LONDON Mayor Ken Livingstone last Thursday at the capital’s City Hall on the Thames made an emotional apology for the City’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Livingstone was overcome as he read an account of the brutal tortures suffered by slaves in Britain’s Caribbean colonies.
He angrily denounced the role of the City’s corporations in financing the trade. “You can look across there to see the institutions that still have the benefit of the wealth they created out of slavery,” Livingstone said, pointing through a huge window at the skyscrapers across the river.
“As mayor, I offer an apology on behalf of London and its institutions for their role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”
The Reverend Jesse Jackson praised the statement, saying Livingstone broke important ground with his remarks. The American civil rights leader said apologies should lead to reparations.
Livingstone did not explicitly mention restitution, but his tearful expression of remorse went further than a statement in March by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair on the 200th anniversary of the law that ended the slave trade. Blair expressed his deep sorrow, but did not make a direct apology.
He used the occasion to call for an annual day of commemoration timed to coincide with the UN’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, held every 23rd August.
London played a central role in the slave trade, outfitting, financing and insuring many of the ships that ferried living cargo to plantations in the New World. Revenue from the trade helped fund the construction of London’s docks.
London is not the first city to apologise for the trade. The port of Liverpool, one of the largest European slave-trading ports, formally apologised in 1999.
Livingstone was joined by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the London Community Gospel Choir, union leader Gloria Mills, Diana Abbott MP, Dawn Butler MP and R&B legend Beverley Knight.
Contributions included readings from the accounts of Oluadah Equiano who was one of the first slaves to produce an autobiography accounting for his life as a slave.
Lee Jasper read the passage that gave details of the way Oluadah was treated as a slave by his slave-masters, as the ship he was held in visited some 15 islands in efforts to offload the slaves to new masters.
Hopefully this event will be the catalyst for other cities and countries to follow suit and hold their hands up in similar style – the tragedy that is the slave trade was referred to as the African Holocaust.
Over a 400-year period, slavery statistics vary from a conservative 15 million slaves up to more realistic quote around 25-30 million Africans trapped and forced into slavery. At least 10 per cent of these people died in transit on the slave ships.