There’s a new Lord Mayor in the British town of Bristol and her first order of business was removing a 300-year-old portrait of slave trader Edward Holston from the wall above her desk.
Cleo Lake ordered the portrait’s removal, saying she “simply could not stand” the sight of Colston peering her as she worked, according to the Daily Mail. A gargantuan drawing of a lion is going up its place instead.
‘I’m coming to the end of my first month in office, and this is my parlour, which is a lovely space,” said Lake, who was elected by her fellow councilors in May. “I spend a lot of time here — I am here nearly every day. I won’t be comfortable sharing it with the portrait of Colston.”
“Luckily, there’s been a lot of support and the council has agreed to take it down and today is the day it goes into storage,” she added.
Lake doesn’t want the portrait gone for good, however. The new lord mayor has asked that Colston’s portrait be installed in a museum addressing Bristol’s role in the slave trade and the abolition of slavery.
Though he made the town filthy rich, Colston has long-been a divisive figure among Bristols for his original role in what was known as the Royal African Company, which turned the sale and transport of enslaved Africans to work on plantations in the Americas, into an industrial scale practice during the mid-17th century, Daily Mail reported.
Historians estimate Colston was responsible for the deaths of roughly 20,000 people aboard his slave ships. As a local merchant, he gave fellow Bristols access to slave trade routes and raked in huge profits by transporting enslaved Blacks over the next several decades. He would go on to establish slave trade routes as far as Asia.
According to Daily Mail, a chunk of Colston’s fortune has been given away to good causes. However, schools, businesses and other establishments named after the infamous trader are now trying to distance themselves from him.
Colston Hall, concert venue, was closed but is expected to reopen with a new name while parents of students at Colston Primary School have voted in favor of it being renamed.
“Many of the issues today such as Afriphobia, racism and inequality stem from this episode of history where people of African descent were dehumanised to justify enslaving them,” Lake said. “We’re partway through the UN Decade for People of African Descent, so change must also be ushered in and this is in line with that.”