Stories behind statues in Leeds set to be re-written to reflect a modern context after Black Lives Matters protests prompted a council review
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The piece of work, which took place over the summer, says that while none of the statues that the city council is currently aware of identified any individuals who were central to the slave trade - many were the beneficiaries of hereditary wealth and colonialism.
The review, led by Alison Lowe (historian, Leeds Honorary Alderwoman and a former city councillor) did, however, conclude that the current descriptions of the statues (via public facing plaques) needed a modern refresh to give fuller historical context to why they are there.
A report on the review and its findings is set to be presented to Leeds City Council's Executive Board at a meeting scheduled for this coming Wednesday.
Public consultation was carried out on the statues and whether any should be removed. While the majority were in favour of keeping them, it was acknowledged the statues were created due to historical events that contribute to the modern day make up of the city but a focus should be given to those who had suffered to create its wealth and prosperity.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post prior to the meeting Ms Lowe said: "I was surprised there were so few people wanted any change. I thought it would be a 30-70 split or 40-60 and I worried about that at the beginning because if there was no clear feeling it would be hard. As a panel we wanted to do the right thing by the majority of people and only 10 per cent wanted some active change. I know thousands did not (respond) but we had to take it that they were happy with the status quo.
"There was a perception that lots of black people would write in and say 'get rid of statue X or Y'. That was as a result of the Edward Colston toppling in Bristol which was as a result of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. There was a belief, no facts, that lots of black people were angry about statues but I had lots of conversations with Black Lives Matters groups and actually people were not really that interested."
The review says that empire, colonialism and slavery are still prominent influences within the city’s visible heritage that we can see today from the history of Harewood House to a negative and stereotypical representation of an African on an architectural frieze on 18 Park Row.
The statue of Queen Victoria on Woodhouse Moor was vandalised with graffiti and the words “educate”, “colonise” and “slave owner” were sprayed over the statue and a petition to remove Sir Robert Peel from Woodhouse Moor, also began to circulate.
However, Ms Lowe said that rather than being angry about the past, it was right to put it into context.
She explained: "For black people we live in a world where white voices and white faces and white names predominate. We don't like it but there is too much for us to spend our lives looking back saying why is that like that. What happened is, people were much more interested in looking forward.
"We can't confront it. What is important is that we don't allow stories of the past to stay stories that are untested and unchallenged. We recognise the contribution of immigrants and migrants. Leeds is built on the back of lots of people who don't get a say in power and are not acknowledged.
"Hopefully through this report black people's contributions will be more widely acknowledged, recognised and validated."
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