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Should ‘white supremacist’ Lord Nelson’s Trafalgar Square column be pulled down?

PUBLISHED: 08:18 23 August 2017 | UPDATED: 17:12 23 August 2017

Admiral Lord Nelson, 1801 by William Beechey. Photo: © Norfolk Museums Service

Admiral Lord Nelson, 1801 by William Beechey. Photo: © Norfolk Museums Service

© Norfolk Museums Service

Battle is today being joined after a call was made to topple Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square.

Writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch argues in The Guardian that the Norfolk-born hero Admiral Horatio Nelson was a “white supremacist” who “vigorously defended” slavery.

Nelson, who is currently the subject of an exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum, goes down in history as one of Britain’s greatest leaders, having commanded numerous naval victories in the late 18th century and early 19th.

But Ms Hirsch says: “One of the obstacles the abolitionists had to overcome was the influence of Nelson, who was what you would now call, without hesitation, a white supremacist.

“While many around him were denouncing slavery, Nelson was vigorously defending it. Britain’s best known naval hero – so idealised that after his death in 1805 he was compared to no less than “the God who made him” – used his seat in the House of Lords and his position of huge influence to perpetuate the tyranny, serial rape and exploitation organised by West Indian planters, some of whom he counted among his closest friends.”

She wrote the piece in the wake of the controversy about confederate statues being pulled down in the US.

The memorials are interpreted by many as glorifying slavery, and their removal sparked violence after protests by neo-Nazis.

Ms Hirsch said: “The reaction in Britain has been, as in the rest of the world, almost entirely condemnatory of neo-Nazis in the US and of its president for failing to denounce them. But when it comes to our own statues, things get a little awkward. The colonial and pro-slavery titans of British history are still memorialised: despite student protests, Oxford University’s statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes has not been taken down; and Bristol still celebrates its notorious slaver Edward Colston.”

She said Nelson’s column was not “in historical context”, adding: “The black slaves whose brutalisation made Britain the global power it then was remain invisible, erased and unseen.

“The people so energetically defending statues of Britain’s white supremacists remain entirely unconcerned about righting this persistent wrong. They are content to leave the other side of the story where it is now – in Nelson’s case, among the dust and the pigeons, 52 metres below the admiral’s feet.”

The article has already provoked a great deal of debate on social media.

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