Moves are under way to ensure Plymouth’s heritage is told in ways which do not celebrate slavery and racism.

Protests took place all around the South West at the weekend, organised by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, against the unlawful killing of African American George Floyd.

In Bristol, crowds toppled the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and threw it into the docks.

And calls have been made to take down similar statues around the country, including the one of Sir Francis Drake on Plymouth Hoe, and get rid of other reminders of slave traders like Sir John Hawkins, who has a street in the city named after him.

Drake and Hawkins, who were cousins, both ran slave ships during Elizabethan times but are better known for their role in fighting the Spanish Armada.

In response to the protests, Plymouth City Council leader Tudor Evans said the listed statue would stay but the city would make changes in a bid to tell the full story and help remember those who suffered as a result of the slave trade.

Cllr Evans said the council stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and everyone who continues to challenge racism, discrimination and inequality. As a gesture of Plymouth’s support several landmarks were lit in purple over the weekend.

He added: “This terrible event in the US illustrates how deeply discrimination and oppression – both past and present – are felt and it has highlighted once again that Plymouth needs to continue to acknowledge some aspects of its own past.

“We have an incredible maritime history and we very proud of this heritage but we also recognise the way the stories of those seafarers have been told has until recent years, downplayed the role Elizabethan sailors such as Sir John Hawkins played in the slave trade.”

Cllr Evans said history should be used as a reminder of past atrocities and a way of remembering the victims of slavery and oppression.

“We recognise our responsibility for ensuring we condemn the role these figures played in this awful trade and how offensive many people find what they see as their glorification,” he added.

The council is planning to use the city’s new £46 million museum, gallery and archive – The Box – to tell a ‘fuller story about Plymouth’s seafaring history and acknowledge the role the likes of Hawkins played in the slave trade. And other measures will be taken to adjust the way the history is told.

Cllr Evans said: “We fully understand the feelings of those who find the naming of a square, created in the early 1980s, after Hawkins offensive and we have listened and started the process of renaming the square.

We also think it is important to acknowledge and commemorate the victims of the slave trade with a new memorial to those who lost their lives and liberty.

We will put this in the Peace Garden on The Hoe. “We will also aim to ensure that where possible existing monuments such as the listed statue of Sir Francis Drake on The Hoe are accompanied by a narrative referring to their role in the slave trade.

“While we acknowledge this terrible side to our city’s history, we also need to remember that Plymouth played an important role in the eventual abolition of the slave trade and that it also has a long and proud history of welcoming oppressed communities.”

There is also a statue of Drake in Tavistock, which was vandalised this week. A petition to have that one removed was also launched this week, but West Devon leader Neil Jory said the statue should stay and serve as a reminder to the dark side to the history of seafaring, exploration and colonisation.



This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.