In November 2014 the Bishop of Bristol, preaching to school students, claimed that ‘speculation’ about the ‘business roots’ of the city’s philanthropic icon, Edward Colston, was merely ‘speculation’. These incendiary words inspired complaints, protests and new historical research into Colston’s slave-trading activities and his role as a ‘City Father.’ They also led to the formation of the campaign group Countering Colston which challenged both the physical commemoration and memorialisation of his legacy.
This talk by those involved in the campaign will expose Colston’s significant role in the transatlantic slave-trade and his reinvention as an icon in the Victorian period. It will then outline the successful tactics of Countering Colston who through protest and argument in the public domain confronted the elite institutions in Bristol that had ideological, historical and financial interests in his legacy.
These elements were to play a critical part in public debates and a series of victories by campaigners, culminating in the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston by Black Lives Matter protestors in June 2020.