The Passage of Time – Uncovering the Untold Histories of the Transatlantic Slave Trade included lectures, discussions, performances and activities that took place at the British Library.
At the start of the occasion we were introduced to singer Juwon Ogunbe who welcomed us with music by former slave turned composer Ignatius Sancho. One of the songs Ogunbe performed was titled Kate of Aberdeen. I was surprised at the powerful voice the small singer had and he belted out the songs superbly.
Actors Patrick Robinson and Jan Lower brought to life the writings of Thomas Clarkson and Olaudah Equiano with their performance.
Middlesex University lecturer and Historian, Dr Hakim Adi presented a lecture titled An Examination of the Wider Historical Context of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. He stated in response to the heavy media coverage about abolitionist William Wilberforce that “Africans themselves played a leading role in the abolishment of slavery”. Dr Adi gave an example of Olaudah Equiano. He also discussed how the 1807 abolishment act didn’t end slavery, even after the 1830’s when slavery itself was made illegal “Britain’s meddling” in Africa did not cease - he gave the example of colonialism. Throughout the event Dr Adi stressed that “we are our own liberators”.
Peter Herbert, a barrister and chair of the Society of Black Lawyers, addressed The Legacies of Slavery for Contemporary British People. Herbert touched on the use of the word n*gger within the black community and he said it was “not possible to celebrate such a word”.
In fact a member of the audience said she found the use of the word “black” just as offensive as n*gger because it “shows that you look at colour first” and she would rather be called “African”.
Those present where invited to document their thoughts on the Slave Trade and its Abolition in a commemorative book.
The event ended with a debate chaired by BBC London’s Dotun Adebayo. The question of “What Should the legacy of the Anniversary be?” was discussed by a panel of Dr Hakim Adi, Peter Herbert, Esther Stanford of the African reparation movement UK and assistant comment editor at The Guardian, Joseph Harker.
The audience added ideas such as a slave trade museum in London being built, a black current affairs programme on TV, a commemorative coin, killing African debt and empowering black youth.
Black youth was a subject raised throughout the event in fact one person in the audience voiced that they (the adults) should pledge to black youth to make Britain a better place. There was also focus on education as many felt that the education system and media do not present the whole picture of black history which often left black youth clueless.
I asked Paulette Harris-German, Roots Project Coordinator BBC London/Arts Council England what inspired this event and she stated: “It is important to acknowledge the contribution of Africans to this country in an artistic as well as academic way.”
Natasha Tannis, 31, teaching assistant, from Clapton stated: “Today has been a truly inspirational day; it has been a real eye opener into what happened in the history of black people. As a black mother I truly believe education is important for our young people and we need to educate our children and teach them about black history.”
The debate was recorded and will be broadcast on radio tomorrow on the Sunday Night Special with Dotun Adebayo and Valley Fontaine from 8pm to 10pm on BBC London 94.9FM.