A movement begun following the death of George Floyd in America has found its way to Wales including into the chamber of Carmarthenshire County Council. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has seen protests across the UK. Public buildings have been illuminated purple in support of anti racism.
The rapid spread of the movement has left some questioning the facts surrounding the death of George Floyd and his history as an alleged criminal. His own brother took to the streets to ask crowds what they were doing messing up their own neighbourhood.
Subsequent protests have included the toppling of monuments with a link to slavery during the period when Britain was colonising parts of the world and its involvement in shipping slaves.
There have been demands to topple monuments across the UK including the 25m high obelisk Memorial to Sir Thomas Picton in Carmarthen.
A petition to get it removed has received over 4,000 signatures including a large number from countries outside of the UK. . The website ‘toppletheracists.org carries a map where people are invited to add a monument they believe needs removing. The website is linked to the Stop Trump Coalition.
The aim is stated as ‘Take down statues and monuments in the UK that celebrate slavery and racism’.
The site, which lists a contact for feedback as firstname.lastname@example.org states
“We believe these statues and other memorials to slave-owners and colonialists need to be removed so that Britain can finally face the truth about its past – and how it shapes our present. Click a marker on the map to see more historical detail and links to local petitions.”
The site describes its origins as:
Topple the Racists is inspired by the direct action taken by Bristolians. Statues are exercises of public adoration. And Edward Colston made his fortune in the slave trade. He was part of a system of mass murder, torture and human suffering. We must learn from, not venerate, this terrible chapter in British colonial history. We have included cases where there is responsibility for colonial violence. History is complicated so we have made some judgment calls. We welcome feedback to email@example.comWhat do we want?
To promote debate. It’s important to shine a light on the continued adoration of colonial icons and symbols.
On the issue of taking down statues the site states:
It’s up to local communities to decide what statues they want in their local areas. We hope the map aids these much-needed dialogues. Taking down a statue could also include moving it to a museum, for example.
Former Chairman of the Llanelli Community Heritage group John Wynne Hopkins says that the campaigners are ill informed, misguided and intent on erasing history rather than highlighting the truth. Mr Hopkins a former soldier says that he is concerned that there will be no stopping until Westminster is void of any reference to any of our leaders or soldiers. Who’s next? Mr Hopkins asked. Churchill? Nelson?
You can hear the interview with John Wynne Hopkins here.
Mr Hopkins agreed that there should be debate but if any decision is made to remove any statue in Wales, the people of Wales who paid for them and not what he described as a left wing mob should make it.
We contacted the Stop Trump Coalition and asked if they were behind the organisation ‘Topple the racists’. We also asked what the criteria were and who was responsible for the decision-making?
We asked who the contact is for topple the racists. If it was the same organisation. Is it an offshoot? Could you tell us what the criteria is for the toppling of a statue and what historic evidence you will be considering or dismissing? Will this be extended to other parts of the world? Will statues of Churchill and Nelson be removed and what will replace them? We have a statue here in Carmarthen, which is on the list. It is a 25m obelisk paid for by the people of Wales. Will you be asking the people of Wales before destroying their property?
In relation to Carmarthen’s monuments Plaid Cymru issued the following statement: “Following Tuesdays Plaid Cymru group Carmarthenshire meeting, this very important issue was raised. As a matter of urgency the decision was taken to discuss this in-depth and a sub group was formed to investigate further. The group consisting of Cllr’s Liam Bowen, Alun Lenny, Carl Harris, Gareth John, Carys Jones, Cefin Campbell and leader Emlyn Dole- have agreed to prepare a statement on behalf of the group for Friday (12/06)”
A statement was issued by Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr Emlyn Dole, in response to calls for Carmarthen’s Picton Monument to be removed.
He said: “It’s important that we have a conversation around this issue. That conversation has already started with the illumination of County Hall over the weekend in solidarity with all those who fight oppression. We are keen to have a more detailed conversation and are making plans to bring this to the Council chamber as soon as possible where we, as members, can bring our feelings to the debate in a public arena so that we can come to a collective decision and take any appropriate action thereafter.”
The leader of Carmarthenshire Labour Cllr Rob James said:
“We are working closely with protestors and organisations such as Race Council Wales on this matter.
“Carmarthenshire Labour are committed to tackling racial inequality and racism in the county, having led on the call for the lighting up of County Hall and tabling a motion in February calling for action on improving the ethnic diversity of our workforce.
“We understand that statues of individuals connected with slavery and/or our colonial past is an affront to many individuals and have no place in the public realm.
“There have been some suggestions that Picton statue in particular could be repurposed.
“I believe that we need a county-wide discussion via a citizens assembly to determine the future of these statues. Something that I am pushing to happen as soon as possible.
“We have also been encouraging officers to conduct a survey of all public statues across Carmarthenshire and begin discussions with Cadw regarding any possible removal or repurposing if that’s what the citizens feel is right.”
Dyfed-Powys Police said: “We wouldn’t really have anything to add about instances that have not yet occurred.”
Pics ©Peter A Tully