Local historian shares his views on slavery-linked statues

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By Carlena Knight

Even though he supports the global outcry for the removal of slavery-linked monuments, the country’s director of heritage resources does not condone their destruction.

Instead, Dr Reginald Murphy believes they should be relocated to museums where their stories can be told.

“Everything that is done should be done with the consensus of the people. These monuments are symbols of certain people who contributed in the past, which was relevant to that society at the time. A lot of these monuments are no longer relevant today. A statue of Nelson to me is in the bygone period. Today, who or what knows about Nelson except for Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua? Nelson is one of the many people who were there at time. He had nothing to do with the Dockyard except for being a manager for a few years,” Murphy said.

Recently, calls have been made for the statues of Christopher Columbus, Nelson, and others who have been linked to slavery and colonialism, to be removed from places of prominence in the region and further afield.

In the US, a statue of Vice President John C Calhoun, who was a known defender of the slave trade was taken down, while in the Caribbean new life has similarly been breathed into the age-old call.

These anti-statue movements have been met with backlash, moreso in the US where according to reports President Donald Trump has authorised that anyone caught tearing down or defacing these monuments should be arrested.

Murphy also shared his thoughts on calls being made locally for the renaming of the King George V Grounds. He said he has no issue in changing the name to fit a more relevant figure, but he believes that these sorts of actions will always occur depending on the generation and the relevancy at that time of the person.

Meanwhile, in Barbados, calls have been made as well for the Lord Nelson monument to be removed. 

David Comissiong who is also Barbados’ ambassador to Caricom and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), is in favour of it being removed and be displayed in a museum.

“Not only did Lord Nelson benefit, but he was a promoter of the system of the slave trade. In fact, he was a member of the House of Lords and he used his position to oppose and attack the abolitionists,” Comissiong said.

 “Now that statue was put up by the white plantocracy in Barbados in 1813 and they put it up as a monument. They were celebrating a man and all that he stood for. Any sane black person cannot countenance a monument at the center of our capital celebrating a man who was in favour and who worked for our enslavement. Yes, Nelson is a part of history, but the statue must be treated as a historical artifact, not a monument.”

During an interview on Observer AM, Comissiong addressed the global demonstrations that are now taking place following the death of African American, George Floyd by a white police officer who has been charged with Floyd’s murder. The Caribbean born activist, who has been fighting for the rights of black people for over a decade, said these protests are not only ‘historic’ but something the likes of which he has “never seen before”.

Floyd, who was handcuffed, died after the accused officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes even though he repeatedly indicated that he couldn’t breathe.

“Let us be clear about this; this is a historic world phenomenon that all of us are struggling against. In the Caribbean, because we are black majority personalities, we have been able to overcome the more extreme aspects of this phenomenon. In societies like the US, where black people are a racial minority, they experience the brunt of it in a way that we don’t in countries like Antigua but all of us suffer from it and all of us have a vested interest in eradicating it,” Comissiong said on Wednesday.

 “For decades, so many activists like myself having been making the case about this and in this midst of this Covid-19 pandemic when virtually the whole word was on pause, this eight minute video of the public lynching of a black man in the middle of the day in the streets of a major US city was the straw that broke the camel’s back which has caused a fundamental breakthrough about the reality and evil of this system and people are saying enough is enough. I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime.”

He further shared his dissatisfaction in the silence exhibited by Caricom, not only over Floyd death, but of the global protests as well. He hinted that going forward, the region should adopt a united front where these matters are concerned.

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