A left-leaning think tank has proposed that a new museum focused on the UK’s role in the transatlantic slave trade should be built in London, prompting responses from the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and other UK museums.
The proposal was made in the Fabian Society’s Capital Gains report published earlier this week. In a chapter on race equality, Omar Khan, the director of the Runnymede Trust think tank, writes that the UK government and financial sector in London have a “moral obligation” to fund such a museum or memorial, he says.
“It is unacceptable that the capital city of a nation that built a global empire and its wealth in large part as a result of its role in the slave trade has no significant museum or monument marking the role that London and Britain played in these historic atrocities,” Khan writes.
Mayor Sadiq Khan endorsed the proposals on Twitter, saying that “learning more about the uncomfortable nature of our city and our nation’s role in the transatlantic slave trade can serve to deepen our understanding of the past and strengthen our commitment to fight racism and hatred in all its forms.” Race equality commentators, including The Afro-Caribbean Voice newspaper, say that the aim of the planned museum is to challenge the rise of racism in the post Brexit era.
Meanwhile, officials at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool say they are keen to collaborate with Sadiq Khan on the proposed initiative. “We have confronted the difficult history of our city and share information about enslavement globally past and present. We would love to talk to you about the London museum proposal,” the Liverpool museum tweeted. Khan’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hakim Adi, professor of the history of Africa and the African diaspora at the University of Chichester, writes on the BBC website that modern London grew rich and prospered as a result of Britain’s involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade from its earliest beginnings in the 16th century.
He tells The Art Newspaper: “It is always important to understand the lessons of history and the fact that Britain became ‘great’ by exploiting others at home and abroad. Such a museum must not only point out who grew wealthy from human trafficking and enslavement but also needs to recognise those who fought against slavery both at home and abroad. This is especially the case with the millions of working people, including Africans who struggled against slavery in Britain, its colonies and elsewhere and tend to be written out of history.”
The Capital Gains report, which is sponsored by the City of London, will “feed into the mayor’s policy thinking ahead of his bid for re-election in 2020”, says an online statement. Other contributors include the environmentalist David Lindo.