An inspiring panel of speakers including journalist Gary Younge, Historians Hakim Adi and Alan Rice, and youth worker Kerin Morris will present their views on Manchester’s current review of statues, monuments and other items. Among the many groups this is relevant to, it will be of particular interest for those engaged in Manchester anti-racism efforts. The registration link to attend these online public discussion events is www.manchesterpublicrealm.eventbrite.co.uk .
Manchester residents are encouraged to democratically influence how people, movements and events are represented in their public spaces in a once in a lifetime consultation. If you are a concerned citizen, get involved and complete the survey before 22nd March at www.manchester.gov.uk/publicspaces .
The cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by state police assuming an air of untouchable impunity sparked a global sea change of protest against not only racist police brutality but also centuries of exploitation, subjugation and colonisation. In this wake have risen questions about the way historical figures complicit in this exploitation have been celebrated in public spaces, including the high profile toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol.
Manchester anti-racism is one of many relevant areas of interest
A few UK cities have begun their own reviews of what they may unwittingly be celebrating. Manchester is consulting local people about what to do with statues, place names, and anything that possibly celebrates people, events and movements which are now known to have benefited from causing the suffering of others. In fact Manchester’s consultation is much wider than this, and Manchester anti-racism groups will be a small section of those interested.
For example it wants to look at the ways in which many communities have been under-represented or totally absent from due recognition in public spaces. The statue of Emmeline Pankhurst figureheads the consultation, drawing attention to the abysmal lack of female figures commemorated as statues or monuments. In principle it seems that Manchester wants to move towards having a better and more democratic system of deciding what should and shouldn’t be in it’s public ‘realm’.
Their consultation survey asks, “What are your least favourite memorials, monuments, figures, etc in Manchester’s public spaces?” This is a deliberately open ended question, but it’s here that any people represented in public spaces who are at the very least not worthy of being celebrated can be flagged up. It’s worth considering what items there are which may need some attention or be changed in some way, if not entirely removed or relocated. Here might be four possible contenders:
1. Statue of William Gladstone, Albert Square
Gladstone, who became Prime Minister for 12 years, called for compensation for slave owners such as his father after slavery was outlawed. According to historian Roland Quinault, William Gladstone’s “stance on slavery echoed that of his father, who was one of the largest slave owners in the British West Indies, and on whom he was dependent for financial support.” See https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/historical-journal/article/gladstone-and-slavery/AB74EF5C7EC598FE9A82555B46AEBC54
It is also worth noting that his great great grandson has stated he would not stand in the way of the Gladstone statue within the grounds of his own Gladstone Library being removed, and Liverpool University is removing his name from one of it’s buildings. See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-53007083
2. Statue of Robert Peel (Junior), Piccadilly Gardens
Robert Peel has been described as having ‘bought’ his way into politics using the slavery-based profits accumulated by his father. The argument against this statue has been eloquently expressed in a petition started by Sami Pinarbasi, who has collated 28 pages worth of Hansard evidence concerning Peel Jnr’s views in the early 1830s, for example that repression should occur if slaves refuse to obey their masters. https://www.change.org/p/manchester-remove-the-robert-peel-statue-from-piccadilly-gardens-manchester-blm-repealpeel
3. Street name: Hibbert Street, Rusholme
Much has been written about the Hibbert family’s involvement in the slave trade, slave plantation economies and the enormous wealth they amassed. There a number of roads across Greater Manchester named after the Hibberts, one of them being within Manchester Council’s boundary.
4. Street names: Heywood Road, Prestwich and Heywood Street, Cheetham Hill
According to the historian David Richardson, the Heywood family invested in no less than 133 slaving voyages between 1745 and 1789. It is also possible that they had investments before 1745. Benjamin Heywood’s two sons, Benjamin Arthur and Nathaniel, invested in voyages early and late in this period respectively, but the principal investors were the brothers Benjamin and Arthur.
If you have any further ideas of what there may be to review in the light of our current moral standards, especially of you are interested in Manchester anti-racism, please leave a comment below.