In a year of seismic social disruption across the world, Slavery Remembrance Day 2017 seems to carry extra symbolic weight, a potent reminder of the best and worst in human nature.
For Glasgow it is also an opportunity to mark the anniversary with a growing openness about the city’s link with the slave trade.
Glasgow Slavery Remembrance will commemorate UNESCO’s international day of remembrance with a Communal Meal, film, discussion and poetry at Kinning Park Complex on Thursday 24 August. The food is inspired by African and Caribbean cultures and the invitation welcoming us to take part makes the links clear – and quietly personal.
‘We’ll step outside,’ says the host Kate Tough, ‘maybe into our neighbouring Plantation Park, for a minute’s silence to remember and honour those who were brutally exploited by the practices of slavery.’
Slavery Remembrance Day was designated by UNESCO to commemorate the 1791 uprising in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). On the night of 22-23 August, African men and women rose up against the slavery system in a revolution that has become a symbol of the fight against servitude and social injustice. ‘The uprising was a turning point in human history,’ says UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova, ‘greatly impacting the establishment of universal human rights, for which we are all indebted.’
All of humanity is part of this story, in its transgressions and good deeds. Irina Bokova
The world’s friendliest city
There is particular significance this year for Kate Tough whose powerful poem People Made Glasgow evokes the destructive legacy of an often overlooked connection with the slave trade. In her notes accompanying the poem, Kate comments on the irony that Glasgow, ‘the world’s friendliest city’, is also ‘the only Atlantic trading city without a memorial to its brutal past’.
The poem (included in the Scottish Poetry Library’s Best Scottish Poems 2016, and a top read on Sceptical Scot) stirred hearts, minds, media interest and triggered a motion in the Scottish Parliament earlier this year. John Mason, MSP for Shettleston, paid tribute to Kate’s poem and urged public recognition of the history, ‘any action to further educate people on the contribution that the slave trade made to Glasgow can only be welcome to increase their understanding of themselves as a nation.’
Exactly what that means remains to be seen but Kinning Park Complex Facebook events page explains the context:
Glasgow’s economic boom of the 18th century was founded on the profits from slave labour; an aspect of the city’s history that has tended to remain hidden. ‘Glasgow Slavery Remembrance’ is aiming for better civic acknowledgement of the city’s involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and recognises the important work already undertaken within the cultural and university sectors to highlight this issue.
So the Glasgow event on 24 August pays tribute to Scottish projects embodying the UNESCO 2017 theme ‘Recognising the Legacy and Contributions of People of African Descent’. As Kate recently told Sunny Govan radio, following the meal there will be a screening of ‘1745’, a Scottish short film, written by Morayo Akandé, which garnered a Jury Special Mention at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, about two black slave sisters escaping into the Scottish wilderness.
Post-film discussion will include Zandra Yeaman (of CRER, the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, and Black History Month) & Nelson Mundell (Glasgow University’s ‘Runaway Slaves’ research project).
And, after the minute’s silence, the evening will close with spoken words from Zimbabwean poet Tawona Sithole, artist in residence at Glasgow University’s Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network.
Kinning Park Complex is a community enterprise on Glasgow’s southside. For more information see the Facebook events page where there is this heartwarming declaration:
As always, our events are open to everyone and the food is pay-what-you want! If you feel like you can’t offer anything as a donation, please don’t let this hinder you from coming along.
Featured image: ‘Happiness’ by Paul Godard, image of African daisies from Western Cape CC By-ND-NC.2.0