A BBC Midlands Today “Inside Out” report broadcast in 2007. Introduced by Ashley Blake and presented by Soweto Kinch, it features Professor David Dabydeen outlining Birmingham’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.
Confronting the past Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University believes it could have been as many as thirty million. Conditions for them were horrific. “A third of those people died going over. Another third died on the plantations within a few months of arriving because of new tropical diseases. Others died because of sheer hard work. It was a nasty unimaginable way of treating people as goods, with no sense of humanity.” These days the brutality of slavery is universally condemned in Britain. But does the desire to put the darker chapters of our history behind us mean we’re also failing to confront them? Padlocks, irons, chains and muzzles
Musician Soweto Kinch grew up in Handsworth. Like many others, he assumed Birmingham had little to do with the transatlantic slave trade. During the course of our programme he’s seen plenty of evidence to change his mind. Birmingham’s slave trade links “Birmingham was the main supplier of iron and ironware to Africa”, says Professor Dabydeen. “Padlocks, irons, chains muzzles – all the instruments to police the slave trade. Of course that made an enormous amount of money.” And there were the guns. “From the 1760’s onwards a hundred and fifty thousand guns on average were exported to Africa. Birmingham armed the slave trade.” “Another piece of evidence which has come to light is a pro-slavery petition dating from 1789. It was signed by people involved in industry in Birmingham who feared their livelihoods were under threat from the abolitionist movement.
A journey of discovery Dr Clive Harris “I’d seen pictures of slave ships. I’d heard about the plantations but nothing prepared me for the sheer scale and brutality of the system. I was also shocked to find out that my city, Birmingham, was so involved.” As Britain prepares to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, some are arguing for a greater openness about the past. Dr Clive Harris, of the African Caribbean Millennium Centre says we have still got a long way to go. “I think Birmingham, like the whole of the country, is in denial. I am asking for a truthful account of British history.”