In the aftermath of the pulling down of the statue of slave-trader Edward Colston on 7th June, elected Mayor Marvin Rees announced the formation of a ‘History Commission’ to “help us tell our full city history” and to “shape the future of Bristol”.[1] Since the announcement we have waited for some clarity about the Commission, its members, processes, timescales and remit but none have appeared. Several people have asked questions of the Mayor’s Office but received no answers (as yet). As Bristol Radical History Group were in the dark about all this, and in the interests of transparency, we have drafted a series of questions concerning the ‘History Commission’ (HC) which we feel need to be answered in the public domain. A letter from BRHG and supported by the Remembering the Real World War One history group and Countering-Colston was sent to the Mayor’s office on Monday 4th August asking for answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose and objective of the HC?
  2. Who made the decisions on who was to sit on the HC?
  3. What were the criteria for selection?
  4. Was there a written process for this selection and can the public see it?
  5. How many people are to sit on the HC?
  6. Who has been selected and why? Who was rejected and why?
  7. Have any members of the Society of Merchant Venturers been selected for the HC? And if so, who are they and why were they selected?
  8. Are members of the HC paid to sit on it and if so how much? Can they claim expenses or other remuneration? Who is paying for this?
  9. What is the process for decision making in the HC?
  10. Will the HC agenda be made public? And if so when?
  11. What are the proposed timescales and deadlines for the HC?
  12. Will citizens of Bristol be able to engage in the ongoing HC decision making process and its recommendations?
  13. How will decisions be made on the HCs recommendations? Who will make these decisions?
  14. What funds have been set aside for the duration of the Commission, and for the implementation of any decisions? (i.e. removal of some monuments, erection of new ones, creation of a museum etc.)
  15. Is there a long-term commitment to the HC or will it be subject to changes in the elected Mayor/Cabinet/City Councillors?
  16. What is the relationship between the HC and Asher Craig’s Roundtable/Legacy meetings?
  17. Are the Roundtable/Legacy meetings dead? If so, who made this decision and why?
  18. Is there a concrete commitment by Bristol City Council to a memorial and visitors centre/museum to remember the victims of the slavery and the transatlantic slave trade? Does this lie within the remit of the HC?

Bristol has a long history of ‘kicking the can down the road’ over dealing with the history of slavery and the slave-trade and, crucially, permanently memorialising its victims. Let’s hope the HC is not another talking shop, of which there have been many. We look forward to some answers…

Notes

  1. [1]Postans, A. “Commission to decide if names of monuments and streets should be changed” Bristolive, 10 June , 2020. https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/commission-decide-names-monuments-streets-4213297 [Back...]

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