Archive: City's Part in Abolishing Slavery; Abolitionist Campaigners Lived Cheek by Jowl with Those Whose Livelihoods Depended on the Slave Trade in the 18th Century. Ross Reyburn Reports
Byline: Ross Reyburn
His elaborate statue stands at Five Ways in front of the Marriott Hotel and his portrait can be found in the Round Room at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. But how many people today know the name of the anti-slavery campaigner Joseph Sturge (1793-1859)?
The great Birmingham radical features in a superbly illustrated booklet Making Connections published this month. Edited by Dr Ian Grosvenor, director of post-graduate studies at the University of Birmingham's School of Education, Rita McLean, the city's head of community museums, and Sian Roberts, Birmingham Central Library's head of archives, the publication shows the city's links with with black people ranging back over the past 300 years.
'Joseph Sturge was a very important name in the anti-slavery movement but he is largely forgotten,' said McLean. 'I did find it interesting that Sturge and the other abolitionists were working in Birmingham in the 19th century. It was also interesting to find that there were people here dependent on the slave trade. There was quite a debate going on in the town at the time.
'A lot of Birmingham people were saying to us where is the material that represents our culture and our heritage? 'When we started the project, we didn't realise how much material there was. We found an enormous amount.
'It is also the diversity of the material, from archives to photographs to coins to paintings, spanning the 18th century up to the present time. There are some wonderful collections of photographs by people like Vanley Burke and George Hallett.
'When we started looking in the museum collections, we could see a lot of medals and coins that were commemorating things like the abolition of the slave trade. Birmingham was the centre of producing coins and medals for places around the world. For example, Sierra Leone was set up as a colony for free slaves and the coinage for the colony was produced here in Birmingham at Matthew Boulton's Soho Mill.
'I was interested in the contradictions that went on in Birmingham. You find Boulton and Watt were joining the anti-slavery cause and they were selling steam engines to the slave plantations in the West Indies.'
An East Anglia University graduate, McLean is all too aware of these contradictions as she was the development officer and then curator at Soho House, Boulton's magnificently restored Birmingham home. And the Sierra Leone coin story had as special significance for her as her father came from the African country to study in Birmingham and stayed after marrying a local girl.
The book is tied up with the city's fifth annual Black History Month. There are some wonderful images in the publication including the Handsworth: Carib-bean Black Country portfolio ofphotographs South African photographer George Hallett took in the Birmingham suburb in 1971 for the Times Educational Supplement and the result of the enterprising Handsworth Self Portraits venture of 1979. …