London Could Be Getting A Slavery Museum

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 57 months ago

Last Updated 13 August 2019

London Could Be Getting A Slavery Museum
Scene in an African slave market in which an Englishman licks an African's skin to determine his health. Image: Shutterstock

What's this about then? The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has given his backing to proposals for a museum of slavery, in London. The museum is the idea of the Fabian Society, which has published a report — Capital Gains — suggesting: "Unacceptable levels of racism towards London's black and minority ethnic population could start to be addressed with a new British slavery museum to commemorate the country's colonial past."

What's London got to do with slavery? The capital was one of the major hubs of the slave trade, which operated between the 16th and 19th centuries. Much of London's wealth came from slavery. In fact, the Fabian report claims that the UK government and London's financial sector have a moral obligation to help fund this museum.

Diagram of a British slave ship, printed by abolitionists. Image: Shutterstock

Slavery's long gone though, right? Unfortunately, human trafficking is a contemporary problem; it's thought that up to 13,000 people could be held in slavery in the UK. No doubt the proposed museum would also broach this subject.

Doesn't London already have a slavery museum? The Museum of London Docklands has an excellent permanent exhibition — London, Sugar & Slavery — but the proposed museum would be a far more encompassing experience. Liverpool — another city that benefitted greatly from slavery — is home to the International Slavery Museum.

The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840, by Benjamin Robert Haydon, given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1880 by the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Image: public domain

What's Sadiq Khan got to say about it? "Learning more about the uncomfortable nature of our city and our nation’s role in the transatlantic slave trade can serve to deepen our understanding of the past and strengthen our commitment to fight racism and hatred in all its forms."

What other good might the proposed museum do? According to the Guardian, Toyin Agbetu — from the British-based African rights organisation Ligali — thinks it could reopen and strengthen the debate about the UK making reparations to the countries it abused.