In this article Elliot Ross says Scotland should take responsibility for the major and highly lucrative role it played in the transatlantic slave trade. He refers to a recent BBC documentary, Slavery: Scotland's Hidden Shame, which followed the publication of a major book. It gave a thorough and critical expose of an aspect of Scottish history that has often been ignored or else reduced to little more than a footnote beneath grander and more comfortable narratives about Scotland's distinctive scientific and intellectual contributions to modernity. Recent emphasis on Scottish participation in the abolition of slavery and the slave trade has come at the expense of a proper understanding of the ways in which Scottish institutions and elites were enriched by chattel slavery. This "structural amnesia compounds the original injury and extends the contempt for black life that made the transatlantic slavery economy possible to begin with." Read the full article here.
This year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, running from January 18 to 25, reflects on the experience of the churches of the Caribbean, which includes the legacy of slavery.
Bob Fyffe writes that: "This particular Caribbean experience is a challenge to us in our context to reflect more deeply on the injustices in our own nations in Britain and Ireland which create the divisions that impede our participation in God’s mission, with the call to actively work to end all division."
"The contemporary context is deeply marked by the history of the colonialism which stripped people of their identity, dignity and freedom. Christian missionary activity, closely tied to the colonial system, seemed to support, encourage and excuse it. During five-hundred years of the colonial system, scripture was used to justify the enslavement of the indigenous people. In a dynamic reversal, those same scriptures became the inspiration and motivation for people to reclaim their liberty. Recognising the hand of God in the ending of enslavement, the Caribbean Christians offer Exodus 15, a song of triumph over oppression, as the motif of the Week of Prayer."
More information on the week of prayer can be found here and resources downloaded here.
This Guardian article from 2015 outlines a walking tour of key sites of Manchester's radical history. This of course includes 'Peterloo' in 1819 where sword-wielding cavalry charged into a defenceless crowd who had gathered to call for parliamentary reform, leaving 15 dead and more than 600 injured. Several of the speakers were also involved in the fight to abolish slavery, one of a number of parallels in Manchester's history. “It was the largest crowd ever gathered at that point in British history,” says radical historian Michael Herbert. “The sight of the British army attacking its own people was unusual, almost unprecedented. It was a really shocking event with reverberations that went on throughout the nineteenth century.”
Those reverberations can still be felt and echoes of Peterloo can be heard today. As Herbert has said more recently, the event: "was about political reform as a response to hunger, unemployment and poverty, which has inescapable parallels with food bank Britain in 2017." Peterloo has been described elsewhere as "a war on the emerging working class movement".
With Peterloo's 200th Anniversary coming up on 16 August 2019, this walking tour would be a good way to familiarise yourself with Manchester's history of political protest and campaigning for economic and social justice. An extra stop to find out more about Peterloo and other significant events would be the People's History Museum (on the map on Bridge Street to the West of point D).
'Homegoing' is the best-selling debut novel by new author Yaa Gyasi. It tells the story of a family over several generations, exploring the impact of their being taken as slaves from late eighteenth century Gold Coast in Africa, through to Southern US slave plantations and up to modern-day Harlem. The Times review called it "an awe-inspiring debut that gives an insight into the toxic legacy of transatlantic slavery". Gyasi also confronts the involvement of Africans in the enslavement of their own people, not to provide an 'everyone was doing it' excuse but to get us to consider '"the tangled chains of moral responsibility that hang on our history". The Guardian review comments: "If there must be a purpose to the creation of yet another slave narrative other than to show how cruel, unfair, debased and horrific slavery was, it should be to convey the impact of it on modern life. ... [S]lavery is a source of our confusion and discomfort, regardless of which side of the colour divide we descend from. So here is a book to help us remember. It is well worth its weight."
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