The industrialist Sir Henry Tate was the early benefactor of the Tate Collection, rooted in the art of the 18th and 19th centuries. Tate's fortune - much of which was spent on philanthropic initiatives in Britain - was founded on the importation and refining of sugar, a commodity inextricably linked to slave labour in the Caribbean. There were a number of initiatives across the Tate galleries to explore these connections. 'Tracks of Slavery' at Tate Britain displayed a selection of images from the Tate's collections which provided a commentary on the relationship of British society with slavery. Displays at Tate Modern included a selection of new acquisitions linked by their treatment of issues arising from slavery and oppression. Tate Liverpool exhibited paintings by Ellen Gallagher. Special events included Freedom Songs at Tate Britain (workshops to create poetry and music by exploring themes of slavery and freedom) and a discussion at Tate St Ives looking at the links between Cornish maritime traditions, the slave trade and the Caribbean.
A special display at Tate Britain to mark the bicentenary focused on William Blake and the circle of radical writers and artists associated with the publisher Joseph Johnson in the 1790s and 1800s. Blake's poetry and art protested against mental, physical and economic enslavement and inspired generations of artists, writers and political dissenters. The display was accompanied by a variety of events, including talks, performances and music for adults, families and young people and schools.
The World Development Movement seeks to increase awareness of political views in regards to world economic and social development. The organisation published a briefing in 2007 to mark the bicentenary, exploring the stories of grassroots pressure and the historic and modern campaigns for global justice. In collaboration with the University of Leeds, the World Development Movement also organised two public events looking to explore the lessons to be learned from the struggle to end the slave trade and examining contemporary campaigns in Africa and beyond for global social justice. Speakers included the Kenyan writer and academic Ngugi wa Thiong'o.
The main aim of the 2007 Bicentenary Cross-Community Forum (2007BCCF) was to facilitate space for dialogue and alliance building in areas of work connected to the legacies of enslavement, related global injustices today and contemporary forms of slavery. The forum was jointly convened by Rendezvous of Victory, Anti-Slavery International and the World Development Movement. The education initiative aimed to assist in discussion and alliance-building on issues arising from the legacies of African Enslavement such as Maangamizi (Afrikan Holocaust) Awareness, Afriphobia, reparations, global injustices today and contemporary forms of enslavement. Open meetings were held in London between 2005 and 2007, and the group produced the 2007 Cross-community e-bulletin three times a year, including comment pieces about the significance of 2007. Task Action Groups were set up, such as the Cross-Community Dialogue Action Group on Education (CCODAGE), jointly hosted by the Council for Education in World Citizenship and the School of Education at Kingston University. A Global Justice Forum was developed out of the 2007BCCF in order to advance work beyond 2007.
The National Maritime Museum marked the bicentenary with a range of initiatives and events including a new exhibition, a film season, poetry, music, debates, and new publications. A new permanent gallery opened at the museum in winter 2007 exploring Britain's Atlantic empire. A catalogue of slavery-related images, artefacts and documents from the collections of the museum, 'Representing Slavery', was published. The museum also devised a transatlantic slavery trail around Greenwich.
The National Maritime Museum hosted a number of events throughout 2007. The theme of the weekend 23-25 March was 'And still I rise', marked with a series of activities, performances and discussion. On August 23, International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, the ‘Freedom Festival: Contemporary Commemoration’ event saw a programme of creative events and performances exploring themes around the heritage of enslavement. The museum also offered a range of learning experiences based on its collections. For example, in November, a study session, 'Roots of Resistance: Abolition 1807' examined the roots of resistance and the abolition movement through talks by curators and contemporary artists. Activities for families were based on themes of freedom and carnival. 'The Big Conversation 2007' was a programme of debate and showcasing of diverse projects undertaken by students around the country, organised by the Understanding Slavery Initiative and the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
Abolition was an art project devised and led by artist Jack Brown, in collaboration with Tidemill Primary School in Deptford. It took place during Black History Month 2007, and aimed to commemorate the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade while recognising the existence of modern day slavery. Every child in the school made a 'step', an artwork representing their perspective on the writing, discussion and petitioning that drove abolition. The children visited the Laban Building at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and laid their step on the studio theatre floor. Taken together, the steps were conceived as a 'stairway to change'.
Hackney Museum's Abolition 07 exhibition told the story of British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, the resistance to it, and its abolition, and in particular emphasised the involvement of Hackney's residents in the abolition movement. The display included new artwork by Godfried Donkor in collaboration with young Hackney artists. A film of interviews with Hackney residents, Hear My Voice, was produced. Over 1200 children from Hackney Primary Schools took part in poetry workshops at the museum with poets Adisa and Baden Prince. Their poems and responses were published in the booklet 'And Still I Rise'.
The research into Hackney's connections to the transatlantic slave trade continued in 2013-2015 with 'Local Roots / Global Routes', a collaborative project between Hackney Museum and Archives and the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project.
The Greater London Authority produced an Events Guide for Londoners in 2007 detailing some of the initiatives taking place in the capital involving the Mayor. This included Africa Day on Trafalgar Square, celebrating the positive contributions of London's African communities, and 'Rise: London United', an anti-racist music festival. The conference 'Faith Symposium: In God's Name?' at City Hall examined the role of the Church in the transatlantic slave trade. There was also a seminar on the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade from a Caribbean perspective and a Caribbean Publishers Book Fair held at London Metropolitan University. The Dr Eric E. Williams Memorial Lecture Series at City Hall was made available as a webcast.
Abolition Truths was a panel-led talk and Q&A session at Harrow Civic Centre in October 2007, led by a creative arts community group Beyond the Will Smith Challenge (BTWSC). The event had a particular emphasis on the role of African freedom fighters and abolitionists, the Haitian Revolution, and the revolts, campaigns and boycotts leading to the passing of the 1807 Act. The event was interspersed with music and poetry, including a musical piece 'Then to Now' performed by Africanus Britanicus, and featuring HKB Finn & Co, which told the story of slavery and its legacy across the African diaspora. Teenage poet Stefan Testsola performed a poem on the theme of abolition. There was also a presentation of the Professor Allotey Science Prize, awarded to Harrow students of African descent.
Other BTWSC events in November 2007 included a discussion session with Ms Serwah, 'Putting the Abolition & Slavery Into Perspective' at Willesden Green Library, presented in association with Brent Black History Brent Library. 'From The Talking Drums to Rap & Grime' at Tavistock Hall in Harlesden commemorated the Abolition Act through narration and a musical concert.
Abney Park is a non-denominational cemetery in Stoke Newington, London. The walking tour Abolition Voices from Abney Park was developed to highlight the individuals connected with the abolition of slavery buried there, including the Baptist missionary Reverend Thomas Burchill (associated with Samuel Sharpe and the 'Baptist War' in Jamaica), Reverend Newman Hall and Reverend James Sherman (both associated with abolition in the USA). The grave of Joanna Vassa, daughter of Olaudah Equiano, was identified and restored. The monument to Joanna Vassa was designated Grade II listing by Historic England in 2008 as part of the bicentenary commemorations. There were accompanying talks and school workshops. Abney Park Cemetery Trust was also responsible for the carving of a new memorial stone for the writer Eric Walrond.
In conjunction with York Theatre Royal, Riding Lights Theatre Company produced a new play written by Murray Watts, directed by Paul Burbridge, with original music by Nigerian musician Ben Okafor. African Snow: Secrets of the trade was originally commissioned by the Church Mission Society, an organisation founded in 1799 by representatives of the abolition movement, including William Wilberforce. The play sought to explore the ideas associated with antislavery and how they can be put to use in the modern day campaign for the end of slavery. Opening at York, the play went on to have a West End Transfer followed by a national tour. The main characters are John Newton, the converted slave-trader who later wrote 'Amazing Grace', and the former slave and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano. The play saw them confronting each other’s differing perspectives, creating a dialogue in which the audience could witness alternative views towards slavery. A 'snow' was a class of ship, commonly used for the transportation of slaves. 'The African' was the first slave ship on which John Newton sailed.
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.
A replica of the nineteenth-century slave ship Amistad visited Liverpool, Bristol and London as part of the Atlantic Freedom Tour in 2007-2008. The ship set sail from its home port of New Haven, Connecticut, on a 16-month 14,000 mile transatlantic voyage to retrace the slave industry triangle. The ship stopped at more than a dozen Atlantic ports, including Freetown in Sierra Leone. Students from the UK had the opportunity to join the crew of the schooner – a replica of the original ship commandeered by 53 of its African captives in 1839 – on one of its legs, and transmitted text, images and videos back to the classroom. At each UK port, the ship was open for guided tours. There were also accompanying lectures.
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.
Letitia Kamaye: You Should Know Me
Artist’s Statement Kongo: You Should Know Me was my selfish way of learning more about my past, my ancestors through the images of my kinfolk. Unfortunately, the archive institutions I approached all asked for paperwork I could not supply; money I could not pay and questions I did not understand how to answer.
Only one missionary based in Ghent; the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, opened its doors and visual records to me and through them I was able to see a small percentage of the Congolese story before me. Though happy to have this access, I was not too overjoyed by everything I saw. There was a host of missing stories not recorded, stories that my family and friends families experienced. Chapters and verses missing from the identity of the Congolese narrative. Thus Kongo: You Should Know Me evolved to Kongo Archives.
Kongo Archives is extremely personal to me not merely because I am Congolese but also because there is a lot about my country I do not know and am searching for. I believe it is also something desperately needed, especially as our country’s political structure hangs in the global balance.
It’s a necessity even!
Culture; traditions; customs; language and pretty much everything has always been passed down orally through the stories in African customs, and now too many of those who did the passing down are fast passing away, taking with them all our history and rightful heritage. Taking away my rightful heritage, my story, my future and connection to a national identity.
It is a cliché to say, however Kongo Archives gives a voice to every Congolese person, travelling further than just those within the confines of the project. The archives is the stories of the past, the present and a storage unit where future stories can be placed when they become part of our inevitable past.
It [Kongo Archives] is here to topple the power structures of the single story of Congolese identity, working to reform the world’s understanding of, and have embedded notions questioned of a people whose stories and lives were second to the arrival of their colonial history and identity killers.
Bringing light to the stories which humanise the “so-called beasts from the dark continent” which continues till this day to suffer from decades of war and conflict whilst also being the wealthiest in natural minerals; culture and fight for peace one day.
Being Congolese I see our hidden presence in the “strangest” places, though this should not be a “strange” sight, this is the importance which representation brings! Change to people’s (and my own) opinions and views of those they are not well informed about. Kongo Archives will bring light to the multilayers of the Congolese people both residing in and out of The Motherland. It is important to have this representation to solidify the very absent Congolese presence outside of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in places such as London; Paris and Belgium as a positive display of unity; positive contribution and patriotism.
Kongo Archives aims to bring the Congolese heritage full circle through exposing the parts of our (Congolese) past and current state the world has and continues to fail to reveal. Breaking down the stereotypes of the poorest; “most dangerous place on earth to be a woman” to a country with a vast potential of peace; unconditional source of love and fight given the chance for change within its power structures.
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.
The official publication from the British Government in response to the bicentenary included a message from Prime Minister Tony Blair. It set out the history of transatlantic slavery and resistance to it, and featured a calendar of upcoming events for 2007 relating to slavery and abolition. The publication also detailed contemporary efforts to end modern slavery. Later in 2007, 'The way forward: bicentenary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807-2007' reflected on some of the commemorative activity that had taken place in Bristol, Hull, Liverpool, London and Greater Manchester. With a foreword by the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the theme of the publication was 'Reflecting on the past, looking to the future' and it linked efforts for the abolition of historical and contemporary slavery. The publication also looked to how to tackle inequality and poverty in the UK, Africa and the Caribbean.
The Bitter Aftertaste project included a range of schools’ workshops, an inter-generational outreach project, and a web-resource exploring the material culture and legacies of the transatlantic slave trade in art and society today. There were also two related exhibitions. For 'From Courage to Freedom', the gallery commissioned three leading visual artists from West Africa - El Anatsui, Romuald Hazoumè and Owusu-Ankomah - to create works to mark the bicentenary. 'Voyages' saw works by four artists - Julien Sinzogan, Tapfuma Gutsa, Pierrot Barra and Gérard Quenum - reflecting on the notion of voyages, in particular the movement of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Middle Passage.
Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame is an acclaimed stage musical which highlights the contributions and achievements made by black men and women in the world of sports, science and entertainment. First launched as a community project in 1987 at the Shaw Theatre in Camden, the production was created by Flip Fraser in collaboration with JD Douglas and Khareem Jamal. The show was the first all-black cast production to play in the West End. It returned in 2007 with a new line-up of characters, songs and dances, and recreated significant moments in black history including Kings and Queens of Africa, Freedom Fighters, Great Entertainers as well as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey and Nelson Mandela. The musical toured London, Croydon, Nottingham, Oxford and Bristol in 2007.
A programme of events and activities for Black History Month 2007 from Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre had a particular focus on the bicentenary. The programme included theatre, youth projects and family days. Calypso Fuh So performed special Calypsos to mark the bicentenary, and YAA/Carnival Village organised a commemorative walk to remember ancestors who died in slavery, and the Black presence in Britain. Ritual Theatre Arts created a film celebrating thirty years of African dance in Britain and International Word Power featured performances of poetry, storytelling and song.