Permanently rename Bristol's Colonial Street Names to Stephenson Ave. and Floyd St.
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Bristolian direct action removing the statue of Edward Colston from the city centre has already inspired a conversation about empire, racism, and slavery, resulting in many statue removals which venerate the perpetrators of historic crimes. These include genocidal King Leopold II in Antwerp, Confederacy President Jefferson Davis in Virginia and others around the world.
In Bristol itself, the Colston name has been removed from the iconic music venue Colston Hall and the office block Colston Tower. Outside the Colston Arms stands a sign saying ‘We are listening. Black Lives Matter.’ Colston’s and Colston’s Girls Schools have embarked on discussions about renaming.
Two historic institutions of Bristol’s elite which directly benefitted from or even drove the expansion of slavery have felt the wave of public anger. The Society of Merchant Venturers has welcomed Colston’s demise across the city and have said it was ‘inappropriate to get involved in the rewording of the Colston statue plaque in 2018.’ Bristol University has established a Steering Group aiming to challenge its own institutional racism. It has also established reviews into renaming the Wills Memorial Building and recreating its coat of arms which currently bears the Colston, Wills and Fry crests.
This process is welcome but needs to go further. For example, Bristol’s street names are still littered with slave traders’ names. Some petitions have been arguing for them to be renamed, but we are proposing meaningful alternatives.
Some Bristolians have already informally renamed two surrounding the statue and music hall area in the centre, which we want to become legal and permanent.
1. Colston Avenue to be replaced by Stephenson Avenue.
Dr Paul Stephenson, as well as the West Indian Development Council, headed the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott. Thousands of Bristolians were mobilised to end the racist ‘colour bar’ employment practices of the Bristol Omnibus Company. Winning national public attention significantly contributed to the Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968 which rendered racial discrimination illegal in public places, employment and housing. The message of the new street name would be clear. Bristolians have and will come together to fight against racism. This would also complement moves to replace Colston's statue (formerly on this road) with Dr Stephenson.
2. Colston Street to be replaced by Floyd Street.
Institutional police racism has afflicted Bristol as in everywhere else, and we should not forget local brutality against local people of colour which occurs all too regularly. However, we also recognise that the fight against racism must be a global one and acknowledge the impact of the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis reinvigorating a global Black Lives Matter movement. The street name would act as genuine solidarity with anti-racists everywhere.
Although it is sometimes claimed that erasing Colston from the city is erasing history itself, this could not be further from the truth.
Bristol, as everywhere, has multiple histories. The identities, narratives and even street names not only reflect who we are but shape what we want the future to look like. These conversations have not been silenced by renaming cultural areas – on the contrary, issues of racism, empire and slavery have never been discussed in this way in recent memory.
This moment provides an opportunity to funnel that debate into making a new, positive history recognising that people can and will come together to defeat racism, and that we must connect local with global anti-racist struggles. The sympathies from local police towards the protesters and Mayor Rees deciding not to restore Colston’s statue display the power of public attitudes in this direction and gives us a real chance of success. We welcome Mayor Rees deciding to launch a commission into these issues and we feel that our proposals honour the role of Bristol in recognising and challenging racism.
Of course, this is not the end but only the beginning. We hope this debate and anti-racist public power will permeate into improving broader race relations including policing, economic opportunity, and foreign policy. Stopping venerating slave traders seems a good place to start. Sign this petition if you think, like us, that black lives matter.
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