Remembering the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Councillor Asher Craig is pictured, smiling, with trees behind her.
This blog is from Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor for Children Services, Education, and Equalities and Labour Councillor for St George West ward.

Today marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This year’s theme is “fighting slavery’s legacy of racism through transformative education”. That’s a conversation that gained momentum, but has much more still to say, with the display of the Colston statue at M Shed.

In Bristol, we are working through the Legacy Steering Group (LSG), established in December 2019, to ensure a suitable recognition of the Transatlantic Trafficking of Enslaved Afrikans (TTEA). The LSG collectively provides advice and strategic direction to the council on projects and programmes to ensure we remember the victims of this dark chapter of our history. Founded in 2019, several activities have taken place despite the lockdown which hindered much of the group’s work in 2020. For example, Full Council voted in favour of an “atonement and reparations” motion on Bristol’s role in the TTEA. In September 2020, we commissioned a six-month period of education consultations, led by Black South West Network in partnership with Afrikan ConneXions Consortium, with members of the diverse communities of Afrikan Caribbean and continental Afrikan heritage people. This concluded in the Project T.R.U.T.H. report.

In addition, we invested £50,000 in supporting the World Reimagined last year – which included a trail of globes across central Bristol as part of a wider trail of over 100 globes in seven cities across the UK. The sculptures were created by artists to bring to life the reality and impact of the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Afrikans and invite the public to engage with the dialogue and actions of making racial justice a reality.

2023 is an ideal time to reflect on and better understand our past as we continue simultaneous work as a city to tackle racism and injustice. This year brings some significant milestones in Bristol such as the 650th Anniversary of our independent county status, the 60th Anniversary of the Bus Boycott, and the 75th Anniversary of Windrush. This reflection and our experience of the last few years have also brought a growing ambition for this process to lead to an outcome which is permanent, of truly significant scale and ambition.  

As has been pointed out by community leaders for at least a decade, Bristol deserves a national and international monument to honour the victims of the slave trade. This is not a quick campaign, but an enormous undertaking – and one which we are actively seeking major funding towards. We hope to establish an ongoing way to articulate the stories of those people as well as their forebears and descendants, correcting the many and widespread misunderstandings which have caused and continue to cause extreme pain and trauma for so many people in Bristol, and across the United Kingdom.

Today, ahead of the 200th anniversary of the Slavery Abolition Act in a decade’s time, represents the perfect moment for the LSG to redouble efforts to design, create, and deliver this process. Alongside this, it’s clear that the city will need to provide land to custom-build a bespoke, fitting museum or story-house and our administration continues to explore this. We cannot afford to do something so important on the cheap, opportunistically converting derelict buildings which did not exist before 1833/34, let alone have meaningful links to the history we are seeking to remember and commemorate.

This is part of a considered process. Members of the LSG travelled to Hanover, Bordeaux, and Berlin, to understand how others have worked though issues of memorialisation, contested histories, identity, and belonging. We draw inspiration for the approaches of the Memorial to the Victims of the Holocaust and the Museum of the Jewish People and took the time to discuss these themes with the Mayor of Bordeaux during his recent visit to Bristol.

We will also, more immediately, be working to approve a final action plan to undertake the first stage of commissioning talented artists to design a permanent site of commemoration. It is vital that we remember the brilliance and resilience of the people who suffered under the TTEA, and its modern legacies, rather than only the violence that was done to them. This site will delve into the brutal reality of that history but also the stories of resistance, uprising, and survival after the abolitions of enslavement and the institution of slavery; the resilience and resurgence of communities in the Caribbean and across the world since 1900; the ongoing legacies of suppression and injustice which confronted the Windrush generation and subsequent generations of migrants to the UK; and the present-day resistance, agency, and creativity of British Black communities today and in the future.