Edward Colston statue: Society of Merchant Venturers respond

The society was heavily involved with the slave trade and put the statue up in 1895,

The site where the Edward Colston statue stood has since been replaced with #BLM protesters' placards from Sunday 8th June 2020. 

Bristol's Society of Merchant Venturers has said it will 'continue to educate itself about systemic racism' and will 'never forget the 12 million enslaved human beings', after a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down in the city.

The society, which has existed formally since 1552, controlled Bristol's merchant trade and was heavily involved in the transatlantic slave trade throughout the 17th, 18th and into the 19th centuries.

Merchants were behind the erection of the statue of Edward Colston in The Centre in Bristol in 1895, and the society runs 9 schools, including 3 secondary with two named after him, in Bristol today, although they have no black headteachers or teachers teaching in them.

A spokesperson for the SMV declined to give a view on whether they approved or disapproved of the actions of a crowd of people yesterday (June 7) who pulled down the statue.

Instead, they said: "The statue of Edward Colston has for a long time been a divisive topic in Bristol. Whether or not the city has a statue of a man known for his involvement in the Royal African Company, we must never forget the 12,000,000 enslaved human beings who were trafficked from their homes during the abhorrent transatlantic slave trade."

Only last month, it was revealed the Society of Merchant Venturers had appointed the first black person to be a member in the 468-year history,  when Bristol lawyer Marti Burgess accepted the invitation, much to the disappointment of some of the black community in Bristol. 

Marti said she did so after taking 'some time to think' whether she should or not.

The spokesperson for the Merchant Venturers also commented on the Black Lives Matter campaigns around the world.

"Millions of people have been deeply affected by the events in the USA, across the UK and in Bristol this weekend," she said.

"We must continue to educate ourselves about systemic racism."

 "Together we have a responsibility to identify and challenge racism and inequality in all that we do and wherever we see it. We support the millions of people around the world who are taking a peaceful and powerful stand against racism and injustice instead of just standing by," she added.

There are many people that work with and for SMV that have a determined attitude to improve the lives of those that they serve and support. However, despite this declaration, which is admirable, SMV has in the past persistently campaigned to preserve Colston's statues in the city, knowing the divisiveness that this decision caused. Moreover, they have no black teachers in their schools. Until this changes and SMV plan to erradicate racism through seeking advocacy from the black community, should we have faith that they they will change?