Slavery was abolished only after millions of Africans were sold and transported to the Americas. Courtesy National Maritime Museum.
Government ministers have given their official support to plans for marking the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s abolition of the slave trade in 2007.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is chairing the Advisory Group on the Bicentenary, which has been created to bring together the voices of cultural, faith and community sectors to ensure 2007 sees events and activities relevant to all.
Museums in English cities involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, meanwhile, are already making plans of action and producing educational materials. The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) will play a huge part, as ever, making more than £16 million available for commemorative projects.
John Prescott said: “William Wilberforce’s achievement and the suffering of so many must be remembered in 2007. This anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the struggles of the past, the progress we have made and also the challenges that remain.”
Slaves on board a ship bound for America. © the Public Records Office.
On March 25 1807, a Parliamentary Bill was passed to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. That day marked the beginning of a long road to the end of slavery itself, which came in the Empire with the Act of 1833, and those slaves did not gain their final freedom until 1838. America eventually followed suit in 1888, but it is estimated that tens of millions remained for many years in some form of servitude.
The Museum of London, the National Maritime Museum, and National Museums Liverpool are all represented in the Advisory Group alongside organisations including the Commission for Racial Equality, Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International.
“I am particularly pleased to see that the cultural sector is providing such a strong lead in this area,” said Culture Minister David Lammy. “In Liverpool, Hull, Bristol and London, plans are already well advanced to make 2007 a success.”
“I want to make sure that in 2007 we pay tribute to all those who had a stake in the abolition,” he continued, “ – the victims of the slave trade, the ordinary people who campaigned for change, and the abolitionists themselves. I particularly want to ensure that we recognise those black abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano who deserve such a prominent place in history and I am glad that a major exhibition of his life and times in being planned in Birmingham in 2007.”
The former Dock Traffic Office on Liverpool's historic waterfront will be transformed into the new museum once current occupiers, ITV Granada, move out. © Austin:Smith-Lord
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery will host a national exhibition on erstwhile slave Olaudah Equiano in 2007. There will also be a touring exhibition on the prominent campaigner.
The Museum of London will develop community projects and encourage new audiences to find out about their heritage in 2007, unmasking the capital as a ‘slave city’, while the Museum in Docklands will be forging links with Cuba, the West Indies and Africa for a special exhibition.
National Museums Liverpool will open a dedicated new gallery in the bicentenary year, called the National Museum and Centre for the Understanding of Trans-Atlantic Slavery, while in Bristol, a city-wide programme includes refurbishment of the Bristol City Museum. Included will be the story of the city’s involvement in the slave trade, funded by £10 million from the HLF.
Hull will host a programme of events under the heading Wilberforce 2007, led by the city council and involving the Wilberforce House Museum, the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation and the University of Hull.
Skeletons believed to be the remains of Africans on their way to be sold as slaves in Bristol were found on the ship The London, wrecked off the coast near Ilfracombe in 1796. Courtesy Bristol Record Office.
A grant of £800,500 has been awarded by the HLF for Hull Museums and Art Gallery to update and redevelop their slavery collections. Wilberforce House may also be renovated, and an International Conference on Slavery is planned in the city for May 2007, supported by Bristol and Liverpool. The Victoria & Albert Museum in London will also hold a two-day conference – From Cane Field to Tea-Cup: The Impact of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade on Art.
A coalition of museums from London, Liverpool, Bristol and Hull have produced materials for schools under the Understanding Slavery Initiative.
Race Equality Minister Paul Goggins commented: “This first meeting of the Advisory Group is an important step in determining how people across the country will commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in the former British Empire, setting out how to raise awareness of the events of 1807, particularly to young people.”
“I believe it is vital that events should involve people from all our diverse cultures and communities. As with all aspects of cohesion and increasing race equality, the Government can only hope to bring about change with the support of the communities themselves.”
“I hope that together we can make 2007 have a real impact on people from communities all over Britain.”
The HLF is welcoming applications for funding from community-based organisations and other projects that aim to improve understanding of the slave trade and its impact on our heritage. For a guide on applications, ideas and more information, contact Katie Owen on 020 7591 6036. www.hlf.org.uk