Spotlight On. Making Freedom: Riots, Rebellions and Revolutions

By Dixon, Carol | Geography, Autumn 2014 | Go to article overview

Spotlight On. Making Freedom: Riots, Rebellions and Revolutions


Dixon, Carol, Geography


In summer 2012, the education charity Windrush Foundation1 was awarded a grant from the Fleritage Lottery Fund to develop and launch a heritage education project. This article turns the spotlight on the resulting exhibition: Making Freedom: Riots, rebellions and revolutions, which commemorated 175 years since emancipation from enslavement on 1 August 1838 for Africans in the Anglophone Caribbean.

Exhibitions on aspects of enslavement history in mainstream national and regional cultural institutions in the UK often emphasise the contributions of British parliamentarians, abolitionists and anti-slavery campaigners (such as Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce) in the struggle for emancipation. Uniquely, the Windrush Foundation project turned the spotlight on people of African-Caribbean descent who fought and campaigned - often at the expense of their own lives - to secure freedom for their families and wider communities. Members of this African diaspora suffered the brutalities, injustices and traumas of plantation enslavement in the Americas.

The central narrative of the Making Freedom exhibition featured historical and geo-political information about the causes, consequences and legacies of the major slave revolts and uprisings that took place throughout the Caribbean region during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The exhibition employs the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 as a key point of departure; it also documents other significant acts of collective resistance, notably 'Bussa's Rebellion' in Barbados during 1816; Guyana's 'Demerara Rebellion' of 1823 (led by Jack Gladstone); and Jamaica's 'Christmas Rebellion' of 1831-2 (led by Baptist deacon Sam Sharpe). These acts of resistance served as catalysts for the abolition of slavery in 1834 and full emancipation of enslaved Africans by 1838.

As well as exploring events before 1838, the exhibition detailed the post-emancipation struggles, protests and campaigns against British imperialism which led to independence for many countries in the Caribbean region from the 1960s onwards. The long-standing and complex socioeconomic, political and cultural interdependencies between the UK and these individual islands and nations were presented in a series of illustrated display panels which covered the sub-themes shown in Figure 1.

The first phase of the heritage education project involved the launch of a 12-panel touring exhibition on 1 August 2013, which was initially displayed at the Marcus Garvey Library (in Tottenham, London). Later, with the support of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), Windrush Foundation installed a re-designed and expanded 20-panel Making Freedom Exhibition in the Society's Pavilion Gallery in Kensington between 5 November and 21 December 2013 (see Figure 2). Documentary photographs of the Caribbean region selected from the RGS-IBG's archive were integrated in the multimedia display.

The education pack

In order to extend access to the exhibition narrative for children and young people, a free 90-page Making Freedom education pack was published (available via the Making Freedom website). The main motivation behind the pack was to enable young people to better understand how and why the histories and lived experiences of people of Caribbean descent are both integral to and an aspect of m I British history that people of all ages and cultural backgrounds can draw knowledge, understanding, inspiration and insights from.

Aimed mainly at primary school teachers working with 8- to 10-year-olds (key stage 2)2 the education pack is structured into seven sessions each covering 2-3 hours of teaching time (see Figure 3). The introductory 'Guidance notes' comprise a content overview/scheme of work; a series of lesson plans then set out the overarching aims, key questions, expected learning outcomes, suggested vocabulary, teaching and learning activities, resource listings and sources of information. Care has been taken to inform educators how the pack's content aligns with National Curriculum programmes of study for history, geography, English, mathematics and citizenship at key stage 2. …

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