speech by Deputy director of Manchester Museum

OPEN MINDSevent June 2007 Royal Exchange Manchester

Hello, I am Dr. Bernadette Lynch, Deputy Director of the Manchester Museum.

 

2007 marks the bicentenary of the beginning of the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807.  It’s important to remember that slavery itself continued, and was not properly abolished in the British Empire until 1834. The bicentenary gives us an opportunity to consider the impact slavery had on Britain’s economy, society and culture, in particular in its hidden history, here in the northwest.

This performance is one in a series of programmes and events that are happening this year throughout Greater Manchester as part of Revealing Histories. Revealing Histories is an ambitious project involving 8 museums and galleries in Greater Manchester including the Manchester Museum, (Manchester Art Gallery, the Whitworth Art Gallery, Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, the Peoples History Museum, Rochdale Museum and Oldham Art Gallery), which, for the first time, aims to involve schools and communities in exploring the impact of the slave trade and empire in the collections and histories of the region’s cultural institutions. Look for info on this in the foyer on the RH stand and watch for further events throughout the region this year, or check on the RH website…just googleRevealing Histories.

Today’s event is very important for a number of reasons, not least of which as the great Black leader, Martin Luther King said: “We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.”For the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its abolition is our shared history, a history that relates to all of us, whatever our background.  For much too long it’s been a hidden history. What has, up till now, been little known is how it resonates throughout Greater Manchester’s past and present, leading to the industrial development of the city and later, its richly diverse communities ….and, yes, also leading to the uncomfortable reality of racism in Greater Manchester today.

This is why this event and the work these young people have put into it is so important. As another great Black leader, Nelson Mandela, has said: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

It is this kind of event that brings us back to that realisation, and this again is why it is so important.

This is the 3rd year of the Open Minds project. This year, young people have once again come together from across Greater Manchester, this time to put a human face to the history of the slave trade in this region, helping uncover and reveal the

people’s stories behind it through drama…..

.... but this year, more appropriately than ever for this particular history, the site for the end-of-project Open Minds drama production is here, in Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre -  for of course the 19th century‘Royal Exchange’ was a central player in the story of the economics of slaveryand Empire that fanned out from this city across the globe. It is strangefeeling to remember this, as we stand here and bring these stories to lifetoday. Strangely appropriate to be here today telling these stories as part ofa process of ‘truth and reconciliation’ perhaps….We are grateful to the RoyalExchange Theatre and its talented staff for supporting the Open Minds projectonce again, and especially so this year for that reason….

 On behalf of Open Minds, The Manchester Museum (as part of the University of Manchester), wishes to thank these young people for all their work in uncovering this difficult but important shared history and its relevance to today. Nelson Mandela said that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We are all of us better informed and more usefullyknowledgeable about our region’s past through these moving performances, but I think its also important to say that this is not only a message of sadness, of hopelessness, as Mandela and so many others of the former enslaved and the more recent former prisoners of apartheid, who rose up and claimed their freedom around the world, demonstrated. It is to those men and women, those Black heroes, that we look for inspiration while there is still work to be done to combat today’sinequalities and the many existing versions of slavery around the world.

 To give Mandela appropriately the last inspirational words,“There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

 This is what Aim Higher and the Open Minds project is all about and it’s what you have shown all of us, through these stories, today.

 

Thank You.

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