The global anti-racism movement sparked by the death of George Floyd has forced many people in Europe and the U.S. to confront uncomfortable truths about their pasts. A number of monuments with links to colonialism and slavery continue to be the target of anti-racism protesters with two colonial-era statues in France daubed with red paint on Monday.
One statue was of Hubert Lyautey, near the gold-domed Invalides monument that houses Napoleon’s tomb. Lyautey served in Morocco, Algeria, Madagascar and Indochina when they were under French control and later was France’s minister of war during World War I. The other figure drenched in red shows Voltaire, a leading thinker and writer of the French Enlightenment, who owed part of his fortune to colonial-era trade.
The move came with the United States gripped by widespread protests against racial inequality, sparked by the killing in police custody of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, with demonstrators toppling a number of statues of figures with racist legacies.
The protests against racial inequality and police brutality have seen the toppling or removal of statues depicting Confederate generals, colonial figures and slave traders in the U.S., Britain and New Zealand.
As protests calling for justice and a reckoning with racial inequality have dominated the U.S., anger has also started to focus on statues of southern Civil War heroes, the Confederate flag and statues of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, who opened the Americas to European settlement.
New York City announced Sunday it would remove a statue of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt long criticized as a racist and colonialist symbol, but the move drew criticism from President Donald Trump. The bronze sculpture of Roosevelt, which has been at the entrance of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) for 80 years, depicts the former leader on horseback towering over a black man and a Native American man, who are both on foot.
Citing the ongoing movement for racial justice, the museum said: "We also have watched as the attention of the world and the country has increasingly turned to statues and monuments as powerful and hurtful symbols of systemic racism." The Roosevelt statue, it added, "has long been controversial because of the hierarchical composition that places one figure on horseback and the others walking alongside, and many of us find its depictions of the Native American and African figures and their placement in the monument racist."
Roosevelt became the 26th U.S. president at the beginning of the 20th century, and while he was celebrated as a conservationist and progressive at the time, he also held racist views toward black and Native American people, according to the AMNH website.
A Roosevelt family member released a statement approving the removal. "The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice," said Theodore Roosevelt IV, aged 77, a great-grandson. "The composition of the Equestrian Statue does not reflect Theodore Roosevelt's legacy. It is time to move the statue and move forward."
Similar efforts unfolded in Britain, as protesters drew up a "hit list" of 60 statues of slave traders across the country to be removed. London's mayor promised a review of all monuments. The Topple the Racists website was published by the Stop Trump coalition in support of the Black Lives Matter protests. The list of statues and street names range from statues of Columbus to Winston Churchill and Thomas Guy. At least two statues of Churchill were vandalized with graffiti by protesters.
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