Colston was a little-known figure outside Bristol. The fact he has become totemic in the 21st century culture wars reveals the power of memorials, says David Olusoga.
Last week, for the first time in months, the burning eye of the outrage industry pivoted westwards and came to rest upon the city of Bristol. On Friday, the statue of the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston, toppled last June during a Black Lives Matter protest, was put on display. To the fury of some, it was not returned triumphantly to its pedestal in the centre of the city, but exhibited in Bristol’s M Shed museum.
The debate around Colston in the summer of 2020 was largely conducted in a fact-free zone. So it is surely disconcerting for those determined to defend the memorialisation of a mass murderer that in this new setting Colston’s bronze effigy is surrounded by displays that give a detailed history of the slave trader’s grim career and the strange story that explains why, in the 19th century, a cult was created around him and the statue erected.
For most of the 300 years since his death in 1721, Colston was little known outside Bristol. Few would have imagined that his statue would become the totemic image for Britain’s 21st-century history wars. Still, the professionally outraged have never allowed Colston’s relative obscurity to stand in their way as they rushed to his defence, having first looked him up on Wikipedia ...Keep reading on The Guardian.