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11 July, 2008

The city of Liverpool hosted a series of events simultaneously in the last two weeks of August - the 800th Anniversary of its charter, Slavery Remembrance Day, the opening of its new International Slavery Museum and the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Liverpool Lord Mayor Paul Clark and Richmond Vice Mayor Delores McQuinn (Photo: Bonnie Dowdy)
Liverpool Lord Mayor Paul Clark and Richmond Vice Mayor Delores McQuinn (Photo: Bonnie Dowdy)
Taking part in these events, as guests of the city, was a delegation of five from Richmond, Virginia, led by the Vice-President of Richmond City Council, Councilwoman Delores McQuinn, an African-American, who is also Chair of the Richmond Slave Trail Commission. The group have been a part of the Reconciliation Triangle initiative between Liverpool, Republic of Benin and Richmond. It is seeking to heal the legacy of that Slave Trade, in which Liverpool had played a significant part, financing 40% of the ships that plied that trade and brought so much wealth to the city. In March Richmond had received a delegation of 15 from Liverpool, which took with them a copy of the apology made by Liverpool City Council, as its final act of the millennium, and presented it at the unveiling of the Reconciliation sculpture, created by Stephen Broadbent, at a ceremony attended by 5000 in the heart of that city. A similar unveiling had taken place in the Republic of Benin two years before under the auspices of President Kerekou, attended by representatives from the other two cities.

While in Liverpool the delegation were taken on a walk to significant sites in Liverpool, related to the slave trade, by Eric Lynch (Nii Saka), an honorary Ghanaian Chief who is a citizen of Liverpool, whose ancestors were slaves. He had been part of the Liverpool delegation to Richmond, who been taken along the trail there, along which the slaves had been led in chains from the ships to the pens where they were sold. The Reconciliation Triangle is a part of a process of learning, acknowledgement, healing and change. On leaving Richmond all had been given a bottle of the soil from that trail. Soil had also been brought back from Benin. As a result of this Erich Lynch arranged, with the help of Mersey Ferries, to sail out to the mouth of the River Mersey, accompanied by Councillor Paul Clark, Liverpool’s Lord Mayor, the Richmond delegation and other Liverpool citizens for a ceremony of liberation, pouring the soil in the water, to lay to rest, in the African tradition, the souls of the slaves who had perished.

The delegation were guests at a Gala Civic Dinner to mark the opening of the International Slavery Museum, addressed among others by Harry Belafonte, and Dr David Fleming, the Director the Liverpool Museums, who underlined the importance of acknowledging the legacy that is still with us today in terms of racism and exclusion. He ended by saying, that through the Museum, ‘we will remember, we will learn and we will respect. Through education we will counter racism..we will promote racial harmony.. we will encourage young people to fight for freedom and equality, not for the few, but for all.’

The visit of the Richmond delegation included open and honest sharing of experience on issues of employment and education with regard to race in particular, acknowledging that there is still a need to address and help to heal that legacy. Related ideas were developed in how to continue the dialogue across the Triangle through educational links and exchange visits. Hope in the Cities has been an integral part of the process throughout.


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