News / Edward Colston

Mayor to launch commission to research Bristol’s ‘true history’

By ellie pipe, Wednesday Jun 10, 2020

Marvin Rees says a better understanding of Bristol’s true story will help us shape where we go in the wake of Sunday’s historic events.

The mayor has revealed plans to bring together a collective of historians, academics and placemakers to research and share a true version of the city’s rich and varied heritage to inform decisions about its future.

The new commission follows the toppling of Colston’s statue, a move that has divided opinion across a city.

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“The events over the last few days have really highlighted that as a city we all have very different understandings of our past,” said Rees.

“The only way we can work together on our future is by learning the truth of our beginnings, embracing the facts, and sharing those stories with others. This is why this commission is so important.”

Mayor Marvin Rees says recent events have shown how we all have different understandings of the city’s past – photo by CB Bristol Design

He continued: “Bristol’s journey to become the modern city it is today includes a history of huge disparities of class, race and gender and the struggles for equality. Our history includes the growth of education, the struggles of workers for pay and working conditions, and Chartists and suffragettes campaigning for emancipation.

“Our story includes the impacts that wars, protests, slavery and freedom have had on our citizens. Crucial to our heritage has been the harbour and the docks, manufacturing and industry, research and innovation, transport, slum clearances, housing, modern gentrification and faith.

“Education of our history has often been flawed. More accuracy of our city’s history which is accessible to all will help us understand each other, our differences, our contradictions and our complexities.”

The Colston statue was thrown into the harbour by Pero’s Bridge – photo courtesy of Bedminster Fire Station

Speaking during a press briefing on Wednesday, the mayor said it could also be an incredible resource for Bristol schools, and an opportunity for schoolchildren to be involved in a live piece of work.

Describing the toppling of Colston’s statue a big moment for Bristol, he said the challenge now is how we bring together different experiences and views and create a city where people have the ability to live with their differences.

Rees said he already has a number of people willing to be involved in the commission and more details will be revealed following an initial Zoom meeting.

Work is getting underway to remove the statue from the harbour and place it in a museum – although it has not been confirmed which one.

On what should be done with the currently empty plinth where Colston once stood, the mayor said it’s “absolutely essential that the city has the chance to have ownership of what we do with that space”.

He added: “It’s about equipping the city to make sure we can have that conversation.”

The announcement follows the news that a project is already underway to create a venue on a boat in Bristol’s harbour to showcase the work of black creatives, share the city’s history and celebrate our collective future.

Main photo by Martin Booth

Read more: Plans for new Bristol African Caribbean culture space in harbour 

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