It's time we honoured slave revolts

Thom Blair

Black Britain has long struggled to overcome a reputation in some quarters of having no past worthy of mention. This misguided notion seems to have persisted in the media fanfare for the bicentenary end-of-slave-trade commemorations.

But my Afro-barometer tells me that rebel Black people, freedom fighters if you will, deserve full representation in the Memorial 2007 project proposed by such dignitaries as the opera singer Willard White and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

Anti-slavery evangelical Christians like William Wilberforce played key roles, we know. Applause is due to all those who condemned slavery, signed petitions, marched and lobbied for change.

But it was the African workers in the British colonies who downed their tools and went on strike for land and freedom. With rebel leaders at the helm, they turned their crude machetes against the slave-masters and British troops. Crucially, they helped topple the plantation system and destabilise Britain's power in the Caribbean.

I'm with the Trinidadian economist Eric Williams and author of the classic Capitalism and Slavery on this score. The Black rebels of the Caribbean and their European kin, the Black Abolitionists, gave birth to our modern consciousness of the worth of human dignity. This was never acknowledged by Wilberforce. Nor is it fully appreciated today.

Yet, the Black-led anti-slavery movement is one of the cultural anchors of Black Britain. Queen Nanny of the Jamaican Maroons and her fellow rebel leaders in the British colonies - Fedon of Grenada and Bussa of Barbados among others - were a part of a pan-Caribbean and transoceanic revolutionary process. A movement that swept through Haiti as well as Brazil and the southern American states and was a prime contributor to dismantling all plantation societies and regimes built on slavery.

Let's hope this tale of heroism finds its place in the  £1.5 million Memorial 2007 sculpture and garden of remembrance to be erected in Hyde Park. Organisers say the public are invited to help select the better of two models put forward by sculptors Les Johnson and Sokari Douglas Camp. They'll be on show from June to July at the Rich Mix studies in Shoreditch, east London. The memorial "is a way to support the healing of our society", says Prof Jack Lohman, the Museum of London director. It also offers an opportunity for the British government to lead the way and recognise and acknowledge the wrongs of history, particularly the continued effects of slavery.

* For more on Heroic Caribbean rebels with a downloadable New World Calendar of Slave Revolts see Thom Blair's Internet news magazine http:/www.chronicleworld.org; E-mail; tlb@thechronicle.demon.co.uk

* Search the key word 'slavery' for more stories about it on The-Latest.

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