A reaccounting of Liverpool’s uncomfortable slaving history is being backed by experts at Liverpool John Moores University.
City mayor Joe Anderson is proposing to fund plaques in streets including Penny Lane, Parr Street and Roscoe Street give an “honest account” of the links to the slave trade of the immortalised James Penny, Thomas Parr and William Roscoe.
At least 25 of the city's lord mayors were slave owners or traders and many of them have been immortalised in the likes of Tarleton, Cunliffe and Gildart streets.
Dr Andrea Livesey, a senior lecturer in history at LJMU said Mayor Anderson bid to contextualise the names and the men behind them creates a very powerful physical and discursive memorial which “not only raises awareness but also contributes to the collective memory of the city”.
She said: “Conversely, the debate over renaming, and what new names would be used, again creates this living 'discursive' memorial, but one that ultimately has an end point as the history behind the name change would disappear over generations.
And she went further: “What the city really lacks is a physical memorial to the Africans that were forcibly enslaved in the Americas, and those who died on the middle passage, with an acknowledgement of the role that Liverpool played and how the city profited.”
People for profit
Andrea points out that the role of Liverpool in the Atlantic Slave Trade is often under-estimated: “When London and Bristol’s dominance of the trade subsided in the late 1750s, Liverpool tok it on with gusto. “By the time the trade was shut down in 1807 almost three-quarters of not only the UK but the European trade was coming out of Liverpool.
“On the back of the subjugation of people from Africa, our city grew incredibly rich, wealth that can be seen around the Albert Dock, the financial quarter, on the Town Hall and around the Georgian Quarter and the universities.”
She says it is now time to tell the full story and not just in museums (Liverpool does have Britain’s only slavery museum).
“Liverpool has made an official apology for slavery, but this whole discussion reflects the fact that more still needs to be done.
Explosion of interest
“In recent years there has been an explosion in scholarly interest in Britain and slavery -- in what ways the country were involved (every way possible), and which surviving institutions profited from the 'slave economy'.
Despite progress in other cities such as Bristol, which renamed one its key institutions, the Colston Hall, she stresses that the memorial process must be done with the wider community.
“Whatever is decided needs to be directed by Liverpool's black communities, and people who are descendents of the enslaved/are directly affected by the legacies of slavery,” said Andrea.
Hear Dr Livesey talking in more detail about the Atlantic Slave Trade on our 1823 Podcast ‘Meditation, Manson and Martin Luther; the ‘White Album’ at 50