The story behind the first statue of a Black person in Bristol

Following the fall of the Edward Colston statue, Bristol witnessed the conversation around statues take hold of the entire world.

Not long after this, a statue of Black activist, Jenn Reid was put up by artist Marc Quinn overnight and the whole of Bristol woke up to this news.

For Black people who live in the city, there was a mixed reaction focusing on the fact that the statue was not put up by a Black person, but also taking joy in the fact that a statue of a Black person was put up in the first place.

Walk around Bristol and you’re greeted with an unknown number of statues of white people, but seeing one of a person of colour is unlikely.

Despite many people thinking the statue of Jenn Reid was the first statue of a Black person, this is in fact untrue.

The first and only statue of a Black person in the entire city is Alfred Fagon in St Pauls and it has stood there since 1987.

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The statue was recently defaced and changed colour
(Image: Michael Lloyd Photography)

Who was he?

Mr Fagon was a member of the Windrush Generation and arrived in England as an 18-year-old in 1955.

He was an actor and playwright who made his debut at the Bristol Arts Centre in 1966 when he played the Nigerian Officer Orara in Henry Livings’s, The Little Mrs Foster Show.

He made his first professional appearance in 1970 in Mustapha Matura’s Black Pieces at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London and then he went on to have a long career in the arts and media.

In 1986 he went on to star in a five part drama series for the BBC named Fighting Back, which focused on a single mothers return to her home town after 15 years of unhappy marriage and fights to make a better life for herself and her children. This was filmed in St Paul’s.

As his career developed he wrote his own plays and television scripts – many of which were based on his experiences and life in St Pauls. He also produced a play named Death of a Black Man – produced at Hampstead Theartre in 1975.

Why was a statue of him put up?

He contributed a lot to the arts industry – not only in Bristol, but also around the country. In commemoration of Mr Fagon, on the first anniversary of his death in 1987, a statue of him was sculpted by David G. Mutasa and commissioned by the Friends of Fagon Committee, chaired by Paul Stephenson.

It is the only statue commemorating a Black person in Bristol and it stands on the corner of Ashley Road and Grosvenor Road.

The first Alfred Fagon Award was presented in 1997 and is given annually. This was established by the same committee which commissioned the sculpture.

Previous winners have been: Roy Williams, Shenagh Cameron, Sheila White, Grant Buchanan-Marshall, Adeshegun Ikoli, Linda Brogan and Penny Marshall.

This award recognises and celebrates writers of African and Caribbean descent.

Why was his statue defaced?

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Police release an image of a man they want to speak to in relation to damage to the statue of Alfred Fagon in St Pauls
(Image: Avon and Somerset police handout)

He left a legacy behind in Bristol, but recently someone poured bleach on his statue, prompting the police to launch an investigation. However, Avon and Somerset Constabulary have since issued a statement to say that the bleach was most likely to have been “a well-intentioned act which went wrong” after several people contacted them to say that local people had come forward to say that an unknown man had spoken about wanting to clean the statue.

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