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Petition launched to remove statue of slave owner from West India Quay

PUBLISHED: 15:00 09 June 2020 | UPDATED: 15:41 09 June 2020

The Robert Milligan statue in West India Quay. Picture: Getty Images

The Robert Milligan statue in West India Quay. Picture: Getty Images

Getty Images

A petition has been launched to remove a statue of a slave owner from West India Quay.

Black Lives Matter posters have been put on the statue of Robert Milligan. Picture: Ehtasham HaqueBlack Lives Matter posters have been put on the statue of Robert Milligan. Picture: Ehtasham Haque

The campaign to remove the memorial to Robert Milligan was set up by Cllr Ehtasham Haque, who said he was “really inspired” by the 1,200 people who signed the petition within the first 24 hours of it being set up.

He said: “This statue was not built to teach us history. It was displayed publicly to honour and glorify a slaver who has no relevance in a 21st century civilised society.”

Milligan was a wealthy 18th century merchant and ship owner who was involved in the construction of West India Quay.

He served as chairman of the West India Dock Company and the statue was commissioned by the company after his death in 1809.

According to the Museum of London Docklands, near where the statue is located, at the time of Milligan’s death he owned 526 African slaves who were forced to work on a plantation in Jamaica.

The dock itself was partially funded by slavery profits and was even designed to enhance those profits by improving the efficiency of how slave-grown goods were imported.

Cllr Haque said: “While we portray the positive part of our history, we should also have the courage and integrity to critically reflect on our wrongdoing that had resulted in sufferings of millions of people in their homeland.

“Our national curriculum should include black and colonial history to recognise the contribution of black and minority ethnic people in building the Britain we have today.”

He added: “I am requesting the mayor to commission research to identify buildings, road names and symbols that could be redefined in the borough.

“We should do it to reconcile with our unpleasant past and help the communities to unite for a better and equal future.”

The petition comes after a statue to a slave trader, Edward Colston, was removed and thrown into the water during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Bristol.

On that, Cllr Haque said: “It should have been removed in a more organised way a long time ago. Fortunately, a statue doesn’t bleed, feel any pain or die like millions of victims of the slave trade.”

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He explained that the petition to remove the Milligan statue was “a very first step”, adding: “We should exhaust all democratic process to bring change in society.

“Slavery may have ended but its symbols haven’t.”

A protest is set to take place by the statue every day at 6.30pm until it is removed, and has already had Black Lives Matter posters displayed on it.

The petition is set to be handed into Tower Hamlets Council, as well as to any other authorities who may have the power to remove the statue.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “The removal of a statue of a slave trader in Bristol this weekend and the Black Lives Matter campaign has made us all reflect on the symbolism of these historical representations, and I understand the strength of feeling about the statue of the slave trader Robert Milligan in West India Quay.

“I’ve put pressure on the owners of the land for it to be removed, and have also asked for council officers to carry out a review of what other symbols including statues are in the borough and who owns the land they’re on.

“The East End has a proud history of fighting injustice but we must also face up to our past and learn from it to continue our fight against racism and intolerance today.”

A Museum of London Docklands spokesperson said the venue backed the campaign to remove the statue, saying: “We are currently working with a consortium to remove this statue and are aware of other legacies and landmarks within the area.

!The statue presently stands shrouded with placards and is now an object of protest, we believe these protests should remain as long as the statue remains.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has already confirmed that a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm will review the city’s landmarks to ensure they reflect the capital’s diverse heritage.

Murals, street art, street names, statues and other memorials will be looked at and the commission will consider which legacies should be celebrated before making recommendations.

Mr Khan said: “It is an uncomfortable truth that our nation and city owes a large part of its wealth to its role in the slave trade and while this is reflected in our public realm, the contribution of many of our communities to life in our capital has been wilfully ignored. This cannot continue.

“Important that we take the right steps to work together to bring change and ensure that we can all be proud of our public landscape.”

To sign the petition to remove the Robert Milligan statue, go to you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/remove-slave-trader-robert-mulligan-s-statue-from-west-india-quay-tower-hamlets


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