Slavery as 'secret history'
Some aspects of slavery can be a ‘secret history’ hidden from gaze unless you are curious enough to seek it out - a task made slightly more accessible by recent films. There appears to be no such shyness at proclaiming the strength and reach of the British Empire with its many colonies, but rarely are we encouraged to examine the concept of Britannia - at least not beyond the notion of Britain as a supreme power.
Our resistance to acknowledge unpleasantness is long standing and apparent even in the time of Wilberforce. This invariably made the battle to affect change a difficult one for himself and his fellow abolitionists. In the early beginnings of the abolitionist movement, Granville Sharp made headway by winning the Somersett case that allowed Africans brought to these shores to rest in the assurance that they would not be kidnapped and resold. This also became a means of keeping the business end of slavery away from here.
This however had the side effect of allowing people to pretend things that happen ‘out there’ are abstract and do not impact over here. But it did and it still does; only now it is no longer just ‘over there’. For those of us who travel (particularly in larger cities) it may be that the fingers of slavery have touched some of the people we have glided past without a second glance. The reality of modern day slavery may be closer to you than you will ever know, and if not through the people in our vicinity, we have been unwitting participants by eating it, wearing it, or using something linked with it.
Modern day slavery is pernicious and unlike that of the past it holds little preference for race or colour; it is all embracing and inclusive. It is wider than we would like to imagine and this time the trick is not to pretend it doesn’t exist. That is the reason behind this campaign.
Update - 6th July
Wilberforce and his fellow abolitionists here and abroad started the journey towards freedom from enslavement, a journey that is yet to be completed. We see raising awareness as a key part of understanding the past and as a means of making a greater impact on the present. We are therefore delighted to hear that Biggin Hill Primary School in Hull will have Wilberforce as a subject on their curriculum as part of their Settlements topic which looks at Hull and famous people of the city. This will take them towards 2017 as a group of young experts! We will continue to encourage more educational establishments to do the same.
This week also sees us release a new book about the Wilberforce Monument, Homage to the Emancipator. This is the first book on the monument and has been researched and written by one of our trustees, Dr Carolyn Conroy, an art historian. You can read the synopsis on the author’s page and buy a copy through the link on the right side of the blog or by emailing us.
This week's image is a Frith's Series postcard of the Technical College in Hull, now known as Hull College, with the monument visible in front of it.