As a distant descendant of Edward Colston I have followed with interest the debate (Report, 26 April) about how or whether he should be commemorated. Slavery was an abomination and a stain on many nations’ histories. In Britain’s case the profits from slavery created a commercial and financial system that supported the start of the industrial revolution – from which all of us have benefited, not just the citizens of Bristol.
To use Hugh Muir’s phrase, from an article in G2 in 2014, if we are to make peace with the past then we should recognise the fact that the sins of the past helped forge the present.
I think statues and plaques are not enough to do this. Why not a Colston development fund – to recognise our moral obligation to provide development aid, in particular to those nations most affected by the slave trade?
The citizens of Bristol could take the lead in creating such a fund and schools could be involved in fundraising for it, to ensure the obligation of us all is recognised, particularly by children. A Colston development foundation would be a suitable thing for today’s citizens of Bristol to support to demonstrate their attempt to make their own peace with the past.
Philip Colston Robins
Ilkley, West Yorkshire
• Your correspondent proposes statues of slaves to counter the Colston presence in Bristol (Letters, 29 April). A few minutes’ walk from Colston Hall is Pero’s Bridge, opened in 1999 and spanning part of the harbour in the city centre. Pero Jones was a slave brought from the Caribbean in the mid-18th century by one of the city’s other trading merchants, and lived in Bristol for the rest of his life.
• David Olusoga’s interesting piece (27 April) on the slavery legacy of Bristol and the renaming of other buildings in Bristol is distressing. As a former US civil rights student organiser in the 1960s, fighting for black rights and their access, I am distressed also at the continuing economic disadvantage among historically poor white families that are southern, or have southern roots.
Slaves of the early great planter families from around 1600 were white. Racism (that white slaves were inherently superior to black slaves) was conceived and spread by southern planters as a device to keep perpetual white bond-slaves and black chattel-slaves at each others’ throats after the abortive 17th-century Bacon’s rebellion. As a doctrine and ideology, it grew quickly and poisonously luxuriant.
The older planter families were not racist, but classist. George Washington, on freeing his black slaves, having providing for their initial support, was outraged that several of his white workers, descended from former bond-slaves of his family, had fled from his grasp at Mount Vernon. He sent his private agents to get them back.
If poor whites do not know that once they were slaves, they cannot know how to disown the distressed condition they were born into, as George Washington’s white workers did.
Black Mountain, North Carolina
• If we are to remove all names associated with the slave trade, then surely we must remove Amazing Grace from our hymn books? The words were written by John Newton, sometime master of the slave ships the Duke of Argyll and the African.
Emeritus Professor Anthony Milton
• When will the National Liberal Club be renaming its Gladstone Library?
Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
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