Monday, January 12, 2009

Remorseless Britts on the slave trade

According to the UK Guardian's article "City agonises over slavery apologyPassions are running high in Bristol over whether it should say sorry for its past" posted on 7 May 2006:

'Bristol was one of the main ports involved in the trading of slaves taken from West Africa to British colonies in the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th centuries, and most Bristolians were involved in the slave trade in one way or other,' said Dr Gareth Griffiths, director of the city's British Empire and Commonwealth Museum. 'Local people supplied the labour and provisions for the slaving ships; they created the goods that paid for the slaves and they bought the spoils from the ships when they returned.'

Griffiths is the inspiration behind this week's Apology Debate, at which leading historians, politicians and other public figures will argue whether the city should apologise. It will then be thrown open to a vote. 'The issue is particularly resonant in the lead-up to next year's 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade but emotions run particularly high in Bristol,' Griffiths said.

The extent of Bristol's involvement in the slave trade resonates in practically every civil and religious city landmark: from Merchants Wharf to the Redcliffe Caves, where slaves are said to have been incarcerated, to Queen Square, the city's most serene public space, completed at the height of Bristol's involvement in the trade and where mayor Nathaniel Day petitioned against a tax on slaves.

The pretty courtyard housing the Merchant Venturers' Almshouse harks back to the powerful 18th-century pro-slavery lobby, while the bells of Bristol's loveliest church, St Mary Redcliffe, were triumphantly set ringing when William Wilberforce's Bill to abolish slavery was defeated in 1791.

But it is not only historical landmarks that pay tribute to the trade: just last month, the choice of 'Merchants Quarter' as the name for the new city centre shopping area was deemed so offensive that the developers were forced to come up with other ideas.

No official representative for Bristol has ever formally apologised for the fact that, from 1698 to 1807, when trading in slaves from Africa was outlawed, 2,114 ships set sail from Bristol to Africa and then on to plantations in the Americas, carrying over half a million slaves. Bristol's record was only exceeded by Liverpool, which made a public apology for its role back in 1994. Bristol, on the other hand, has only recently focused attention on its part in the trade; in 1996 its Festival Of The Sea failed to make any mention of slavery. Two years later, however, the Pero's Bridge, named after a slave, was built in the city and a Slave Trail, showing how the city's fortunes were created by merchants, was created.

Continue reading the etire article here.

John Savage on the slave trade apology

Mayor of Bristol on the legacy of the slave trade


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