campaign “challenges what it sees as a celebration in Bristol of the slave trader’s life…” the Guardian reports.
“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 says. “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.”