The International Slavery Museum at Liverpool’s Albert Dock
PUBLISHED: 09:46 05 October 2020
Much of Lancashire’s historic wealth was dependent on slaves – now a Liverpool museum is working to show that slavery is still a problem.
The extraordinary global response to the killing by American police officers of African-American George Floyd saw protests, marches and an outpouring of grief and anger. It also hastened the debate about the way the past is memorialised, and led to statues and monuments commemorating people with links to the slave trade being vandalised or removed.
Lancashire has strong links to the trade in slaves – Lancaster and Liverpool were among the biggest slave ports in the UK and much of the county’s wealth came from the cotton industry which was heavily dependent on slave labour.
Since 2007, the International Slavery Museum at Liverpool’s Albert Dock has told the story of the trade, the lives that were lost and the fortunes that were made.
But slavery didn’t end with the Slave Trade Act of 1807, or even with the Abolition Act in 1833.
Emily Smith was appointed as curator of Contemporary Forms of Slavery at the museum earlier this year. In her previous role she supported survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery across the North West and said: ‘You can find modern slavery everywhere and anywhere: in car washes, nail bars, construction sites, agriculture... any sort of business at all.
‘One key difference is that then slavery was legal, now it is illegal. I am building a new collection at the museum which will use art and audio-visual installations to help improve understanding of what modern slavery is. We want to make it as representative as possible, to give a true impression of what is being done in this new abolition era.
‘Hopefully it will offer a way of getting help. People can get involved in all sorts of ways – signing petitions and just learning about the issue. If people have knowledge of signs to look for it can give them the confidence to report something they think is suspicious.’
The museum, which is housed within the city’s Maritime Museum, closed during lockdown and visitors who have returned since the doors re-opened will have noticed some changes.
Among the debates the Black Lives Matter protests provoked was the question of whether Penny Lane – the Liverpool road immortalised by The Beatles – was named after slave trader James Penny.
The display is now under review while museum staff conduct further research and Emily, who started her new job two days into lockdown, added: ‘Society’s values have changed throughout time and we don’t want to erase history, but to interpret it for our times. We have a lot of engagement and discussions with the communities – we want to work with them, not for them.’
October is Black History Month and the 18th is anti-slavery day. This month would also have seen the annual A21 Walk for Freedom, but instead this year there will be an online global summit, for more information go to a21.org, or find them on Facebook.
To find out more about the International Slavery Museum, or book a visit, go online to liverpoolmuseums.org.uk.
If you have suspicions about modern slavery, call the helpine on 08000 121 700.