The slave trade and Bristol will probably never completely shake each other off. The history of one is the history of the other but in this modern day society I feel that there is a constant ancestral worship of these slave traders vs. no education about the negative things these people did. Nor is there any education about the positive things African and Caribbean people achieved.

The Colston Hall has been around since the second half of the 1800’s and schools and many other things were funded by Colston. He was a member of the Royal African Company which at the time had a monopoly on British slave trading with African at the time.

In 2009 a new building was made right next to the old one, creatively named “The Colston Hall” with bright gold coloured metal almost directly reflecting the gold which he made his fortune from. I tried to find out why the people who make these sort of choice……make them, so I organized a debate on one of the opening night of the new Colston Hall.
It was a very interesting debate but it just so happened that nobody of any authority from ether the Colston hall of Bristol City Council could turn up on that day so all was left to speculation. I did get an official statement from them though,

“The city council is acutely aware of the concern some members of the community have about the name of the hall.

“We cannot get away from the fact that the hall has had its name since its inception and as such is an established part of the landscape and history of Bristol. There are many in the city who feel that to change the name would be to tamper unnecessarily with the city’s past and its established place names.

“At this stage, we have no plans to change the hall’s name. However, with its new, striking foyer there may be a time in the near future when we can have a measured and informed debate about the issue, although currently our priority is to get on with the completion of the foyer building and other improvements.”

Next I tried one of Bristol supposedly most obvious reference’s: Whiteladies Road and Black Boy Hill. I went to the Bristol museum at the bottom of Whiteladies and asked what the official report was.

To my surprise her first statement was that there wasn’t any slaves in Bristol really because it didn’t make sense financially, after a bit of prying from my interviewer she
admitted that there were more than just a few that ended up living or being kept in Bristol.

When it came to Whiteladies and Blackboy Hill apparently there is no official story. I was told that Whiteladies could of been because of a group of nun’s who lived there and wore white habits, while Black boy hill apparently came from King James the 3rd who was
noted for his dark completion. The only thing anyone seemed to be sure about is it had nothing to do with slavery.

So what does this all leave me thinking? Well here we have 2 examples past and present were racism and slavery is being idolized. With the name of Bristol’s major new shopping centre being changed from Merchants’ Quarter, because of the uproar, to Cabot Circus it doesn’t look like anything is going to change any time soon.

And if we let it happen everytime……..why should it?


Slavery tells us much about the nature of power in societies regardless of race. In Bristol during the 12th century, rich Bristolians sold their own poor into slavery in Ireland. In this white-on-white slavery, the differentiator here was not skin colour either but wealth and poverty. It is recorded that one Bishop Wulfstan campaigned against the practice of selling humans in this way and this trade later died out in the city. So the moral argument against slavery had been won several centuries before the Atlantic trade. Similarly the White wealthy exploited the White poor throughout history. In the early days of colonial expansion, the White poor, convicts, vagrants and ‘idlers’ were transported to the plantations. After Africans were deemed better suited to the climate and the nature of the work, the division of race proved a useful tool to detract from the exploitation of Whites, and reduce the likelihood of revolt and rebellion on plantations where people of different colours and cultures might would unite against their masters.

At least Christianity was used to stop slavery?

Until the 19th century Christianity was used to justify slavery like Islam was used similarly before it. The most common explanation was the Curse of Ham based on the Biblical account of how Noah cursed his son Canaan for seeing his nakedness:

“Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves, shall he be to his brothers.”

He also said;

Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. God enlarge Japheth and let him dwell in tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave

Medieval Christians believed that Ham was represented Africans. But the Curse of Ham was a powerful ideological tool that was recited throughout the territories where European enslavement of Africans was practised. There were numerous other arguments by which Christianity was made to legitimize slavery. Perhaps in secondary importance to the Curse of Ham was the notion that ‘captives in war and accredited pagans could be enslaved (Locke 15thc)’. The evangelical revival of the 18th century has often been associated with the rise of abolitionism but initially at least evangelical opinion was divided over the slave trade. Many early evangelicals actually added new ideas on Christianity and the slave trade. These attempted not just to give ideological support to the trade but to see in it as part of a higher destiny. George Whitefield for example one of the foremost Methodist evangelicals used a recurrent argument that slavery made African conversion possible when defending his purchase of a plantation and slaves in the USA. However it was not until the late 18th early 19th century that this view of slavery was ever tested.

Science proves that Blacks are inferior to Whites?

By the late 19th century new scientific ideas added and then overtook the religious rationale for slavery. ‘Scientific racism’ and imperial conquest justified and explained each other. All colonial peoples were subject to the objectifying lens of imperialism.. Racial science reinforced the negative perceptions of Blacks that had emerged in the slave trade. In 1900 for example the authors of the popular series The Living Races of Mankind wrote that:

‘The muscular development of black races is good but when considering the question of work which ‘depends only on muscle
they excel the average European; but in anything requiring judgment they are easily beaten.’

These perceptions were popularly disseminated in the school texts, by traveller accounts, and by missionary accounts. In A School History of England C.L.R Fletcher and Rudyard Kipling described blacks in the West Indies in the following manner:

lazy, vicious and incapable of any serious improvement, or of  work except under compulsion. In such a climate a few bananas will sustain the life of the #egro quiete sufficiently; why should he work to get more than this? He is quiete happy and quiete  useless, and spends any extra wages which he may earn upon finery’.

In Britain generally Blackness came to mean inferior social status.

When Caribbean migrants came to Britain after 1948 they encountered this now ingrained racial thinking that had been developing for over a century.


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