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Bristol council passes motion on reparations for city’s role in slave trade

Mayor Marvin Rees said the conversation on race will be complex, but that should not stop it taking place.

The statue of slaver Edward Colston being dumped onto ar river.
The statue of slaver Edward Colston being dumped onto ar river.
Image: PA

COUNCILLORS HAVE VOTED overwhelmingly in favour of a plan for “atonement and reparation” for Bristol’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.

Bristol City Council passed a motion at an extraordinary full council meeting today.

The motion – atonement and reparation for Bristol’s role in the transatlantic traffic in enslaved Afrikans – was supported by 47 councillors, and opposed by 12.

Ahead of the meeting, Green party councillor Cleo Lake, who brought the motion, said the city had “played a leading role in trafficking and enslaving people, so as a city we now need to play a leading role in being honest about that and calling for systemic change”.

She added: “Reparations is not a paycheque for the descendants of people who were enslaved – it is a process outlined by the UN which looks for ‘holistic repair’.

“This can include public apologies, social justice initiatives, education or cultural projects, commemorative ceremonies, affirmative action and much more.”

The Green party said the use of the letter k signifies “Afrikan unity and the importance of a shared political language”, and that the spelling was changed by Europeans who substituted the k for a c.

The motion states that the council resolves to call on councillors, the Mayor or the chief executive to write to the speakers in the Houses of Parliament to say they should consider establishing an All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry to work on the scope of how reparations may be delivered.

It also calls for support of Afrikan Heritage Community (AHC) organisations in Bristol in relation to a reparations plan, the implementation of community wealth creation strategies to produce more sustainable equitable growth and address systemic poverty, and for recognition that reparative justice “should be driven by Afrikan Heritage Communities experiences, voices and perspectives”.

Labour councillor Carole Johnson told the meeting that, given Bristol’s history, it was “fitting” that it is “one of the first councils to pass a motion on this matter”.

Party colleague and deputy Mayor councillor Asher Craig, who seconded the motion, said the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Bristol last summer “was a symbolic demonstration of our city’s complex relationship with race”.

She added: “It highlights the long shadows cast by slavery and racism in Bristol and how this shapes our city’s discourse about inequality and exclusion amid modern concerns about institutional racial violence and the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus on our black and brown citizens.”

Addressing the meeting, Mayor Marvin Rees said the conversation on race will be complex, but that should not stop it taking place.

He said: “Racism and race inequality is still an inequality and a reality that needs to be addressed.

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“The fact that there is complexity in it should not deter us from taking a first step down that path.”

Councillor Steve Smith told the meeting the Conservative group was “unable to support this motion”.

He said: “We believe the motion risks exacerbating some divisions by promoting a binary view of the world when the reality is much more complicated.”

Mr Smith said while the motion “comes from a good place” and is done with “the very noblest of intentions” the risk remains.

He described the transatlantic slave trade as “one of the darkest parts of our national history and our civic history in Bristol” but he said he was “not convinced” anything in the motion would “make that awful history any better”.

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