Historical figures reassessed around globe after Floyd death
June 12, 2020 - Statues of slave traders, imperialists, conquerors and explorers are tumbling across the world in a wave of anger against racism following George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in the United States.
Protests and, in some cases, acts of vandalism have taken place in such cities as Boston; New York; Paris; Brussels; and Oxford, England, in an intense re-examination of racial injustices over the centuries. Scholars are divided over whether the campaign amounts to erasing history or updating it.
New Zealand’s fourth-largest city removed a bronze statue of the British naval officer Capt. John Hamilton, the city’s namesake, on Friday, a day after a Maori tribe asked for the statue be taken down and one Maori elder threatened to tear it down himself. The city of Hamilton said it was clear the statue of the man accused of killing indigenous Maori people in the 1860s would be vandalised. The city has no plans to change its name.
At the University of Oxford, protesters have stepped up their longtime push to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, the Victorian imperialist who served as prime minister of the Cape Colony in southern Africa. He made a fortune from gold and diamonds on the backs of miners who laboured in brutal conditions.
Near Santa Fe, New Mexico, activists are calling for the removal of a statue of Don Juan de Oñate, a 16th-century Spanish conquistador revered as a Hispanic founding father and reviled for brutality against Native Americans, including an order to cut off the feet of two dozen people. Vandals sawed off the statue’s right foot in the 1990s.
In Bristol, England, demonstrators over the weekend toppled a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston and threw it in the harbour. City authorities said it will be put in a museum.
Across Belgium, statues of Leopold II have been defaced in half a dozen cities because of the king’s brutal rule over the Congo, where more than a century ago he forced multitudes into slavery to extract rubber, ivory and other resources for his own profit. Experts say he left as many as 10 million dead.
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