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Black History Education: Historic Statues we would like to see!

Records show that black men and women have lived in Britain since at least the 12th century, but it was the colonial ‘empire’ that caused numbers to swell exponentially in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Here we share some examples of other statues that could legitimately stand alongside those slave traders held precious by those clinging to the stale, colonial ideologies of what made Britain great.

There is an argument for both sides of the debate about whether the statues of those who made their wealth through trading in human suffering and degradation should remain standing. After all, in their minds it was perfectly legitimate to create wealth from the suffering of other people - ‘slaves’. The people they brutalised were viewed as ‘less than’, they were ‘others’ ‘brutes’ who could take the heat and work and breed like animals.

Even if we accept or forgive the obvious stupidity that underlies such blatant ignorance, one might argue that these people, now celebrated with statues and conflated versions of written history, might have known no better. It may come as a surprise to many, but if we are to tear down every statue that represents wealth from the proceeds of the triangular trade of human trafficking that took place during the 18th century, there are also many buildings in the UK that would also come in to question, not least, many council buildings, built by MP’s who found wealth in the trade.

One character that is pushed to the fore in Britain, usually presented as the exemplary leader in the abolitionist movement and used as the face of Britain’s story that it led the way in abolitionism, is Wilberforce. A man who was only convinced after political pressure fell upon him. When pressure mounted from ordinary white working-class people who were learning of the horrors inflicted on their African brothers and sisters on the continent of Africa, in the US and Caribbean colonies.

People were disturbed by the information that had previously been kept from them. They started to lose admiration for the men who had travelled and returned with great wealth. Ordinary people asked awkward questions of their leaders. But where were they suddenly getting this new information from? And who was putting moral and political pressure on men like Wilberforce? Who were the real leaders of the Abolitionist movement?

The real people named in this short article represent just some of those who survived the horrors of the triangular trade and the war on Africa. They fought against the slave traders, insurance companies, shipping companies, British MP’s, and US Congressmen to secure freedom for all men and women from brutality and bondage. These people helped to alleviate ordinary Englishmen and women from extreme ignorance about what was taking place in Africa and the Caribbean islands. They roused support and led lobbyists, wrote, and documented their experiences and pushed through their own extreme trauma to ensure change would one day come for future generations.

Mary Prince was a British abolitionist and auto biographer born in 1788. Her autobiography The History Of Mary Prince was first published in 1831 making her the first black woman to write and publish an autobiography in Britain.

Prince's work documented her brutal treatment as an enslaved person in Bermuda, and it was instrumental in the anti-slave trade movement. Prince, who worked with the Anti-Slavery Society, was also the first woman to present an anti-slavery letter to parliament.

This was no small achievement at the time because slavery was still legal in England but unrest from abolitionists made her autobiography immensely popular.

Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; c. February 1817– February 20, 1895) was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman.

He escaped slavery in Maryland, and became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, gaining notoriety for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. Douglass was described by abolitionists as a living counterexample to the slaveholders' theory that ‘slaves’ lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.

Douglass spent two years in Ireland and Great Britain, where he gave lectures. His draw was so great that some buildings were "crowded to suffocation". One example was a popular London Reception Speech, which Douglass delivered in May 1846 at Alexander Fletcher's Finsbury Chapel. Douglass remarked that in England he was treated not "as a colour, but as a man.”

In 1846, Douglass met with Thomas Clarkson, one of the last living British abolitionists, who had persuaded Parliament to abolish slavery in Great Britain's colonies. During his trip Douglass became legally free, as British supporters led by Anna Richardson and her sister-in-law Ellen of Newcastle upon Tyne raised funds to buy his freedom from his American owner Thomas Auld. Many supporters tried to encourage Douglass to remain in England but, with his wife still in Massachusetts and three million of his black brethren in bondage in the United States, he returned to America in 1847,

Ignatius Sancho (1729–80), was one of the few black people in Britain in the late 18th century who lived an independent life. He was born on a slave ship and later became a composer and literary celebrity.

This 1815 print depicts Joseph Johnson, he was a former sailor in the British Navy. He became a street singer to earn money after he was discharged from the navy, and wore a model of the sailing ship Nelson on his head© Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI

Known for most of his life as Gustavus Vassa, Olaudah Equiano was a writer and abolitionist from the Eboe region of the Kingdom of Benin (today southern Nigeria).

He was enslaved as a child, and taken to the Caribbean where he was sold as a slave to a Royal Navy officer. He was sold twice more before he purchased his freedom in 1766.

As a freedman in London, Equiano supported the British abolitionist movement. He was part of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group composed of Africans living in Britain. He was active among leaders of the anti-slave trade movement in the 1780s. He published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano in 1789, which depicted the horrors of slavery.

The book went through nine editions in his lifetime and helped gain passage of the British Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished the slave trade.


Ottobah Cugoano - originally from Ghana, was an abolitionist in England during the late 18th century. He was born in 1757, part of the Fanti people and member of a family of influence.

Between 1768-1769, Ottobah Cugoano was sold into slavery. Around three years later in the Caribbean plantations Alexander Campbell purchases him and he is taken to England and baptized as John Stuart.

Shortly after, the young Cugoano pursues an education in reading and writing. He is freed after around 10 years and begins working for artists Richard and Maria Cosway.

Eventually, he would meet Olaudah Equiano—known as Gustavus Vassa—and other educated Blacks in London. This led to him joining the Sons of Africa.

Cugoano’s writing culminates in the 1787 publishing of Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species. His book targets the institution of slavery from a very heavy Christian base and made the case that abolition was the answer. It also serves as an autobiography of his life prior to arriving in England. In his book, Cugoano highlighted the effects of slavery. He sent the book to key political figures in Britain, but the abolition of slavery remained a notion.

In his book, Cugoano stated:

Is it not strange to think, that they who ought to be considered as the most learned and civilized people in the world, that they should carry on a traffic of the most barbarous cruelty and injustice, and that many think slavery, robbery and murder no crime?

Evelyn Dove was a jazz and cabaret singer born in London in 1902, and she was the first black singer to perform on the BBC. Born to a Sierra Leonean father and British mother, she studied singing, piano, and elocution at the Royal Academy Of Music. Dove struggled to get into the world of classical music as a black woman, but despite this she had a successful career. Dove was a part of the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, which aimed to popularise black music around the UK.

Read: Evelyn Dove: Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen by Stephen Bourne, published by Jacaranda. (image Jarcanda books)

Sarah Parker Remond started speaking publically about slavery in the USA at just 16 years old. Her lectures took her around America, the UK and Europe, where she became a well-known figure and agent of change in the anti-slavery movement.

Born free in Massachusetts and became known as a lecturer, abolitionist, and agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society. An international activist for human rights and women's suffrage. In 1858 Remond was chosen to travel to England to gather support for the abolitionist cause in the United States. While in London, Remond also studied at the Bedford College for Women, lecturing during term breaks.

From England, Remond went to Italy in 1867 to pursue medical training in Florence, where she became a physician. She practiced medicine for nearly 20 years in Italy and never returned to the United States.

Political activist, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator

The Right Honourable Marcus Garvey lived in London for several years.

Garvey sought to rebuild UNIA, although found there was much competition in the city from other black activist groups. He established a new UNIA headquarters in Beaumont Gardens, West Kensington and launched a new monthly journal, Black Man. Garvey returned to speaking at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park. When he spoke in public, he was increasingly harangued by socialists for his conservative stances. He also had hopes of becoming a Member of Parliament.

In June 1937, Garvey's wife and children arrived in England, his children were sent to a school in Kensington Gardens and Garvey took up a new family home in Talgarth Road, not far from UNIA's headquarters.

During the late 1910s and 1920s, Garvey was also influenced by the ideas of the Irish independence movement, to which he was sympathetic. He saw strong parallels between the British subjugation of Ireland and the broader subjugation of black people.

Garvey adopted a Pan-Africanist view, which has become increasingly popular amongst sections of the black community even today. In the wake of the First World War he called for the formation of "a United Africa for the Africans of the World” UNIA promoted the view that Africa was the natural homeland of the African diaspora.


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