In the British town of Bristol, a black woman has become the new Lord Mayor (or, simply, mayor) has taken office. And one of the first things that Cleo Lake did was remove the 300-year-old portrait of a slave trader from the wall in her office’s parlor.
Lake ordered the removal of the portrait of Edward Colston, saying she “simply could not stand” the sight of the man peering her as she worked, according to the Daily Mail.
‘I’m coming to the end of my first month in office, and this is my parlor, which is a lovely space,” Lake said. She was elected by her fellow city councilors last month. “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.”
“As part of my role in campaigning with the Countering Colston team, I also think it’s fitting that I don’t share this office with the portrait,” Lake told the Bristol Post.
“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 instead of destroying the portrait, Lake has asked that it be installed in a museum addressing Bristol’s role in the slave trade and the abolition of slavery.
Colston has long-been a divisive figure in Bristol, which is 105 miles west of London, over his original role in the Royal African Company, which turned the sale and transport of enslaved Africans to work on plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean into an industrial scale practice during the mid-17th century.
Colston is estimated to have been responsible for the deaths of roughly 20,000 people aboard his slave ships. He acquired his wealth on the backs of capturing and brutalizing Africans by transporting enslaved Blacks. He would later go on to establish slave trade routes as far as Asia.
Much like a number of the Confederate generals and officials in the United States, numerous schools, businesses and other establishments that are named after the infamous slave trader are now trying to distance themselves from him in England.
Similar to how schools named after Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee have been renamed in favor of former President Barack Obama, Colston Hall, a 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 Afrophobia, racism and inequality stem from this episode of history where people of African descent were dehumanized to justify enslaving them,” Lake said. “We’re partway through the U.N. Decade for People of African Descent, so change must also be ushered in and this is in line with that.”