How many statues represent black history and culture?

3rd May 2021

Whilst Monumental Icons’ own sculptor, Andy Edwards, has been responsible for creating activist Frederick Douglass, boxer Muhammad Ali, footballer Pelé and artist/actor Paul Leroy Robeson, findings in a BBC study of the UK were far from conclusive.

In the article by BBC journalists Ben Butcher & Alice Aitken, it stated that whilst statues are generally approved at a local level, there was no one central place for listing them.

However, the Public Monuments & Sculpture Association (PMSA) has recorded thousands of statues across England, Wales and Scotland. These are statues or sculptures publicly available (very few are on private estates) and almost all are located outside.

They looked at 968 public statues or sculptures in the database, of which 610 were identifiable as named people. Of these, just three are of black individuals – two of Nelson Mandela and one of Desmond Tutu (although the latter is placed inside Lewisham Town Hall).

While this list provided some insight, it did state that it was incomplete as much of it was based on volunteer work and some newer statues will not have been added to the database.

In the past decade, there appears to have been a more concerted effort to reflect the UK’s current and historical diversity. Using online news clippings, they found 175 named statues built since 2007 across the UK.

Of these, 21 were of black and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals, including 11 of black individuals. Of these, just six of the statues were of black Britons: Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole; a statue of West Bromwich Albion players Cyrille Regis, Brendon Batson and Laurie Cunningham (the last of whom has another statue at Leyton Orient); Olympic medallist Dame Kelly Holmes; footballer and soldier Walter Tull, who became the first black officer to lead white British soldiers into battle and the first black professional footballer, Arthur Wharton.

They also found a few other outdoor, clearly-named statues from before 2007 which are not included in the PMSA list. These include a statue in Bristol of the poet and playwright Alfred Fagon.

Historic England, a charity which manages monuments and buildings, notes that just two of its listed statues are of black individuals – a bust of Nelson Mandela in London’s South Bank and ‘Platforms Piece’ in Brixton. The latter is not included in our analysis, as the statues – created in 1986 and thought to be the first statues of black British people – are not named historical figures.

Taking all of these sources into account, they believe that there are at least 15 outdoor statues of named black individuals in the UK.
Avril Nanton runs tours focussing on black history in London. She says she has identified more than 30 statues, busts and carvings representing black people in the city but not all of these are of named individuals.

Those which are, include boxer Nicola Adams, musician Jazzie B and Spurs footballer Ledley King, who are captured in walking and cycling charity Sustran’s portrait bench project, but might not be considered traditional statues.

Muhammad Ali is another giant. He was the very first image Andy attempted to sculpt when trying to teach himself. Ali still inspires people today, encouraging them to overcome insurmountable odds and makes fighters of us all.

Frederick Douglass’ statue unveiled in 2015 in the University of Maryland, designed by Andy, who was inspired by artwork representing then-US president Barack Obama (pictured above looking at the statue) and Moses.

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