The phrase 'Ziba-Ufa' is Kiswahili for 'Closing the Gap'. Led by ACCR - the African Community Council for the Regions - this project aimed to close the gap between past and present by undertaking research from an African perspective. Blind Memory was a multimedia exhibition of images of Africa, slavery and resistance held at the Drum Arts Centre in Birmingham. The exhibition looked at memories relating to the transatlantic slave trade and how they affect beliefs and feelings; one of the aims of the exhibition was to rectify the amnesia and blind memory which many people are perceived to have in relation to slavery.
Borrowing its name from the 1967 “Wall of Respect” of Chiacgo, muralists Ashanti Johnson, Nathan Hoskins and Verna Parks installed their own public artwork in Atlanta. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass is alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and W.E.B. Du Bois, with the North Star between them. Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali are also present. The mural was destroyed in 2007.
In 1967, Detroit experienced one of the most brutal race rebellions in its history. In the early hours of June 23rd, the police raided an after hours club. Expecting to find a few people inside, they instead found 82 individuals. Everyone was arrested and escorted from the building, and as this happened, a crowd of 200 people gathered. As the night slowly crept into the next morning, violence and looting emerged on Twelfth Street, and the Detroit rebellion was underway. The rebellion carried on for five days. Mayor Jerome Cavanagh initially sought to quash the uprising with police units, but failed to gain support for this tactic as many African Americans in the city deemed the police the problem. In 1968, a year after Detroit’s violent rebellion, a local community organizer named Frank Ditto contacted muralists Bill Walker and Eugene Eda Wade, asking them to create a mural in his local community. Wanting to create a mural that could project an expression of black unity during a time of racial pain, Walker and Wade set about creating the Wall of Dignity. Painted on the façade of an abandoned ice-skating rink, the mural was broken down into three main sections. The top half of the mural depicted diasporic scenes of ancient life in Africa, whilst the middle section functioned as a collection of portraits of prominent African American men and women who sacrificed their lives by fighting for black liberation throughout history. The faces of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mary McLeod Bethune and Stokely Carmichael line the wall. The bottom section of the mural, enveloping the words ‘The Wall of Dignity’, depicts scenes of enslavement. Silhouetted figures of manacled men and women stretching their chains taut as they stretch for freedom are countered by figures raising their unshackled hands to the sky in moment of liberty. Towards the left-hand side of the mural, a poem titled ‘Slave Ship’ reads:
I am a prince, speak with respect I shall not be chained to your Bloody deck To live in this filth and stench? Ooooaaee a poor soul have died on his bench This meaning does burst the drums of my ears Long hours from my home seem like years A prince to ear the food of jackals!! My arms, my leg bleed from your shackles You must look to my woman What had been done to one so sweet, so mild? AAAHHH! Within here was my child. Strange tongued-golden haired man I will not journey to your land. Leave me…leave me be… Cast my carcass into the sea The sea.. Black..Black like me.
To commemorate the bicentenary, St Mungo Museum of Religious Art and Life (with support from the Scottish Museum Council) explored the social and economic legacies of slavery, including racism and cultural stereotyping. The museum worked with members of Glasgow's African and African Caribbean communities on reinterpreting objects from across Glasgow Museums. As part of the project, artist Beth Forde was commissioned to create an artwork to explore some of the issues raised, titled 'The shadow of the object fell upon the ego'. Voices from Africa was part of a year-long programme of lectures, schools events and exhibitions highlighting the life of African communities in Glasgow. This included a photographic project with photographer Roddy Mackay to represent African heritage in Scotland, and a series of free workshops exploring aspects of faith and belief.
Truth 2007 was an educational and information resource-based initiative that was instigated in Bristol by (Operation) Truth 2007 led by Jendayi Serwah. It became a national coalition of UK-based Pan-African organisations which aimed to raise the awareness of the African perspective on local and national government plans to mark the bicentenary. Truth 2007 featured a series of lectures, debates, interactive workshops and informal social-political gatherings organised by community groups. The Truth 2007 coalition expressed dissatisfaction with much of the terminology and focus of the 'official' commemorations.
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum opened in 1983. It was set up by Drs. Elmer and Joanne Martin as a cultural and educational institution that focusses solely on the study and preservation of African American history. It is a unique organisation as it represents the histories it interprets through the use of life size wax figures, presented in historical settings. The museum has several objectives, including to increase interest in African American history, to use inspiring examples from history to motivate young people to achieve, and to improve race relations by dispelling myths of racial inequalities. The museum attracts around 300,000 visitors annually.
The museum features thirty-five installations of 'great blacks' in a range of scenarios. These cover a large temporal and geographic span, beginning with representations of key figures in pre-slavery Africa, through to dioramas of the space race and modern science. The key focus is on black achievement through all sectors of society, including politics, the military, sport and business.
Many of these installations link to the history of slavery in the United States. They examine the Middle Passage and captivity, plantation life and resistance with graphic displays of the instruments of brutality utilised in the system of enslavement. Others depict key characters in African American journeys to freedom including Henry 'Box' Brown and W.E.B. Dubois. The abolition movement is incorporated into the installations with the characters of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. The Underground Railroad is also depicted in a display with Harriet Tubman, amongst others. Many of these dioramas also incorporate models of children.
The displays continue to chart the twentieth century, examining the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and the Jim Crow Laws. Some of these dioramas illustrate the abhorrent nature of the racial violence that dominated the United States, such as lynching, in graphic detail.
The Lifeline Expedition began in 2000 as a reconciliation journey linking the European and African nations. The March of the Abolitionists was organised for 2007, aiming to bring an apology for the slave trade (especially the role of the church); to promote understanding of slavery and abolition by engaging with schools and the media; and to remember black and white abolitionists of the past, and of current campaigns. For the first stage in March 2007 (the Meridian Walk), a group of walkers included Africans and descendants of enslaved Africans, while white people from the former slave trading nations wore yokes and chains on their 250-mile journey from Hull to London. In the capital they joined the Walk of Witness at Westminster, led by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. The second stage of the march (the Sankofa Walk) linked the former slave ports of London, Liverpool and Bristol in June and July 2007.
As made clear by The Long Road to Freedom exhibition in 2007, the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland contains a significant collection of documents which reveal local connections with the slave trade, and with those who campaigned for abolition. Several prominent local families owned slaves on plantations in the Caribbean and on the north coast of South America. Leading Leicester abolitionists, Elizabeth Heyrick and Susanna Watts, orchestrated a vigorous anti-slavery campaign in Leicester, including a boycott on sugar. Local landowner, Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple, was a friend of William Wilberforce and hosted meetings of anti-slavery campaigners at his home. The exhibition also highlighted a unique collection of mid-19th century papers which provide access to the voices of the enslaved in a slave court in Lagos, West Africa. It also told the stories of two former slaves, Rasselas Morjan and Edward Juba, who came to Leicestershire with their owners. This exhibition toured to various venues in the region, including Abbey Pumping Station, where it coincided with family activities focused on the work of Elizabeth Heyrick.
Ligali is a Pan-African human rights organisation that challenges the misrepresentation of African people, culture and history in the British media. It produced various responses to promote the African perspective of the 2007 bicentenary, including their 'Declaration of Protest to the 2007 Commemoration' expressing dissatisfaction with much of the terminology and focus of the 'official' commemorations. Their particular focus was on the ‘Maafa’, derived from the Kiswahili word meaning ‘great disaster’, and referring to the ongoing impact of enslavement and colonialism for African peoples. The publication ‘Addressing Maafa denial and slavery apologists’ was a guide to promoting the truth about the Maafa from an Africentric position.
‘Maafa: Truth 2007’ is a documentary film directed by the Ligali founder, Toyin Agbetu, and produced by Ligali’s then head of media affairs, emma pierre. The film confronts some of the myths about British slavery, featuring contributions from community activists, project workers, teachers and the African British business community. The film was screened at various events, including African Remembrance Day at Hackney Town Hall in 2006. Ligali’s ‘Freedom Fighter’ stamps were designed by Emma Pierre-Joseph as a response to the Royal Mail’s publication of six stamps to mark the bicentenary. ‘The Walk’ is a documentary record of Toyin Agbetu’s protests at the service at Westminster Abbey to mark the bicentenary on 27 March 2007.
Written by Ghanaian playwright Ama Ata Aidoo, The Dilemma of a Ghost deals with colliding cultures in 21st century Africa. An African-American woman accompanies her Ghanaian husband as he returns home, but the couple are haunted by ghosts of the inheritance of the slave trade. A collaboration between London theatre company Border Crossings and the National Theatre of Ghana, the production used music and dance to celebrate 50 years of Ghana’s independence and 200 years since the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. The play was performed in Birmingham, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, London, Plymouth and Slough. The production was was accompanied by a new book from Border Crossings, working in collaboration with Anti-Slavery International. ‘Theatre and Slavery: Ghosts at the Crossroads’ explored the ways in which world theatre responds to key issues in modern society and politics, including the issue of contemporary slavery.
'The Cotton Tree Passage' was a dance theatre production by Koromanti Arts performed at The Drum in Birmingham as part of the Routes to Freedom season. The production depicted the spiritual passage of slavery from Africa to the Caribbean and the UK. A collaboration between 'H' Patten and dance, music, film and visual artists, this piece combined multimedia techniques and contemporary African, Caribbean and urban dance, including African hip-life and Jamaican dancehall.
The Adisa project gave a group of 20 young people of African and African Caribbean heritage the chance to investigate their roots both in Bristol and Africa. The group researched the history and legacies of Bristol's involvement in the trade in enslaved Africans, and its impact on one African country: Ghana. This was a community partnership project in collaboration with the Bread Youth Project, Full Circle Youth and Family and the Mill Youth Centre. The group opened their own exhibition, 'Afrikan Footsteps' at the City Museum and Art Gallery, after a two-week research trip to Ghana to learn about the country's history and culture. The exhibition included short films made by the participants; a Quotes Wall, taken from young people’s interviews with members of their local community; a wall of their personal heroes; a photographic exhibition of their trip; and 'Ma’afa Journey', a film recording their personal reactions to places visited in Ghana.
Testament to a Trade was a play produced to mark the bicentenary, with close reference to Oxfordshire. Written by three local writers, the play was produced by Oxford Theatre Guild in collaboration with Oxfordshire Record Office and the Oxford Playhouse. Testament to a Trade weaves accounts of past and present slavery, and is situated in historical and contemporary contexts, notably 18th century Africa and Oxford, and contemporary Eastern Europe and Oxford. A number of archive materials relating to slavery and abolition are held by Oxfordshire Record Office, information on which inspired elements of the story. A teachers pack was produced to inform similar projects. The play opened at Burton Taylor Theatre in Oxford, and toured venues across Oxfordshire.
Sugar Beat Skank was a reggae-theatre performance presented by Regeyshun Dance and commissioned by the Leeds Bicentenary Transformation Project. It explored 'African antiquity and the spirit of abolition', and gave voice to narratives linking the histories and cultures of Africa and Yorkshire. Sugar Beat Skank was performed at outdoor and indoor events across Yorkshire, including Ilkley Literature Festival in 2007.
Slavery Remembrance Day, as designated by UNESCO, took place in Liverpool on 23 August 2007. The day was commemorated with a series of events, marked first by a multi-faith act of worship at Liverpool's Parish Church of St Nicholas. A traditional African libation ceremony, calling on ancestors to bless the event, took place on the city's waterfront at Otterspool Promenade. A programme of music and drama showcased Black culture and heritage around the themes of life in Africa, the Middle Passage and the legacies of transatlantic slavery. The International Slavery Museum at the Albert Dock had its official opening on the same day. The symbol of the day was the Sankofa, a mythical African bird that files forward while looking backward.
Slavery here! was a project hosted by museums across the Tees Valley led by Preston Hall Museum. It featured an interactive exhibition to explore the story of the Tees Valley’s connections with slavery. For example, the town of Stockton-on-Tees had its own Sugar House, a refinery that processed sugar from the Caribbean. The exhibition also looked at the work of local abolitionist campaigners Dr Robert Jackson and Elizabeth Pease, and the impact of contemporary slavery on today's society. Alongside the exhibition at Preston Hall Museum, other special events included workshops on African drumming and culture, object handling, and introductions to Fair Trade products. The project also produced a commemorative quilt (in collaboration with Newtown Community) and a film, ‘Manacles and Money’.
In consultation with local community groups, in 2007 the Natural History Museum commissioned new research into its collections that link slavery and the natural world. The research uncovered experiences of enslaved people and the use of plants in their everyday life, as food, medicines and poisons. It also examined the complex relationships between enslaved people and naturalists exploring newly-colonised lands. The museum ran a series of public events, co-hosted by Race on the Agenda, which aimed to bring the historical, scientific and public viewpoints together. It created online educational resources on themes such as Commercial Plants, Everyday Life, Diet and Nutrition, and Resistance. The museum also developed cross-curricular ideas for school lessons in Science using the context of slavery, looking at foods across different cultures, for example.
Set All Free: ACT TO END SLAVERY was a project of Churches Together in England, based in London. It was also a collaboration between church-related groups, societies and organisations around the UK working together with a Christian ethos to assess the relevance of the bicentenary, and in particular the legacies of slavery. The project aimed to highlight how the values of the abolitionists can transform relationships on an individual, community and society level. The project included building a network coalition, campaigning, producing research and resources for churches, schools and individuals. Set All Free also worked closely with Anti-Slavery International and Rendezvous of Victory, a leading African community-led organisation.
The 'Routes to Freedom' season of events took place throughout Autumn 2007 at The Drum, an intercultural arts venue in Birmingham. The programme explored the struggle for social justice and equality in relation to African, Asian and Caribbean communities, and marked two key historical events and their impact: the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act and the 60th anniversary of the partition of the Indian subcontinent. The programme was made up of theatre productions, touring exhibitions, film screenings, readings, dance performances and special events, including 'Coolies of the Caribbean' and a conference about Olaudah Equiano.
Remembering Slavery 2007 involved 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, and identify connections with the region.
The Remembering Slavery Archive Mapping and Research Project, led by the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle and assisted by local history groups, uncovered a large amount of archival material in the region’s institutions, exposing many hitherto unknown links between the North East and the slave trade. The participating record offices and libraries were Tyne and Wear Archives Service, the Literary and Philosophical Society Library, the Northumberland Record Office and the Robinson Library’s Special Collections at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. This reassessment of the North East’s involvement in slavery and the slave trade led to new published research, including John Charlton's 'Hidden Chains: the Slavery Business and North East of England 1600-1865'. There was also a lecture programme at the Literary and Philosophical Society, including talks by Professor James Walvin. Several of the project volunteers published essays based on their research in 'North East History 39' (North East Labour History Society, 2008). The North East Slavery and Abolition Group was established among the project volunteers, and further work on slavery and abolition was included in the Society’s North East Popular Politics project (NEPPP), 2010-13. Much of the material found in the 2007 project has been loaded onto the NEPPP database.