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Archive for September, 2009

I was lucky enough to attend the slavery trail in Bristol, with only a small group we embarked on this journey where we would learn about slavery and its past. The four of us walked through Queen Square and heard all about the things that had taken place there and the people who were involved. There was so much information to recieve but none of it stuck in my mind, there was nothing within the trail or that was heard that made me feel the need to challenge what I had heard or make me listen more attentively to what was being said.

We learned who the statue was situated in the middle of Queen Square, walked across Pero’s bridge, looked at the plaque situated on the front of the Shakespere public house, stood outside  Merchants House, saw a few other places and ended at the Redcliffe caves. The Redcliffe caves were said to have stored slaves over night when they came off of the slave ships, it was at this point that I felt something,  like I was actually at a place were black people were kept captive, locked up unable to walk freely as I am today. Then to hear that black slaves were never kept in Bristol is a total contradiction to what stories I have been told in my lifetime. I mean no black slaves what do you mean? after speaking with my mum she informed me that slaves were sold on corn street and i know that i’ve been told that before, so now how am I  supposed to feel. Why is the truth being hidden,  I mean its already happened but why try to deny it.

My feeling towards the myth that black people were not kept captive is anger and annoyance why is there a trail about slavery in Bristol then. Going on the walk did’nt help me at all, I dont feel that I got anything from it and would not go again, for me this chapter is done its about time we made a new trail which shows the rise of black people , where it all started, who was the first black person to fight for their rights, what did they achieve and continue from there.

 I am not a slave I am free but my mind is not free from thinking like a slave . When will I decide to take responsibility for my own history? Embracing my african carribbean ancestry and making it a positive aspect of my life?  I believe that only then will I be able to share my awareness with my siblings, nieces and newphews, family and friends.

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A good question to ask is where am I going with this? what results am I looking for?, what will happen differently when the results are in? As a child I never celebrated black history, I dont remember much about any historical figures, I dont remember my mum, dad or granparents telling me about role models or heroes that were black, where I want to go from here is to re-establish the fact that black people will and can rise up, they can work together within their communities for their communities. 

From here I want  to celebrate my people together, enabling them to share their perspective of the theory and its effects in todays society but also giving them a chance to commemorate all that young, old, light, dark black  people have achieved.

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My name is Salama and i am 24 years old i am the fourth child of  nine from my father and the first of two from my  mother.  As a child growing up i always felt that i didn’t recieve the black history i needed to support me with who i wanted to be, I am on a quest to find out the positives in black history. I want to know where black people have lived and what black people have done for up and coming black people today.

Personally i am aware of what black history can be but I have been overcasted because whenever it is mentioned we only ever hear about slavery. I am not interested in slavery, I want to know what has happened to the legacies of the black people who died to make things right for us. I want to know about the facts about our black leaders and heroes, recieve information about our culture, past and present victories and aspirations.

With this project i want to open eyes and ears but for this to happen i need to be involved with people in Bristol to gather information.

Where should i begin?

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(Eurocentric) Timeline on Port Cities

a Timeline on Port Cities website (click pic to go there)

This timeline is pretty useful. For history in an British school or education system. They are right of course, those who would argue it’s Eurocentric. Though no reason to dismiss it. It’s good for passing history exams in this country true enough! And it gives good references points for orienting our heads around annals of history even if it is on the Gregorian Calendar. Part of living in a multicultural world should be being able to navigate such things no? This is a time of World History.

Reading History – Coules vs. Dresser   – Two Books :

The Trade (Victoria Coules)

and

Slavery Obscured. (Madge Dresser)

Recently we’ve been reading some books The Trade by Victoria Coules and Slavery Obscured by Madge Dresser.  They are both excellent ways into the subject of Bristol and its role in transatlantic slavery. The Trade is a nice  easy read. It begins by acknowledging the roaring passions that were ignited with whole 2007 Abolition thing recently. It then flows through the story from the making of Brigstowe (Bristol) through to…well chapter 8 at the moment. Coules draws on a number of sources in recent writing and research including Madge Dresser. That’s the other book. Madge’s is much more academic in its historiography and prides itself on getting close to the sources. Madge is an academic historian. Victoria is a film maker. Victoria wants to share a story that fascinates us, researched it and shared it with us in like an easy but informative documentary film. Madge wants to push back the frontiers of knowledge on the subject and assert new a position.  One thing Slavery Obscured looks to do is clarify the exact nature of the impact of the Africa business on Bristol’s rise in ‘Gentility’ (ironic notion) .  The language of the Slavery Obscured is much more academic – with its research, many images and ploughing of new research sources and directions.  It asserts a certain authority in research in this field.  The Trade is a much easier read since  the language targets a much wider  audience.  It could be read by older primary school children.  Both bring Bristol into the mix giving a much better of picture of exactly what we mean by ‘Bristol had something to do with the slavery’.

Both are reading well so far, and backing each other up about Bristol, Cabot, Colston, the ‘white slave trade’, (Which Derek Robinson mentioned back in 1973 with his very readable Shocking History of Bristol and giving dates and names to Bristol’s involvment in the ‘Africa trade’.   The Coules and Dresser books  complement each other well. So  more Coules AND Dresser rather than VERSUS. They are useful to bounce back and forth between and feture lots of knowledge there for us to better our understanding of the nature, impact and legacy of Bristol’s involvement.

Monarchs and Merchants

What happened to the wealth people featured on this BBC site?

What’s quite enjoyable about reading books about history is the references to English history. A bit like school.  With Henry VII and VIII, Mary, Elizabeth I, James, Charles, Cromwell and so forth. They are all there. Though some of it also reads like any page of the Financial Times today. Then there’s Colstons and Canynges and Cabots –  Investors in (ad)-ventures, traders and protectors of UK GDP.  New Worlds, New Markets.

But now. New Identities. For those transported and..

…for many of those companies, banks, insurance companies, big corporations have changed their names. And business interests.  Well maybe not Tate and Lyle. Like those after the Nazi Holocaust that became safe names like BASF. [as Wikipedia would say – needs citation]

There are a few institutions that are still evident very strongly today. The Monarchy, Bristol City Council and The Society of Merchant Venturers. Others have changed evolved in identity as well as markets. The monarchy were clearly key investors in licenses and laws to trade and colonise. Though when the whole busines proved proved lucrative, the intested cash.

Bristol City Council.

Many of the Society of Merchant Venturers were also members of Bristol Corporation, the council that ran the city. They were powerful men. The setting up of the Society transformed a loose network of traders into a formal organisation to promote trade..

The members of the Society were the leading merchants of the city and they had asked King Edward VI for a charter (a licence) allowing them to oversee foreign trade. They complained that the city�s trade was being ruined by untrained merchants. The King�s charter gave control of overseas trade to the Society and the rules governing membership stated that members should have been through a proper apprenticeship or training in the �Arte of Merchaunts� (the Art of the Merchant).
quotes above from Port Cities website

All the big Bristol names carved into the walls, the streets, the monuments, the houses, the parks and public places are there in this story. It’s impossible to separate from any aspect of English life of the time. A bit like trying to separate the arms trade from other strands of the global economy including our pensions funds and saving accounts.

The story of the (white) Bristol poor is another thing and they could have been shipped to ‘Barbadoes’ for liberating  a loaf of bread to feed their starving families.  Barbados was not the tourist hotspot we know today (that’s a later market!) but a growing colony in a hostile climate, hungry for labour on sugar plantations.

Barbadoes, William Mayo , 1722

From British Library

The books refer to the time when one notorious Judge Jeffreys comes to Bristol to get the ‘great’ and the ‘good’ back for support the Monmouth Rebellion . This guy is notorious for enjoying cruelty and using his power as a judge to revel in it. But then even he comes to Bristol in the 1680’s to tell the Bristol rich and powerful off for their their cruel habits. The Bristol courts (where the judiciary were also planters and investors in the colonisation project) were conning unfortunate Bristolians who found themselves up for trial for the most meagre of offences,  into taking an alternative sentence in the West Indies .

But then, Jeffreys telling them off was really a politically motivated thing because the Bristol rich were supporting the rebels against the current monarchy. Because clearly he didn’t care either. Those same bloody assizes (courts / trials)  he held did exactly the same thing.

The subsequent Bloody Assizes of Judge Jeffreys were a series of trials of Monmouth’s supporters in which 320 people were condemned to death and around 800 sentenced to be transported to the West Indies.
Wikipedia (Monmouth Rebellion)

However the times were thus. Those new and emerging colonies not, yet 150 years after Columbus and Cabot, needed labour to generate the wealth required for those investors back home in empire-building ventures.  So as the Taino, Caribs, Arawaks and Native Americans, Amerindians as we know them began to die , from European diseases and just pure genocide, the transported European convicts and ‘volunteers’  also withered in the tropical sun.  With the whole UK /European investment and venture under threat there was a voracious demand for labour.  Hence the Africans were increasingly captured, transported, worked, tortured, bred and belitted for the wealth of Great Britain and Bristol. This was already happening with Portugal and Spain but the British streamlined it.

Africentric timelines?

Guardian – Black History Timeline – at least it doesn’t start at 1619… see next

biography.com – Black History Timeline –  ‘coca-cola’ version that starts in 1619 with Obama prominent in the present.

Smithsonian Institute – Timeline – Mali, Ethiopia, Nile Valley

Paul Obinna’s Timeline

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Who am I in Bristol

Being able to talk about slavery and Bristol made me really have to think about what i knew about the town i have been brought up in. I mentioned before that learning about Willie Lynch was the beginning of any understanding for me around why we as black people live the way we do. The self destruction we bring to each others lives, putting people down, not wanting the best for one another, I can finally see the reasons behind this behavior, but at the same time i am concerned with the fact that now this information is out there what can be done to change the stereotypical views of Black people. Who am i in Bristol im yet to find out but as i travel on this journey to see the effects of slavery in Bristol i am interested to see who i can become.

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Myths and Facts

or

Facts and Feelings?

This working title for this book project is a bit problematic.

The idea of myths suggests something that is not ‘true’. Something that is a part of folklore, usually involving supernatural and celestial beings.  The kind of ‘myth’ we are supposed to be dealing with here though is like:

Slaves were kept in caves in Redcliffe.

or

Blacks were sold on Blackboy Hill.

Blackboy Hill on Port Cities website

Blackboy Hill on Port Cities website

While I could not say that this is absolutely untrue, I am aware that established historical orthodoxy on the subjects suggest that such things were certainly not the norm.

The other kind of ‘myth’ we are dealing with is

‘That’s such a long time ago, let’s move on’.

Usually that comes from a feeling that we should change the subject and not talk about this anymore.  We’ve learned over the last few years that it’s important to acknowledge these feelings. It’s not a ‘myth’, it’s an opinion and since it’s accompanied by an emotional charge, then there is a reality to it.   Any book on Bristol and transatlantic slavery,  published now, addressing popular prominent ideas about the subject should touch on such common feelings and ideas too we feel.

How long is ‘too long’ and what is meant my ‘move on’ are some arguable points right there. But such ideas are common. It’s difficult for people not get agitated or uncomfortable when exploring this subject.  Is it like talking about the Nazi implemented Holocaust in Germany?   It would be great to see our capacity for such conversation in Bristol to mature. And it is completely possible But first there is the need for the alleviation of much ignorance.

Knowledge will lead to understanding and hopefully some shifts in feeling. Like it or not our thoughts and feelings do impact on our realities today. Even when something has come out of nothing like Tracy thought that Brian said some stuff about her.  It’s still going to affect how Tracy and Brian relate to each other.

This book, if anything is to be added to the dialogue in the city must address FEELINGS.  It must enhance the dialogue. Especially after all the fireworks from the Abolition 200 moment has long sizzled out, gone soggy and got stamped into the streets of yesterday.

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