UNESCO Slavery Remembrance - UK Museums Mark The Bicentenary

By Rose Shillito | 17 August 2007
a colour photograph of a sailing ship on a blue sea

The Freedom Schooner Amistad will sail into Albert Dock, Liverpool, on 19 August

This year is the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade and Slavery Remembrance Day on Thursday August 23 sees the culmination of abolition commemorations, with a raft of events and activities taking place all over the country.

On August 23 1791 there was an uprising of enslaved Africans on the island of Santa Domingo (modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic) – it proved to be a pivotal revolt in the fight against slavery. Designated by UNESCO, the date was chosen as a reminder that enslaved Africans were the main agents of their own liberation.

Each of the major port cities that played a key role in the slave trade during the 18th century – Liverpool, Bristol, Hull and London – have planned their own schedule of commemorations.

a computer generated image of the interior of a museum gallery

The new International Slavery Museum in Liverpool will open on Slavery Remembrance Day. © Redman Design

Leading the way is Liverpool with several events planned in the run up to the main commemorations on Slavery Remembrance Day.

On Sunday August 19, the Freedom Schooner Amistad – a replica of the original ship that was commandeered by its African captives in 1839 – will sail into Albert Dock. The ship set sail from its home port of New Haven, Connecticut on June 21 on an epic 16-month 14,000 mile transatlantic voyage to retrace the slave industry triangle. It’s due to arrive at 3.45pm.

On Tuesday August 21, distinguished author Dr Molefi Asante will deliver a memorial lecture entitled The Ideological Origins of Chattel Slavery at 6pm at Liverpool Town Hall.

The majority of the commemorations are reserved for Slavery Remembrance Day, starting with a multi-faith service at 10.45am at Our Lady and St Nicholas Church.

Shows quilt wall hanging depicting scenes of slaves breaking free of chains

The commemorative quilt on show in a new exhibition at Peckover House. Courtesy National Trust

Next, there’s the opening of the new International Slavery Museum in Merseyside Maritime Museum at Albert Dock.

The galleries at the International Slavery Museum will feature thought-provoking displays about the story of the transatlantic slave trade and address issues such as freedom, identity, racial discrimination and human rights.

A second phase of the project, due to open in 2010, includes a new visitor-focused education centre with a supporting programme of performance, lectures and debate.

Across the city there’ll be a carnival atmosphere with a day of activities at Otterspool promenade, south Liverpool, kicking off at 12pm. Events include music and drama performances, gospel choirs and poetry recitals.

Shows interior of Westminster Hall showing vaulted ceiling and exhibition stand

Westminster Hall is the base for Parliament's anti-slavery commemorations. © Parliamentary Archives

A multi-faith service at Our Lady and St Nicholas’s Church at 10.45pm closes Slavery Remembrance Day in Liverpool. For more information on any of the events listed, visit www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk.

London will mark its role in the transatlantic slave trade and the central role it played in the Abolition campaign with a special programme of events organised by Parliament.

In a huge gesture of support for the bicentenary commemorations, the public have been invited to Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament to take part in activities linked to the current exhibition in Westminster Hall, The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People. The exhibition runs until September 23 and exhibits include the 1807 Act of Parliament among other important artefacts.

Shows rows of abstract faces made from plastic containers

Detail from La Bouche du Roi at Merseyside Maritime Museum until September 2. Photo: Benedict Johnson. Courtesy the British Museum

On Slavery Remembrance Day, visitors can meet a host of historical characters ‘at large in Westminster Hall including Olaudah Equiano, a former enslaved man who became an abolition campaigner, and William Wilberforce MP.

There is also a self-led historical walk around Westminster entitled On the Road to Abolition taking in key sites of interest, with a map available in Westminster Hall or to download.

Alternatively, why not contribute to a commemorative quilt? Drop in workshops and materials will be available and there will be prizes for the best entries. For more details, see www.parliament.uk.

The Museum in Docklands, London, will commemorate Slavery Remembrance Day with a tour of the galleries and surrounding West India Quay exploring the docks’ links with the slave trade. Tours will take place at 2pm and 3.30pm. For more details, see www.museumindocklands.org.uk.

detail of a photo of a scroll of parchment with the words 'an act' written on it

The 1807 Act, which can be seen at the exhibition at Westminster Hall. © Parliamentary Archives

Museum in Docklands will open the only permanent gallery exhibition in London dedicated to the slave trade on November 10. London, Sugar and Slavery will examine the city’s involvement in the slave trade and its legacy on the capital.

Bristol has been commemorating the Abolition throughout the year with a host of events, performances and activities at a variety of venues.

Next up is a free talk entitled ABOLITION 200: Documenting slavery and the Abolition Controversy by Michael Richardson, Assistant Librarian at Bristol University Arts and Social Sciences, on September 19. To keep abreast of other activities, check out www.bristol.gov.uk.

Hull will be hosting a wide range of events throughout the year to mark this historic occasion.

To complement the permanent exhibition devoted to the history of slavery at Wilberforce House Museum, there will be a special event entitled Shackles of Slavery on August 21, when visitors will be invited to handle artefacts relating to the enslavement of African people.

Shows aerial view of rows of black containers laid out in shape of ship

The complete La Bouche du Roi installation from above. Photo: Benedict Johnson. Courtesy the British Museum

Slavery Remembrance Day is marked with a performance of Slavers, a play inspired by the life and achievements of William Wilberforce.

Other highlights on the Hull commemorative calendar include a Cultural Carnival on August 25 and the Songs of Freedom Music Festival on September 21. For further information, see www.wilberforce2007.com.

There are several exhibitions being held around the country as part of the Abolition commemorations.

These include a commemorative quilt that goes on show at the National Trust’s Peckover House from August 18 to September 10. The quilt was made by the Freedom Quilters of Wisbech to celebrate the achievements of Wisbech-born abolitionist Thomas Clarkson and illustrates key historical events in the abolition of the slave trade.

Shows exhibition cases displaying old manuscripts

Display cases in Westminster Hall, part of the British Slave Trade exhibition © Parliamentary Archives

Faces of Freedom – Hammersmith & Fulham and the Slave Trade is running at the Museum of Fulham Palace until September 16, and tells the story of Hammersmith & Fulham’s role in slavery and the abolition movement.

The raft of events taking place all over the country may choose different themes to highlight in the Abolition story but they each have a common thread – they tell a story of hope and inspiration and show how with determination and courage ordinary people can make a difference. The legacy of the Abolition lives on.

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