Jean Baptiste Colbert Statue in Paris
By Contested Histories Initiative •
For many years, Jean-Baptiste Colbert was praised for his involvement in creating a strong French state. In recent years, however, this status has been called into question, notably concerning his involvement in laying the foundation of the Code Noir, a legal text which legitimised slavery in the French colonies. In the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd, Colbert’s statue was painted red and had ‘Negrophobie d’état’ (State Anti-Blackness) graffitied on it. But his figure had already been contested some years before, in 2017, in the media. This case study illustrates the public and political debate that emerged in France after the vandalisation of Colbert’s statue and, more broadly, concerning the debate around its removal or relocation.