Remembering Slavery 2007 was a regional initiative involving museums, galleries and other cultural organisations across the North East of England in a programme of exhibitions, events, performances, lectures and activities to explore the themes of slavery and abolition, in both historical and modern contexts. The project sought to connect the North East with the slave trade, the plantation economies of the Americas, and the social and political movements for abolition.
Featured here are the 'What's On' guides detailing various initiatives across the region in 2007, plus a selection of postcards from the project.
Durham University Library holds many archives relating to the slave trade in its Special Collections due to a connection with the family of abolitionist Granville Sharp. This is supplemented by material relating to the West Indies and the slave trade in the papers of the Prime Minister between 1830 and 1834, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. This material had already been used in a series of online resources available to download on the 4schools website. Central to their bicentenary commemorations in 2007 was a special event to recreate the image of the slave ship ‘Brookes’ using a life-size print of the middle deck and populating it with nearly 300 students from local schools. Students were also given the opportunity to learn African dance and drumming. The handling collection, print and resources produced as a result of this event are still in use for outreach work with local schools.
In 1999, Vi was one of about 250 workers brought from Vietnam on a labor contract. A South Korean businessman named Kil Soo Lee had bought a garment factory near Pago Pago, in American Samoa, and required sewing machine operators. Vi was recruited by a Vietnamese government-owned enterprise called Tourism Company 12, and told she was heading for the US. Like the other recruits, she paid $5000 to cover the cost of airfare and work permits, and signed a three-year contract in exchange for monthly paychecks of around $400, plus free meals and housing, and return air fare. But upon arrival in American Samoa, the recruits were forced to work to pay off smuggling fees. Lee confiscated their passports to prevent them from escaping, and quickly stopped paying them altogether, though kept charging them for room and board. He withheld food, ordered beatings, and forced them to work 14-18 hour days. Female employees were sexually assaulted, and those who became pregnant were forced to have abortions or return to Vietnam. Vi’s story of slavery is also one of prosecution. In 2000, two workers at Lee’s factory sought legal help from attorneys. On behalf of more than 250 factory workers, the attorneys filed a pro-bono class-action lawsuit against Daewoosa and the Vietnamese government. The case was publicized by human rights groups, and the two workers who asked for legal help disappeared. Their bodies were never found. Then, in November 2000, a group of workers refused to return to their sewing machines, and a fight ensued between workers and factory guards. During the incident, one woman lost an eye and two other workers were hospitalized. This gained the attention of local law enforcement and the FBI Field Office in Honolulu began investigating Daewoosa in February 2001. Enforcing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), federal agents closed down the factory and arrested Lee on charges of involuntary servitude and forced labor. He was deported to Hawaii in March 2001. Though the recruiting companies and the Vietnamese government refused to pay for the workers’ flights home, they left American Samoa. Some returned to Vietnam and more than 200, including Vi, were flown to the US and admitted as potential witnesses for the prosecution at Lee’s trial. In April 2002, the High Court of American Samoa ordered the factory and two Vietnamese government-owned labor agencies to pay $3.5 million to the workers. Lee claimed bankruptcy. In February 2003, he was found guilty of involuntary servitude, extortion, money laundering and bribery, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The court also ordered him to pay $1.8 million in restitution to the workers. Vi, and the other Vietnamese workers who came to the US, applied for “T” visas, issued to victims of trafficking as a result of the TVPA.
After several months in slavery, Beatrice Fernando reached the point of no return. Standing on a fourth-floor balcony in Beirut, Lebanon, she realized there was “no other way to get home” but to “dive backwards.” In a recent interview she explained of her decision to step off the balcony: “When we take a step against slavery, the world will take another step.”In 1980, at the age of 23, Beatrice had responded to an advertisement for work as a housemaid in Lebanon. She left her home country of Sri Lanka, intending to send money to her parents and her three-year-old son. But in Beirut she became a domestic slave. She was locked inside a home, starved, beaten, never paid, and forbidden from communicating with the outside world. Guards were instructed to shoot her if she tried to leave. After she reached a turning-point and escaped by jumping from the apartment’s fourth floor, she spent 21 days in a coma. Doctors told her that she was paralyzed. After 14 months in hospital she recovered from the paralysis and returned to Sri Lanka. In 1989 she came to live and work in the US.
The world's oldest human rights organisation, Anti-Slavery International, led several initiatives in response to the bicentenary. The Fight for Freedom 1807-2007 Campaign, launched in 2005, called for measures to address the continuing legacies of the slave trade. The publication '1807-2007: Over 200 years of campaigning against slavery' looked back at the work of Anti-Slavery International and its predecessor organisations. The Spotlight on Slavery series of exhibitions and events included debates, lectures, film screenings and photography exhibitions. Anti-Slavery International also collaborated with a number of other organisations and projects in 2007, including Rendezvous of Victory and Set All Free, and contributed exhibition material to various exhibitions around the UK, including the Remembering Slavery exhibition at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle.
The Sweet History? project saw the Bristol Architecture Centre work with young people from the Knowle West Media Centre to explore the social and economic impacts of the sugar and slave trades on the built environment heritage of Bristol. Working with local artists and historians, the young people put together the Sweet History? Trail, containing photographs and information about 23 sites in and around Bristol that have links to the sugar and slave trades. The project had a particular focus on using digital technology to develop an interactive website (which included an audio podcast of the trail) to engage youth audiences with the study of heritage buildings.
The 'Slavery Connection' project researched Bexley’s links with the transatlantic slave trade through the London borough's residents and buildings. The exhibition, which included objects from Bexley Museum, aimed to raise the level of understanding in local communities about the history of the slave trade, by highlighting numerous local connections - such as Danson House, once home to the sugar merchant and slave trader Sir John Boyd, while archives of the East Wickham estate reveal evidence of a West African coachman called Scipio. Over a two year period, the travelling exhibition was displayed at 14 sites, including local African Caribbean groups, youth centres, libraries and churches. The launch event at the Bexley African Caribbean Community Association was accompanied by displays of African dancing, drumming and drama. An educational handling box and teachers’ pack were created for use in local schools.
In contrast to the trope that brands individuals’ experiences onto their backs, the No Project released a poster in 2012 titled “Wearing Her Story,” made by the artist Ismini Black. A woman’s dress hangs alongside carcasses in a butcher’s window. There are letters cut out of the dress and the words are impossible to piece together. By replacing a woman’s body with just her dress, the poster refuses to inscribe slavery’s story onto her flesh. She might wear her story like a removable item of clothing, but it is not the last word on her total identity. Instead it remains impossible to grasp and therefore consume, unlike the poster’s chunks of meat.
The project began in 1987 when Central Club approached Reading Borough Council about the possibility of a mural project. A project steering group was set up consisting of representatives of Central Club, Reading Borough Council and Berkshire County Council (who then ran Central Club as part of the Youth and Community Service). It was agreed that the project should aim to achieve a number of objectives:
· A high quality visual artwork
· Community involvement – both Central Club members and the wider community
· Reflecting African Caribbean culture, since Central Club had a high proportion of African Caribbean members
In 1988 a number of artists were interviewed, and Alan Howard was offered the commission. Alan was keen to encourage the involvement of Central Club members both in a consultative capacity but also more directly in the design and execution of the mural. An apprenticeship scheme was established, where a limited number of people were offered the opportunity to work alongside Alan and receive training in planning, design and technical skills.
The process of planning the mural involved a number of steps:
· Wide ranging discussions with Central Club members and the wider African Caribbean community
· Consultation with funders – Reading Borough Council and Earley Charities
· Consultation with neighbouring residents and businesses in the London Street area
Out of this process the theme for the mural emerged, and it was agreed that the mural should depict the positive role that black people have played throughout history, including in Reading itself. The mural therefore includes figures such as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King and Bob Marley as well as Reading-based people involved in founding Central Club. The final panel of the mural and the various symbols look to the future and depicts a number of tools – positive and negative – that people use to shape the future.
One major trope in 19th-century antislavery visual culture was the auction block, which featured in the Liberator masthead from 1831 to 1865 as a scene with crowds of onlookers. In 21st-century antislavery imagery, the auction block is back. In 2010, the Task Force on Human Trafficking opened an installation called “Woman to Go,” featuring real women sitting or standing on blocks behind glass in a shopping center in Tel Aviv, each with a price tag and barcode.
Am I Not a Man and a Brother? was a piece of documentary theatre devised by Reveal Theatre Company in partnership with North Staffordshire Racial Equality Council. It used stories and testimony from the African Caribbean community in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire, interwoven with historical and contemporary slave stories. The play was produced by Robert Marsden and Julia Barton. The production was launched at the Stoke-on-Trent Racial Equality Council - where it was performed to the local people who had contributed their stories and was accompanied by a performance by a local Black choir - and then toured to venues in Bristol, London and Liverpool.
By the mid-18th century, Glasgow dominated Britain's tobacco and sugar imports, and the city was also involved in the slave trade. In 2007 Glasgow Built Preservation Trust (GBPT), in partnership with Glasgow Anti Racist Alliance, developed an exhibition linking Glasgow’s built heritage with the slave trade. In September 2007, Glasgow’s Doors Open Day event marked the bicentenary with walks (both guided and by podcast), a pop-up exhibition, and an evening of drama, talks and music. The event was later transformed into a week long ‘built heritage festival’, from which a travelling exhibition and city trail were created by the historian Stephen Mullen.
The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) was one of eight heritage bodies in the ‘Revealing Histories: Remembering Slavery’ partnership in Greater Manchester. The project set out to explore the history, impact and legacy of slavery on Britain through collections and community links in the North West.
An exhibition and trail at MOSI explored the connections between Manchester’s economic success from the late eighteenth century onwards and its international trade, particularly the cotton trade with the USA, with its associated links to the transatlantic slave trade. Items identified in the collection included an American Civil War patriotic envelope from 1861, which satirised Britain's willingness to ignore the plight of American slaves. Other events included the creation of a series of terracotta figures depicting slaves on a slave ship by artist Annette Cobley. Workshop sessions to accompany this artwork were based on the theme of silence surrounding slavery.
This partnership project, led by Hertfordshire Archives, investigated the links between Hertfordshire people, the slave trade and abolition through stories from original archival documents. Project outcomes included creative workshops, a booklist, a DVD documentary, a heritage trail booklet, and collaboration with the project for the restoration of the Thomas Clarkson monument in Thundridge. The monument was erected in 1879 to mark his involvement in the campaign to abolish slavery. The ceremony to re-dedicate the monument in November 2007 involved pupils from Thundridge Primary School performing a dance that they had developed with arts-led charity Theatre Is….
This exhibition from Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC) in collaboration with local communities uncovered Reading’s links with the slave trade, the campaign for its abolition and its aftermath. Exploring Reading’s involvement in historical slavery and the impact on the town’s development, the exhibition focused on, for example, wealthy families in the area, the role of the Royal Berkshires in Caribbean colonies, and the story of Mary Smart, the earliest known Sierra Leonean resident in Reading. The project also sought to raise awareness of modern forms of slavery and injustice. It included workshops, a conference, and a quiz.
Inspired by archival research, ‘Sharp Practice’ was a touring play exploring the slave trade and the role of abolitionists from the North East of England in its demise (and, in particular, the work of Granville Sharp). The play was devised and produced by Jackass Youth Theatre, in collaboration with professional artists from Jack Drum Arts. Each performance was accompanied by an exhibition exploring the North East’s links to slavery and abolition, researched by members of the theatre group. Working with heritage professionals, their research took the performers to Newcastle, Hull, Liverpool, Gloucester, London and the University of Virginia.
This collaborative community initiative celebrated African and Caribbean culture in Leeds, with a focus on commemorating the Abolition Act by 'highlighting African achievement, liberation and aspirations'. New exhibitions, publications and resources were produced and over 100 bicentenary events organised under different themes: Education and Museums; Arts and Carnival Culture; Churches and Abolition; Legacy; Black History and Community Development; Media and Communications. Highlights included the photographic exhibition and pamphlet 'From Abolition to Commonwealth', which remembered indentured labour in Africa and the Caribbean after 1807, and the 40th anniversary of Leeds West Indian Carnival, with themes that highlighted heritage, liberation, respect and freedom. Project outputs included an education pack, black history classes, concerts, church services, lectures and performances.