OPINION - A monument to slave trade victims is only the start

·2-min read
 (Giya Makondo-Wills)
(Giya Makondo-Wills)

THE Mayor’s plans for a new memorial to the victims of the transatlantic slave trade may be at an early stage, but they offer Londoners the chance for some important conversations.

People’s consciences might be eased through selective memory about the origins of what still helps maintain London’s global powerhouse status, but the proceeds of slavery are everywhere.

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Some suggest that we should move on. That would be to forget at least 18 million Africans dehumanised for wealth. It would also be to ignore intergenerational cultural trauma.

A few years ago, I traced Edward Gray (1751-1838) through University College London’s Legacy of Slavery website. A linen merchant and Quaker who enslaved the family of my maternal grandmother (Adelaide Gray) in Portland, Jamaica, he received more than £750,000 compensation in today’s money in 1835 for more than 250 enslaved Africans. The riches he accrued from the slave trade during his lifetime also allowed him to build Harringay House (14 bedrooms on almost 200 acres in north London) and to amass an art collection worth over £2 million in today’s money.

The deeply uncomfortable connections reverberate as I go about my domestic and working life in Haringey, where I now live. What would I on behalf of my family want to say to him today?

I experienced real pain when I heard that the £300 million (in today’s money) reparations debt the Government paid to slave owners in 1833 was only paid off in 2015. I realised I may have had to contribute to this through my taxes.

It’s important we re-examine our public realm, too. That can lead to a city that reflects the present lives of Londoners better.

Our local Black Boy Lane, originally named after a pub with a caricature of a black boy was recently renamed John La Rose Lane after the founder of New Beacon Books, the first specialist Caribbean publishing company in Britain.

Some may argue that memorials are not enough. I agree — they have limitations. But the memorial will help bring previously untold stories to light. It should add momentum to the debate about reparatory justice. I hope to see that happen in my lifetime.

Yvonne Field is founder and CEO of The Ubele Initiative