Posts by Richard
I have just returned from Cape Verde where I attended a committee meeting and colloquium in my role as the UK representative of the UNESCO Slave Route project.
The committee is made up of a global mix of experts from disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology and history along with those of us who represent museums and research institutions. Interests are wide-ranging and all contribute to a greater understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and indeed other routes of enslavement such as the Indian Ocean.
Several committee members gave presentations on this region at the colloquium, which was held at the Universidade de Cabo Verde on the theme of ‘Scientific Research on Slavery and Challenges of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024)’. Dr. Vijay Teelock (University of Mauritius) spoke on People of African descent in post–emancipation Mauritius and Dr. Abdulazziz Lodhi (Uppsala University) on the spread of the African diaspora in the coastal areas through the Swahili Culture.
Cape Verde has a fascinating and often troubled history. The Portuguese claimed the islands in the 15th century thus starting several centuries of involvement in the transatlantic slave-trade, the enslavement of Africans and colonial expansion. This was no passive relationship though and subsequently a notable liberation struggle was born.
Standing outside the National Library is a very large public memorial to one Amilcar Cabral, revolutionary, pan-Africanist thinker and a founder of PAIGC Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde). In 1926 Portugal had become a right-wing dictatorship, one that that was ruled by António de Oliveira Salazah from 1932-1968 who was determined to hold on to their African colonies (and established the infamous prison camp at Tarrafal on Cape Verde). As a result Cabral and many of his fellow Guinea-Bissauans and Cape Verdeans fought a long war of liberation, which long after much of the independence movements of the 1960s, eventually led to Cape Verde gaining independence from Portugal in 1975 and Guinea-Bissau in 1974. Cabral’s famous words ‘Claim no easy victories’ sadly ringing true as he was assassinated shortly before independence. Even so his brother Luis Cabral became the first President of Guinea-Bissau.
A lasting impression were the performances one evening in the town square of Cidade Velha – one of the oldest settlements – not far from where we were staying and some 10 km west of the capital Praia. There was capoeira, various Cape Verdean music and poetry. One might have expected a lull in the tempo but it was the opposite as several young Cape Verdean poets gave rousing performances, their passion palpable, and indeed heartening.
In this guest blog, produced for Tate Liverpool, I talk of my recent visit to the gallery’s major exhibition curated by one of America’s most distinguished contemporary artists, Glenn Ligon (b.1960, New York) – Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions.
My first guest blog for Tate Liverpool also happens to be during UK Black History Month (rather than US Black History Month which is in February). Dr. Carter G. Woodson, often referred to as the father of African American history, established what was originally called ‘Negro History Week’ in 1926. The week became a month, February chosen as it contains the birthdays of influential figures such as Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. It was against this backdrop that I visited Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions at Tate Liverpool. Read more…
20 August 2015 by Richard
Ahead of Slavery Remembrance Day on Sunday 23 August, Dr Richard Benjamin, Head of the International Slavery Museum, explains the background to the Dorothy Kuya Slavery Remembrance Lecture, and writes on the importance of this annual commemoration: Read more…
5 August 2014 by Richard
Last week I spoke at the ‘Untold Stories, Buried Histories’ panel event in Glasgow, part of The Empire Café, a week long exploration of Scotland’s relationship with slavery and Atlantic slave trade. It was planned so that it ran for the duration of the Commonwealth Games. This is particularly interesting as the legacy and relevancy of the Commonwealth is widely discussed and debated. It did not take me long to see the legacy of Glasgow’s role in the Atlantic slave trade and slavery as I walked to the venue past the Gallery of Modern Art (once the townhouse of William Cunninghame, a prominent Glaswegian tobacco merchant) and Buchanan and Ingram Streets, both named after merchants who also became rich on the suffering of those working on their plantations. Read more…
30 May 2014 by Richard
Sadly, the great poet, author and activist Maya Angelou – born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1928 has passed. She opened the Transatlantic Slavery gallery (predecessor to the International Slavery Museum) in 1994. Tony Tibbles, who later became the Director of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, worked closely on the development of the groundbreaking gallery and wrote an interesting article on how it came to be. He notes how they persuaded Maya Angelou to attend the opening and indeed we still have a plaque in our collection which marks this unique event. Read more…
10 December 2013 by Richard
Like millions of people across the globe I was saddened to hear the news that one of the great leaders of modern times – and a true freedom fighter – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, has passed away. Such news is often hard to digest; things really don’t quite seem the same when someone of such stature, such presence and indeed familiarity is no longer with us. But someone like Mandela will always leave an enormously influential legacy – in his case – hope rather than hate. Even though he spent 27 years of his life in prison for his beliefs, fighting for political freedom and social justice, he still had the courage and character not to be engulfed by rage on his release from Robben Island in 1990. Read more…
5 September 2013 by Richard
Another Slavery Remembrance Day has now passed but this does not mean that we consign its message, what it means to the people of Liverpool and beyond, to one side for another year. The core message, that of “We remember” from the descendants of enslaved Africans, members of the Diaspora and the wider public only has meaning when we work to make sure that the sacrifices, and achievements, of the ancestors are recognized to make the world a better place. Idealistic, maybe, but without a “dream” the legacies of four hundred years of enslavement, and resistance, would be forgotten. The world is not yet a place with full equality and freedom for all, free from discrimination or racism, but it’s a place where many people refuse to let the past sleep, to go unrecognized. Read more…
2 September 2013 by Richard
On the 28th August we opened the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. building, which is next to the International Slavery Museum. It was opened to the public just for the day, for a series of events to commemorate and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr King’s now iconic speech. This has became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech – delivered on the steps of the iconic Lincoln memorial in Washington, D.C. on a scorching hot summer’s day in 1963 to a crowd of over 250,000.