Volume 19 Number 2
01 April 2006
The slave trade has left deep scars. Ann Rignall meets a group of people remembering the past to shape a better future
DURING THE PERIOD of the slave trade, ships from ports in Britain, such as Liverpool, sailed to West Africa. There they picked up men, women and children and took them under inhuman conditions to the islands of the Caribbean and the southern states of America, where they were sold as slaves. The ships then returned home laden with sugar, cotton and rum. They made their owners rich, as can be seen in the many magnificent buildings which survive from those days. In recent years, a project has been set up to confront the legacies of this trade and to heal the wounds of society. The Reconciliation Triangle links the cities of Liverpool, UK, and Richmond, Virginia, and the West African Republic of Benin. The key themes identified for this initiative are:
- Historical understanding
- Conflict resolution
- Reconciliation and justice
- Promotion of cultural heritage
- Socio-economic development
In its last council meeting of the Millennium in December 1999, Liverpool City Council passed a resolution which'expresses its shame and remorse for this trade in human misery... makes an unreserved apology for Liverpool's involvement in the slave trade and its continued effects on the city's black communities... (and) commits itself to work closely with all Liverpool's communities and partners and with the peoples of those countries which have
carried the burden of the slave trade.'
The President of Benin has also apologised for his country's role in selling Africans to the slave traders. 'We must acknowledge our share of the responsibility in order to start afresh and pursue our goals towards progress. For us Africans this awareness opens the way to forgiveness and reconciliation.'
In Richmond, Virginia, where many of the slaves were sold onto the plantations, a Heritage Trail has been formed, which formally recognises the places in the city connected with the slave trade. Stephen Broadbent, a Liverpool sculptor, has made a Reconciliation Sculpture, which stands in Liverpool. Another one was unveiled in Benin last summer when a delegation of 11 from Liverpool visited the country. A third will be unveiled in Richmond in the autumn. These three sculptures are a manifestation of a process of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation, bringing together the descendants of those who profited from this evil trade, and those in places from and to which they were taken.
Last summer's delegation to Benin paved the way for many exchanges between the three points of the Triangle. A pupil exchange is being set up, the first step being a visit to Benin by Liverpool school pupils this coming summer. There are opportunities for cultural group exchanges-in particular a celebration of African music and dance-for the 2007 anniversary of the abolition of slavery, and when Liverpool is European Capital of Culture in 2008.
Common resources for training teachers in Benin, Liverpool and Richmond are being developed, and the hope is to facilitate dialogue between trainees in each location. There will also be resources for primary and secondary schools. Annual reconciliation workshops in Benin will be open to students, teachers and other interested educators from each of the participating cities. Links are being developed between the museums in each place.
This initiative is open to anyone who would like to be involved in an honest conversation, helping each other forward on a journey of learning, educating and bringing about real change.
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