SPAB Position Statement on monuments linked to the slave trade

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The SPAB believes in equality and abhors racism. Some historic monuments were put up to celebrate those whose lives involved profit from inequality or slavery. We understand that these monuments carry deep and painful associations.

The SPAB Approach argues that ‘building fabric holds history’. Sometimes historical associations can be very positive, but in the case of monuments and statues with links to the slave trade these connections do not represent SPAB values and those of modern society. The SPAB has no wish to commemorate slavery or anyone who benefitted from it and there is a long tradition of removing monuments when societies change.

Nevertheless, monuments provide evidence about the past. If we destroy this evidence we may unwittingly remove the memory of those things we now oppose. It is the duty of modern people and society to challenge past values where they conflict strongly with those of today, but there are ways in which this can be done without erasing evidence of reprehensible actions. Potentially, monuments are educational tools which, through addition, interpretation or community interaction may acquire fresh meaning. We are stronger through knowledge of past wrongs and of our changed opinions.

We cannot rewrite history: statues and other monuments bear witness to our past. But through discussion with the communities most directly affected, and re-interpretation, it can be possible to show how our attitudes have altered.


The pedestal of the toppled statue of Edward Colston in Bristol. Credit: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

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