A debating event was hosted by the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in 2006, asking the question,

Should Bristol apologise for the slave trade?

Here are some more views from the debate:

“We cannot deny, the wealth that not only Bristol but Europe had gained from the slave trade. And yes we cannot deny that there were some black people involved in the slave trade also. But one of the things which we deny all the time of seem to fail to notice is the psychological damage which the slave trade is responsible for and which we are still reaping the legacy of today.”

“I’m part Scottish and very East Anglian which means I’ve probably been a slave and a slave trader several times.”

“Tonight we’ve hear 80% about the past i’d like to know what’s going to happen now. …in Brazil a country of 160 million people, there are probably 40 million who live on or between the poverty line. There is still, to this day rife slavery, …it’s known as debt bondage. What do you recommend should be done today? Don’t you think that talking apologising and things like that just encourages rift. What we need to do is get down to today.”

“I must speak as an English person being made to feel ashamed of all this. My own indigenous people of this country were just as much slaves to the economy as were the African slaves in chains.”

“In 1831 Michael Sadler MP put forward a motion in the house to limit the labour of children . This is when an order from the general council forbade Black slaves to work more than nine hours a day. And to not work at nights. And yet an indigenous child of this country could be forced to work 39 hours a week without a break. I can only guess that they were in such bad conditions they worked in, such miserable conditions that it far outstripped any African slaves conditions.”

“It’s perhaps not very popular but somebody has to speak to this. Somebody has to say that the children, you’ve all heard of the chimney sweeps being thrown up, children working in coalmines, cotton mills, flogged and brutally treated. Is that not slavery when they are drawn from orphanages? Is that not slavery when they are stripped from the workhouses? They had nobody to protect them. They had no value of their lives, they were discarded. And as soon as they were killed there was a load more to come out.”

“Slavery is not synonymous with Africa. I say I would apologise for African slavery when Britain apologises for the abuse of the children of this country. When they apologise for the abuse of the indigenous people of this country, and then my wounds will heal. It’s a wound that affects me as an English person as much as it could affect our African friend here.”

“What we all know today is not my history. That’s some bull crap their history, that’s not my history. History has so far to me been distorted. So much lies told about blacks that what can you believe? The truth has to be told.”

“People have to know what black people are. I know that black people have come from a long line of kings and queens and princes from way back when. And until people look on blacks for who they are and accepting them as who they are this world can never go forward.”

“I feel an apology would be very necessary for the nation because slavery was a holocaust. African people suffered, were murdered were raped everything. Terrible things happened and the only way the slave traders could justify that was by dehumanising black people. We were considered chattel. We were not human. And that’s how they could justify doing those injustices to us. And we are living with that today with racism because we are still not seen as equal humans to other white people. So by apologising that’s just one small step towards repairing that injustice from the past that is affecting us today.”

“The money that was made from the slave trade helped to fuel the industrial revolution which helped to pay for things like the National Health Service. Both Black people and White people would see some sort of unification in that. Also the class system. You had the upper classes that mainly benefited from the slave trade.”

“It’s a very real issue about how Britain relates to itself across different communities. And I do think we have to be alive to the different communities that are here and their different experiences of suffering. Systems of exploitation are not one and the same , they are not equal and there are things about the African slave trade and African enslavement which is unique.”

“I’m not sure about an apology but I’d like to see an acknowledgement of the structural, economic and psychological effects of slavery.”

“The debate about slavery is now the debate about what happens now in Africa. Many time it is White people they go in Africa to put fire and after when Africans burn they come back here and try to send some firemen. I hear some people talk about Rwanda, about Congo, about DarfourThose people were living together Hutu and Tutsi and when the Belgian arrive around fourteen something they try to change their history. In the Congo it’s the same.”

“I was in the war area, and I know what happened there. It’s all those companies who are there to try to take advantage of the natural resource. So when they are full of the resources they come back here and say OK we will start a democratic process there we will send money for the election.”

“I think it’s important now to tell the people the truth about their history. Not only African people, the British people also. British people never know exactly what happened in Africa. How many companies were involved in slavery. How many companies are involved in war now. And you know those companies they make money.”

“Someone told me about the climate change,I was laughing, all the wood they take from my village. And now the timber companies from Great Britain, Europe they are there in Africa. They try to cut all our trees and afterward they will go back to Africa and say ok we will fight for climate change. No. Try to make us learn the truth.”

“We should focus in this case on who was responsible institutionally for the slave trade in Bristol. And it’s blindingly obvious that there’s no member of the business community on the panel. No representation from the Society of Merchant Venturers. This historical institutional thread with Bristol’s business elite lives on. And when of course the Abolition act came in, the compensation went to the slave traders.”

In response to this debate a ‘Statement of Regret’ was released later in 2006. A number of representatives from business, religious and political institutions signed the statement acknowledging transatlantic slavery;

‘We the signatories regret wherever and whenever inhumanity is exercised, but in 2007 we especially recognise the evil of the transatlantic slave trade. We cannot imagine the pain and suffering inflicted upon millions of individuals and families and the significant changes forced upon thousands of communities in Africa, the West Indies and other places by slavers of whatever race of faith. 1807 was the beginning of the end of slavery through the passing into law of the anti- slavery bill. We give thanks to those who struggled to initiate this change and look to a time when slavery of every kind is abolished.’

Photos from the 2006 debate…