The statue of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the man behind a legal decree that defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonies, was defaced with red paint in Paris on Tuesday.
Parliamentary sources told AFP that the statue outside France's National Assembly was daubed in paint and bore the inscription "State negrophobia" on the pedestal.
They said police had arrested a suspect.
Galvanized by global protests after the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer in the United States last month, some activists in France have stepped up efforts to shine a light on the country's colonial and slave-trading past.
Colbert, the comptroller general of finances of Louis XIV, is best known for his doctrine of state intervention in the economy.
But he also drafted the Code Noir, or Black Code, to define conditions of slavery in French colonies.
A video posted on Twitter by the "antinegrophobia brigade" showed police arresting a man.
"What is forbidden is racism," it said.
France definitively abolished slavery in 1848 but before that had a significant slave trade.
Last weekend, the statue of a French colonial-era governor of Senegal was defaced with the words "Colonist" and "Murderer" in the northern city of Lille.
French statesman Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) is a national hero