Freedom is a gift from God ... and it is a crime to take it away from someone, the British Communities Minister, Andrew Stunell, so aptly declared before a hushed audience made up of members of the international community, gathered in Liverpool for the annual Slavery Remembrance Day on 23 August.
Stunell was holding forth on behalf of his country, which is widely acknowledged as one of the biggest beneficiaries of the slave trade. But in an interview with New African, Stunell appeared to dismiss the clamour for slavery reparations, saying: "We don't believe that reparation is a way of tackling the issue of slave trade. Championing the cause against slavery is the main issue high on our agenda. Britain has been working closely with other nations and institutions along this line."
He continued: "I want to say that the new coalition government [in Britain] is highly committed against slavery, focusing on the international issues such as modern-day slavery and the sex trade. That is a huge international issue, and this large crowd gathered here today is a mark of recognition for the Slavery Remembrance Day."
But Ray Costello, a renowned historian and research fellow of the University of Liverpool's School of Sociology and Social Sciences, wanted Britain to do more than what Stunell advocated.
Drawing on his decades-long research into slavery, Costello said: "The effects of slavery, no matter what happened to those people, are still with us and need to be consciously countered in our everyday lives."
The city of Liverpool has a disturbing history of involvement in the infamous trade: at least 25 of Liverpool's lord mayors, holding office for a total of 35 years between 1700 and 1820, were closely involved in the trade. By 1795, Liverpool controlled over 80% of the British slave trade and over 40% of the entire European slave trade.
Apart from playing host to the building and repairing of ships used in the slave trade, Liverpool overtook Bristol and London by 1750 as the main centre of the British trade, mainly due to the importation of sugar and rum. But, at least Liverpool has been remorseful for its role in the abominable trade. In 1999, Liverpool City Council apologised unreservedly for the city's involvement in the trade, and as a sign of its contrition, inaugurated the first International Slavery Museum dedicated to African slavery in August 2007, in addition to a Transatlantic Slavery Gallery at the national Merseyside Maritime Museum and the National Museum, both in Liverpool.
At the remembrance day, other former slave trading nations were urged to follow Liverpool's example. According to Costello: "The French were the worst, because they made Haitian slaves pay compensation to France till the 20th century when the slaves resisted paying."
Costello's view was echoed by the Jamaican high commissioner to the UK, Anthony Smith Johnson, who went on to demand that slavery reparations should be hotly discussed by the nations of the world; and those who benefited from the trade must be made to pay for it.
Many saw the proceedings at the event, especially the huge number of people who flew in from across the globe, as signifying sincere acceptance of the fact that the slave trade was an important part of world history and should not be forgotten. …