Republican-led US Senate panel approves plan to take Confederate names off military installations. President Donald Trump had earlier rejected the idea of renaming bases.

Statue of British Naval Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton is lifted out of the ground and onto a truck in Hamilton, New Zealand, June 12, 2020.
Statue of British Naval Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton is lifted out of the ground and onto a truck in Hamilton, New Zealand, June 12, 2020. (Reuters)

The rapidly unfolding movement to pull down Confederate monuments around the US in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police has extended to statues of slave traders and colonising imperialists around the world, including Christopher Columbus, Cecil Rhodes and Belgium’s King Leopold II.

Protests and, in some cases, acts of vandalism have taken place in such cities as Boston, New York, Paris, Brussels and Oxford, England, in an intense re-examination of racial injustices over the centuries. Scholars are divided over whether the campaign amounts to erasing history or updating it.

New Zealand's fourth-largest city removed a bronze statue of the British naval officer Captain John Hamilton, the city's namesake, on Friday, a day after a Maori tribe asked for the statue be taken down and one Maori elder threatened to tear it down himself. 

READ MORE: George Floyd’s death ushers in long-sought changes in policy, pop culture

READ MORE: British slave trader statue reignites debate on other controversial figures

US reconsiders symbols of cruelty

Near Santa Fe, New Mexico, activists are calling for the removal of a statue of Don Juan de Onate, a 16th-century Spanish conquistador revered as a Hispanic founding father and reviled for brutality against Native Americans, including an order to cut off the feet of two dozen people.

Vandals sawed off the statue’s right foot in the 1990s.

In the US, the May 25 death of Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck, has led to an all-out effort to remove symbols of the Confederacy and slavery.

The Navy, the Marines and NASCAR have embraced bans on the display of the Confederate flag and statues of rebel heroes across the South have been vandalised or taken down, either by protesters or local authorities.

Confederates liken statues to works of art

On Wednesday night, protesters pulled down a century-old statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy. 

It stood a few blocks away from a towering, 18.5-meter-high equestrian statue of General Robert E. Lee, the most revered of all Confederate leaders. Democratic Governor Ralph Northam last week ordered its removal, but a judge blocked such action for now.

The spokesman for the Virginia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, B. Frank Earnest, condemned the toppling of “public works of art” and likened losing the Confederate statues to losing a family member.

A statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis defaced with paint after it was torn down is seen in this picture obtained from social media June 10, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia, US.
A statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis defaced with paint after it was torn down is seen in this picture obtained from social media June 10, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia, US. (Reuters)

Elsewhere around the South, authorities in Alabama got rid of a massive obelisk in Birmingham and a bronze likeness of a Confederate naval officer in Mobile. In Virginia, a slave auction block was removed in Fredericksburg and protesters in Portsmouth knocked the heads off the statues of four Confederates.

The monument is believed to be located where a slave whipping post once stood, and removing it is a small step in the right direction, Portsmouth activist and organiser Rocky Hines said.

Opposing views in US

In Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it is time to remove statues of Confederate figures from the US Capitol and take their names off military bases such as Fort Bragg, Fort Benning and Fort Hood.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday rejected the idea of renaming bases. But Republicans in the Senate, at risk of losing their majority in the November elections, aren’t with Trump on this.

A GOP-led Senate panel on Thursday approved a plan to take Confederate names off military installations.

The Davis monument and many others across the South were erected decades after the Civil War during the Jim Crow era, when states imposed tough new segregation laws, and during the Lost Cause movement, in which historians and others sought to recast the South’s rebellion as a noble undertaking, fought to defend not slavery but states’ rights.

For protesters mobilised by Floyd’s death, the targets have ranged far beyond the Confederacy. Statues of Columbus have been toppled or vandalised in cities such as Miami, Richmond, St Paul, Minnesota and Boston, where one was decapitated. 

The city of Camden, New Jersey, removed a statue of Columbus. Protesters have accused the Italian explorer of genocide and exploitation of native peoples.

State patrol officers stand guard as employees of Twin Cities Transport and Recovery work to clear the toppled statue of Christopher Columbus on the Minnesota State Capitol Grounds in St Paul, Minnesota, US, June 10, 2020.
State patrol officers stand guard as employees of Twin Cities Transport and Recovery work to clear the toppled statue of Christopher Columbus on the Minnesota State Capitol Grounds in St Paul, Minnesota, US, June 10, 2020. (Reuters)

Cuomo defends Columbus symbolism for Italian Americans

New York should keep statues honouring Christopher Columbus even though the brutalisation of the West Indies inhabitants he encountered on his voyages to the New World is inexcusable, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday.

Cuomo said Columbus was an important figure for Italian Americans, symbolising their contribution to New York, and for that reason, he opposes the removal of the statues.

"I understand the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts, which nobody would support," Cuomo said at a briefing. "But the statue has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian-American contribution to New York."

Cuomo, the grandson of Italian immigrants and a regular at New York City's Columbus Day parade, has been a consistent supporter of the statues against sporadic calls for their removal.

New York's most well-known statue of Columbus soars above a Manhattan traffic circle that bears his name.

UK confronts colonial past

At the University of Oxford, protesters have stepped up their longtime push to remove a statue of Rhodes, the Victorian imperialist who served as prime minister of the Cape Colony in southern Africa.

He made a fortune from gold and diamonds on the backs of miners who laboured in brutal conditions.

Oxford’s Vice chancellor Louise Richardson, in an interview with the BBC, baulked at the idea.

“We need to confront our past,” she said. “My own view on this is that hiding our history is not the route to enlightenment.”

The "Rhodes Must Fall" movement, which began in South Africa, failed in a previous attempt to have the statue removed but has been revived by a wave of anti-racism protests.

Sylvanus Leigh, 44, said the limestone statue of the Victorian-era tycoon, who founded the De Beers diamond company in what is now Zimbabwe, represented "a colonial mindset".

Local MP Layla Moran called Rhodes a "white supremacist who does not represent the values of Oxford in 2020".

In this 'Rhodes must fall' campaign, demonstrators call for the removal of a statue of British businessman and imperialist Cecil John Rhodes in Oxford, west of London on June 9, 2020.
In this 'Rhodes must fall' campaign, demonstrators call for the removal of a statue of British businessman and imperialist Cecil John Rhodes in Oxford, west of London on June 9, 2020. (AFP)

Past atrocities in New Zealand, Australia against indigenous 

Protests in Australia and New Zealand have focused on atrocities committed against indigenous people by European colonisers, with thousands of anti-racism protesters marching over the past week.

The statue of British commander John Hamilton in the New Zealand city of Hamilton, named after him, was taken down on Friday a day after a Maori leader threatened to tear it down himself.

"We can’t ignore what is happening all over the world and nor should we. At a time when we are trying to build tolerance and understanding between cultures and in the community, I don’t think the statue helps us to bridge those gaps," Mayor Paula Southgate said.

Hamilton led a regiment at the Battle of Gate Pa between the colonial government and Maori tribes in the 1860s, where he was killed.

There had been repeated calls by the Maori community to remove the statue. It was vandalised in 2018.

However, not everyone agreed with the idea of taking down statues. Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters called it a "wave of idiocy".

“A country learns from its mistakes and triumphs and its people should have the knowledge and maturity to distinguish between the two,” he said.

The city has no plans to change its name.

Leopold II left almost 10 million dead

Across Belgium, statues of Leopold II have been defaced in half a dozen cities because of the king’s brutal rule over the Congo, where more than a century ago, he forced multitudes into slavery to extract rubber, ivory and other resources for his own profit.
Experts say he left as many as 10 million dead.

“The Germans would not get it into their head to erect statues of Hitler and cheer them,” said Mireille-Tsheusi Robert, an activist in Congo who wants Leopold statues removed from Belgian cities. “For us, Leopold has committed a genocide.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies