Background Information

This site complements the book Myths, Facts & Feelings – Bristol and Transatlantic Slavery. It will develop as a means of accessing additional, related content and a host for discussion around the issues that arise from the subject.

The 45-page booklet titled – Myths, Facts and Feelings : Bristol and Transatlantic Slavery was started in 2007 when the UK was commemorating the bi-centenary of the Abolition of slavery in the British empire.  The Bristol Race Forum successfully applied for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create a book for Bristol,  that could tackle some of the sensitivities, misunderstandings and strong feelings related to this subject.

Since 2007, the book’s development has been through a number of stages as the publishers sought to ensure that it would hit the right spot in its content and tone. Firstborn were appointed in 2009 to work with the Bristol Race Forum and creative consultant Kim Cavanagh to bring the book to fruition.

Myths, Facts and Feelingstries to be light and conversational in tone and attempts to grasp popular opinions on what is often thought to be a difficult and sensitive subject. The booklet is full of rich imagery, colourful, short and thoughtfully designed by Derek Edwards of design agency, Patwa.  The contents were developed out of workshops with young people from the African Caribbean community, visits to community groups and seeks to respond to  popular ideas that have arisen in public debate across Bristol. One chapter draws on the sentiments raised in the ‘Apology Debate’ held in the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum in 2006; another questions the celebration of Cabot and his transatlantic journey. One chapter tries to look at the implications for ‘Black’ and ‘White’ people, while another asks directly ‘ Why Are they Still Banging on About Slavery?”. As well as the basic questions like ‘What did Bristol have to do with Slavery?’ and ‘Where did the money go?’, the book uses a mix of popular opinions, questions and ideas as well as and academic research and consultancy to achieve a light and accessible journey into the subject. On each page, there are further questions labelled ‘Questions Arising’, which the publishers say they hope will lead to further research on the subject.

Editor, Rob Mitchell says, “ We are working primarily with schools to look at ways the book can be used in Bristol to help our school children better understand the subject, which is now on the national curriculum. It will also give them a more balanced view of the subject as Bristolians, we hope.  We also want the book to appeal to general readers and of course to tourists.  We know that people visit Bristol to look at its rich history, we want them to consider other perspectives when they look at Cabot or Colston and Bristol’s fabled maritime past. We believe this makes the history much richer and more complex, and that there are many people queuing up to see a more honest and multi-facted representation of Bristol’s past.  The stories have always been there, they just need pointing out and interpreting for a new breed of tourist.

For a number of years now, Bristol has been owning its slaving past. There have been the city’s key historical institutions making a formal ‘statement of regret’  in 2006;  the Society of Merchant Venturers have made their historical records available, including information about slaving journeys and plantation life, to the public in the Bristol Record Office . There is the council’s support for the Bristol Legacy Commission, which seeks to address issues of education, inequality and cultural expression – particularly amongst African heritage communities. A number of exhibitions including museums, galleries and churches have been on display.  So is it not time to say that this subject is done and dusted before a new book comes along and creates more racial divisions and social rifts.?

Mitchell again, “ Well you’ll see that the history of Bristol and transatlantic slavery is not really a black and white issue, it’s about rich-poor  and powerful-powerless. Race is a factor, but it’s much more complex that we like to think. Also this book is to get us talking, thinking, asking questions, doing further research. We are still at the earliest days with understanding this subject. Like the rest of the city’s history be it about aeroplanes, boats, the impact of the Norman Conquest, it’s not going to go away. We need to embrace it confidently.”