This is a partial list of significant initiatives which have sought to bring the history of Scotland’s relationship to Atlantic slavery and abolitionism to wider public attention. It includes exhibitions, educational resources, art works, walks, films, radio and TV programmes, performances, books, newspaper and magazine articles, blogposts and conferences, and starts, arbitrarily in 2000. (I have excluded more specialised academic essays, which deserve a list of their own).
Black History Month, co-ordinated by CRER, has provided a forum for much of this work. Notice the relatively large number of events in 2007, inspired by the two hundredth anniversary of the British abolition of the slave trade. In 2014 the hosting of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow prompted a further burst of activity in that city, notably focused on the Empire Cafe which ran during the games.
Nevertheless many of these projects are ephemeral. Web pages go out of date or disappear, unarchived. Radio and television programmes are usually taken offline after a short interval. Exhibitions and performances are often poorly documented and remembered only by the small numbers of people who attend them.
This is perhaps one of the reasons why, despite all this activity, there are growing calls for a permanent memorial or dedicated museum in Scotland that would recognise the country’s debt to slavery, both directly through the ownership of enslaved persons; and indirectly through the importation and consumption of the products of their labour, generating fortunes which were invested in Scotland’s industrial and commercial infrastructure.
2001-present: Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance (founded 1999, renamed Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights in 2010) begins co-ordinating an annual programme of events for Black History Month. This has included walking tours of Glasgow’s Merchant City led, at various times, by Frank Boyd, David Govier, Stephen Mullen, Adebusola Deborah Ramsey and Marenka Thompson-Odlum, and numerous exhibitions, performances, talks and other events.
2002: Graham Fagen‘s installation Radio Roselle, the first of his works to explore connections between Jamaica and Scotland via Burns (Love is Lovely, Fruitmarket, Edinburgh), followed by Clean Hands Pure Heart (Tramway, Glasgow, 2005), Downpresserer(Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, 2007), I Murder Hate(somebodyelse, The Changing Room, Stirling, 2009) and The Slave’s Lament (Scotland+Venice, Venice Biennale, 2015; Hospitalfield, Arbroath, 2016; Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 2017; Doris McCarthy Gallery, Toronto, 2018).
2002: Jim Muotune performs a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass at Glasgow’s City Hall in 1860. Glasgow Herald, 9 October.
2002: Slavery and Glasgow, an exhibition showcasing collections held by Glasgow City Archives and Special Collections, Mitchell Library.
2003: publication of Joseph Knight by James Robertson, a fictionalisation of the life of the black slave who won his freedom in Scotland in a landmark court case in 1777.
2003: first broadcast of Scotland’s Black History (Billy Kay, Odyssey Productions) BBC Radio Scotland. Six programmes. (Repeated, with new material in 2016).
2006: publication of Scotland and the Abolition of Black Slavery by Iain Whyte.
2007: Scottish executive publishes Scotland and the Slave Trade, drawing on research by Iain Whyte and Eric Graham, but significantly revised.
2007: Annie Brown, Scotland and Slavery (Daily Record, 24 March).
2007: Scotland, Slavery and Abolition conference at Edinburgh University (10 November) with contributions from Paul Nugent, Paul Lovejoy, Tom Devine, John Cairns, Eric Graham, Geoff Palmer, Stewart J Brown, James Walvin, Douglas Hamilton, Clare Midgley, Suzanne Schwarz, and Iain Whyte.
2007: Dumfries and Galloway and the Transatlantic Slave Trade: exhibitions at the Stewartry Museum, Kirkcudbright (July-August), Dumfries museum (September-October) and Stranraer Museum (October-December) curated by Frances Wilkins including a talk by Wilkins on ‘Dumfries and the Transatlantic Slave Trade’ (1 September), coinciding with the publication of her book on the subject.
2007: Scotland and the Transatlantic Slave Trade conference (Perth, 29 Sept) organised by the Scottish Local History Forum, with contributions from Eric Graham, Iain Whyte, Lesley Richmond, Lizanne Henderson, Sheila Millar, Sonia Baker).
2007: Learning and Teaching Scotland publish learning resource (for Scottish primary schools and early secondary schools to mark the bicentenary of abolition) on Scotland and the Abolition of the Slave Trade. LTS later became part of Scottish Education Quality and Improvement Agency (later renamed Education Scotland) and as far as I can tell the resource is no longer online, but it is archived here.
2007: National Trust for Scotland create a travelling display, Hidden Histories (pdf) that explores links between the slave trade and NTS to mark the bicentenary of abolition (also includes information about Scipio Kennedy).
2007: Gerard Carruthers, ‘Robert Burns and Slavery’, The Drouth 26.
2007: ‘It Wisnae Us! Glasgow’s built heritage, tobacco, the slave trade and abolition’ – exhibition, guided tour and other related events, devised by Stephen Mullen.
2007: This Horrible Traffik (Netherbow Theatre, Edinburgh, 21 May). Poems – Petitions – Popular Ballads. ‘Hear the voices of Scottish slaves and Scottish abolitionists from David Spens in 1769 to Eliza Wigham in 1850. Courtroom drama in 1778, Andrew Thomson’s 1830 call for ‘immediate’ rather than ‘gradual’ abolition, The ‘Send Back the Money’ song of 1845, Harriet Tubman and the ‘Underground Railroad’ and many more.’ Read by: Jim Aird, Bette Boyd, Richard Ellis, Jim Muotune, Kokumo Rocks and Iain Whyte. Producer: Padi Mathieson. (Also Hutcheson’s Hall, Glasgow, 23 October).
2007: It Didn’t Happen here: Edinburgh’s Links with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: exhibition (Museum of Edinburgh) with talks by Eric Graham, Iain Whyte and James Robertson (September-November).
2007: A Triangular Traffic (Dundee University, 2-3 November): symposium on literature, slavery and the archive, with contributions from Brycchan Carey, David Dabydeen, Eric Graham, Peter Kitson, Nigel Leask, Caryl Phillips, James Procter, James Robertson, Gemma Robertson, Abigail Ward and Marcus Wood.
2007: ACTS Commemoration Walk (pdf) to mark exactly 200 years from the day the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807 (Musselburgh to Inveresk Lodge, 25 March 2007), reported here. (See also Traces of Robert Wedderburn (2015).
2007: A North East Story – Scotland, Africa and Slavery in the Caribbean: exhibition (Aberdeenshire). ‘Many of the commemorative events in the UK in 2007 explored the big history of transatlantic slavery and the fight of British and African activists to end it. This exhibition seeks to show how that big history links to the history of North East Scotland.’
2009: publication of Burns and the Sugar Plantocracy of Ayrshire by Eric J Graham.
2010: publication of Scotland and Glasgow in the records of slave compensation: reports for the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership workshop held in Glasgow, 4 September, as part of the the ESRC-funded Legacies of British Slave-ownership project (2009-2012), documented by the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership based at University College London.
2011: publication of Great Scottish Speeches, edited by David Torrance – includes speech delivered by Frederick Douglass in Dundee in January 1846.
2011: National Trust of Scotland publish resource pack for teachers and youth leaders, Scotland and the Slave Trade (pdf).
2011-12: Looking Back to Move Forward: Slavery and the Highlands (Highland Archive Centre, Inverness, December to February) – exhibition showcasing research by local school pupils and the University of the Highlands and Islands, reported here.
2012 (relaunched 2013): Merchant City Voices, ‘a series of soundscapes exploring Glasgow’s involvement in the tobacco and sugar industries, and contemporary responses to the system of forced labour that it depended on – the transatlantic slave trade. The sound installations draw on writings by Frederick Douglas[s] – a freed slave, and also imagine the viewpoints of the city merchants, slaves and abolitionists. Each of the buildings and sites where the soundscapes are located were built with wealth generated by forced labour or associated with abolitionism.’ Devised by Louise Welsh and Jude Barber. The project is preserved in the form of videos: 1. Royal Exchange Square; 2. Tobacco Merchant’s House; 3. Virginia Court; 4. City Halls; 5. Britannia Panopticon; 6. Tron Steeple. Performers include Tawona Sithole, Daniel Cameron, Cristian Ortega, Jessica Hardwick, Paksie Vernon,Grace Smith, Anna Chambers, Erick Valentine Mauricia.
2012: publication of Send Back the Money! The Free Church of Scotland and American Slavery by Iain Whyte.
2013: Russell Leadbetter, ‘Secret Shame: The Scots Who Made a Fortune from Abolition of Slavery’, Herald, 28 February.
2013: Ben Riley-Smith, ‘The Paintings Sullied by Slavery’, Sunday Herald, 10 March.
2013: the DRB Scottish Women’s History Group began a campaign to raise the profile of Scottish women abolitionist campaigners, Elizabeth Pease Nichol, Priscilla Bright McLaren, Eliza Wigham and Jane Smeal launched in June: see, for example, Who Was Eliza Wigham? and the Women on the Platform booklet (pdf), produced the following year.
2014: The Empire Cafe: ‘an exploration of Scotland’s relationship with the North Atlantic slave trade through coffee, sugar, tea, cotton, music, visual art, academic lectures, poetry, debate, workshops, historical walks, film and literature’ which ran during the Commonwealth Games, held in Glasgow that year. Contributors included Jackie Kay, Millience Graham, Alan Riach, Fred D’Aguiar, Andrea Stuart, James Robertson, Chris Dolan, Graham Fagan, Stanley Odd, and The Big Sing Sing. The Empire Cafe also commissioned poems which were published in a collection Yonder Awa, discussed by Stephanie Green here.
2014: Emancipation Acts – ‘Make your way around locations in Glasgow’s Merchant City as we bring to life the story of the city’s role in Caribbean slavery using drama, dance and music … directed by Alan McKendrick, inspired by an original idea from African Caribbean Cultures Glasgow and historian Stephen Mullen’s book It Wisnae Us (Glasgow Life in association with African Caribbean Cultures Glasgow).
2014: How Glasgow Flourished, exhibition Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow (April-August).
2015: publication of Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past edited by T.M. Devine.
2015: publication of Scotland and the Caribbean, c. 1740-1833by Michael Morris. Paperback due June 2018.
2015: Stanley Odd release ‘Princes on the Pavement’, a song about the Tobacco Lords and the origins of Glasgow’s wealth in Atlantic slavery.
2015: broadcast of A Man’s a Man for a’ That, BBC Radio 4, on Frederick Douglass’ visit to Scotland. An earlier radio programme, Send Back the Money (BBC Radio Scotland, 11 December 1996) on the same subject is archived here.
2015: Slavery,Slave-ownership and Scotland (pdf): one-day workshop presenting material from researchers on Scottish slave-owners, runaway slaves, and the teaching of slavery in schools.
2015-present: Runaway Slaves in Britain research project (University of Glasgow) – database online end May 2018.
2016-18: Michael Morris leads tour of George Square telling the stories behind the statues, ‘each one revealing a hidden history of Scotland’s complicated involvement in slavery’ (October). Some background here.
2016: ‘Fresh Call for Memorial and Museum Recognising Scotland’s Slave-trade Links’, The National, 4 October.
2016: Scottish Slavery Map – an app developed by Nathan Ozga and Vsevolod Kondratiev-Popov, no longer available but discussed here.
2016: broadcast of Black and British: A Forgotten History: series of four TV programmes presented by David Olusoga (BBC 2), with Tawona Sithole as Frederick Douglass in Dundee in Episode 3.
2017: Colin MacDonald, ‘Frederick Douglass in Greenock’.
2017: episode of The People’s History Show (STV) on Scotland and slavery: ‘Dr Geoffrey Palmer takes a look at Scotland’s links to the slave trade and examines the often untold story of Scotland’s role in the abolition movement of the 1800s.’ Broadcast 26 June 2017. With contributions from Greta Blua, Antoinette Martignoni, Stephen Mullen, Simon Newman, Dan Taylor, Marenka Thompson-Odlum.
2017: release of short film 1745, directed by Gordon Napier, written by Morayo Akande.
2017: Slavery and the Scottish Country House – workshop, University of Edinburgh, 14 July. Participants included Jim Walvin, Nick Draper, Stephen Mullen, Marenka Thompson-Odlum, Stana Nenadic, Alastair Learmont, Fiona Salvesen Murrell, Hermione Hoffman, Nuala Zahedieh, Tony Lewis, James Caudle, Hannah Lawrence, Chris Jeppesen, Finola O’Kane.
2017: Black Burns, installation by Douglas Gordon, Scottish National Portrait Gallery (Jul to October) (alongside Fagen’s ‘Slave’s Lament’), previewed here. See also related book about both (which also includes specially-commissioned poems by Jackie Kay; and essays by Michael Morris and Julie Lawson).
2017: Hamish MacPherson, ‘Scotland Back in the Day: No Sugaring the Pill of our country’s Slave Trade Role’, The National, 7 March.
2017: Kate Tough, ‘People Made Glasgow’ poem chosen to appear as part of the Scottish Poetry Library’s online anthology Best Scottish Poems 2016 by editor Catherine Lockerbie. ‘Brutalized Africans made Glasgow / amazing disgrace / how sweet the civic amnesia / mansions without plaques / unrevised street-names / no memorial so sign up for the new city tour / the Merchant City experience ….’
2017: Glasgow Slavery Remembrance (Glasgow 4 August, Kinning Park Complex):
2017: Dani Garavelli, ‘Facing up to slavery in second city of empire’, Sunday Herald, 24 September.
2017: Murray Scougall, ‘Scotland’s Dirty Money’, Sunday Post, 1 October.
2017: ‘Glasgow and Slavery’: Civic reception, City Chambers, Glasgow, including screening of 1745 and contributions from Stephen Mullen, Simon Newman, Tawona Sithole, Kate Tough.
2017: Stephen Mullen, ‘The Politics of Glasgow and Slavery’, The Cable, 5 November.
2017-present: Scotland and the Slave Trade: YouTube channel featuring videos and podcasts explaining historical and contemporary issues relating to this history, produced, directed and edited by Parisa Urquhart of Urquhart Media Ltd. Film about Edinburgh’s Henry Dundas statue featured on Channel 4 news.
2018-19: Our Bondage and Our Freedom: an international project celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass.
2018: Elizabeth Ritchie, ‘Slavery in Scotland: Then and Now’, 11 January.
2018: Laurence Fenton, Frederick Douglass and Robert Burns: The American Abolitionist and Scotland’s national poet, History Scotland, January.
2018: Russell Jackson, The Story of Freed Slave Frederick Douglass’ Time in ‘Beautiful’ Scotland, Scotsman, 11 April.
2018: Centenary banner honouring Scottish women abolitionists at Processions 2018 to celebrate 100 years of female suffrage, Edinburgh (June).
2018: The Trial of Joseph Knight: radio play on the life of the African slave brought back to Scotland by planter John Wedderburn from Jamaica, written by May Sumbwanyambe, produced and directed by Bruce Young, with Nana Amoo-Gottfried as Joseph Knight (BBC Radio 4, 12 July)
2018: UNESCO Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition (Scottish Poetry Library). Contributions from Kate Tough, Zandra Yeaman, Marenka Thompson-Odlum, Nicholas Hotham, Hannah Lavery, Tawona Sithole (23 August).
2018: Freedom Bound. ‘Warren Pleece’s graphic novel follows the interconnected stories of three enslaved people living in Scotland before Scots Law proved slavery illegal.’ Created in conjunction with Glasgow University’s Runaway Slaves in Britain research project. See also ‘Scotland’s role in slave trade told in graphic novel’ (Scotsman, 22 August 2018).
2018: Legacies of Slavery in Glasgow Museums and Collections. New website (launched August) managed by curatorial staff at Glasgow Museums that aims to draw attention to objects and documents in the city’s museums and archives and explore the ways in which they can shine a light on Glasgow’s relationship with transatlantic slavery during the 17th to 19th centuries.
2018: Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow (September). Report (with recommendations) based on a year’s research by Stephen Mullen and Simon Newman concerning ‘the University’s connections with those persons who may have benefitted from the proceeds of slavery.’ Press coverage by BBC, Scotsman, Herald and The National.
2018: Edinburgh and the Slave Trade (Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh, 25 October). Lecture by Sir Geoff Palmer OBE.
2018: It Wisnae Me (Oran Mor, Glasgow, 1-6 October; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 9-13 October). Play written by Alan Bissett, directed by Cheryl Martin; with Andrew John Tait, Danielle Jam and Ali Watt. ‘A police interview room. A table. Jock has been huckled for a crime he says he didn’t commit: imperialism. He has been spotted at the scene, but is it what it looks like? Or is Jock, despite what he claims, a racist himself? It Wisnae Me is a political satire posing the question: of Scotland’s complicity in colonisation.’ Alan Bissett interviewed by Nadine McBay in The National (29 September)
2018: James McCune Smith Learning Hub: Glasgow University announces that a new building (to open in 2019-20) will be named after James McCune Smith, author and civil rights campaigner and the first African American to receive a medical degree, graduating from the university with an MD in 1837.
2018: Historic Environment Scotland announce plans for a Frederick Douglass Commemorative Plaque at 33 Gilmore Place, Edinburgh, to be unveiled in November.
2018: How Slavery Made the Modern Scotland (Herald, 4 November).
2018: Slavery: Scotland’s Hidden Shame (BBC 2 Scotland, 6 and 13 November): Two-part documentary (2 hours in total) presented by David Hayman. ‘Filmed across three continents, it demonstrates the many and intricate ways in which Scotland and the Scots were embroiled in the slave trade. Scots were plantation and slave owners, merchants, ship owners and crew, surgeons, investors and bookkeepers. The programmes also shows the legacies of Scotland’s role – how money made funded agricultural and industrial progress, shaped a huge proportion of the nation’s built environment, and the influence of the slave trade on the lives of people of colour in Scotland today. Within the programmes, the reasons behind the hiding of this shameful period in Scottish history are contemplated, not least the threat these truths pose to our nation’s self-identity as egalitarian, and the ethos of “we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns.”‘ Written and researched by Daniel Gray, produced by Ann Morrison, directed by Don Coutts.
2018: Edinburgh’s part in the slave trade. Lisa Williams of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association takes us on a tour of Edinburgh with a difference… (15 November).
2018: Alasdair Soussi, ‘When Scotland Hosted an Abolitionist after Profiting from Slavery’ (Al Jazeera, 25 November).’Little known stories behind Frederick Douglass’ speaking tour in Scotland, a country is now dealing with its dark past.’
2018: publication of Frederick Douglass and Scotland, 1846 by Alasdair Pettinger.
2018-19: Strike for Freedom: Slavery, Civil War and Emancipation (pdf). (National Library of Scotland, October to February). Exhibition situating Frederick Douglass and his family in relation to transatlantic abolitionism and black radical reform movements will be the first to show their manuscripts, letters and photographs held in the Walter O. Evans Collection. Previewed in the National (3 October). See also the interactive maps produced by the National Library of Scotland showing the locations where Douglass and other black abolitionists spoke in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland.
2019: Tracing Transatlantic Movements: Atlantic Journeys and Scottish-Caribbean Connections in Conversation (Dundee University, 15 January). Panel discussion in association with Moving Jamaica exhibition, with contributions from Graham Fagen, Peggy Brunache, Carolyn Scott and Michael Morris.
2019: Dark History Linking Slavery to Nation’s Historic Buildings under the Spotlight (Herald, 26 January). Historic Environment Scotland to ‘carry out extensive research to determine how the country’s links to slavery helped finance some of our most treasured historic buildings.’
2019: Alison Campsie, ‘The Highland Slave Owners in 17th Century South America’ (Scotsman, 20 February). On new research by David Worthington.
2019: Eunice Olumide, ‘Scots Should Vote to Rename “Slaver” Streets’ (Sunday Times Scotland, 24 February).
2019: Rosemary Goring, ‘Our Street Names Must Tell a Truth, Even if it is Hideous’ (Herald, 27 February).
2019: John W Cairns, ‘Enslaved and Enslavers in Scotland’. Lecture delivered as part of the series of Alan Watson Memorial Lectures on Slavery and the Law in Eighteenth Century Scotland at Edinburgh Law School.
2019: Hawick and Slavery – a series of three articles by Alastair M. Redpath (Hawick Paper, 1, 8 and 15 March) (subscription required).
2019: Yvonne Singh, ‘The Forgotten World: How Scotland Erased Guyana from Its Past’. Drawing on the research of historian David Alston.
2019: Lord Seaforth (1754-1815): Highland Landowner, Caribbean Governor and Slave Owner. Lecture by Finlay McKichan (Inverness Museum & Art Gallery, 18 April)
2019: Scotland in the Caribbean. Talk by Minna Liinpää (Timespan, Helmsdale, Sutherland, 19 April) ‘on the relevance and importance of Scotland’s colonial legacy and role in the slave trade to contemporary ideas around the “Scotland” and “Scottishness”.’
2019: Danielle Lapping, ‘Bold Bid to Name Inverclyde Street after Barack Obama’ (Greenock Telegraph, 6 May): Inverclyde councillors debated proposals to name a Greenock street after Frederick Douglass or Barack Obama, before voting for ‘Virginia Street’. Christopher Curley, favouring Douglass, was reported as saying: ‘Given his links to Greenock it might be worthwhile naming this, or another street in Greenock, after him. It acknowledges slavery links but also the abolition.’
2019: Decolonizing Glasgow and the History of Slavery. Four speakers will discuss the Glasgow slavery report and its implications for Glasgow city and Glasgow University: Dr Stephen Mullen, Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, Zandra Yeaman, and Councillor Graham Campbell. (Glasgow University, 9 May).
2019: Crossways: The Irish Scottish Literary and Cultural Festival (Glasgow, 7-11 May). Includes panel discussion on human trafficking and modern slavery, and keynote by Louise Welsh, ‘It Wis Us, Artists, Activists, Independent Historians, & the Exposure of Scotland’s Slavery Past’ (9 May).
2019: The Cambria. One-night performance of play on the life of Frederick Douglass, acted by the playwright Donal O’Kelly, with Sorcha Fox, as part of Crossways 2019 (Glasgow, 9 May).
2019: Images of Frederick Douglass. Celeste-Marie Bernier discusses the many photographs of Frederick Douglass and sheds light on Douglass’s belief in photography as a way to not only remember the men, women and children who had lived and died in slavery, but also as a way to resist white racist strategies of misrepresentation of African American lives (Glasgow, 9 May; postponed).
2019: Glasgow’s Atlantic World: Tobacco, Sugar and Slavery. ‘Glasgow’s transatlantic links are clear from the famous city centre street names such as Jamaica and Virginia Street. Whilst Glasgow often prides itself on its early abolitionary stance on slavery, this overlooks the fact that the eighteenth century sugar and tobacco merchants earned their wealth through a system which depended upon slavery overseas. For instance in Jamaica, 30 per cent of plantations were Scots owned, and life expectancy on them was a mere four years! Glasgow’s historic transatlantic trade routes and history are present not only in the streets of Glasgow but also in the people, places and heritage of the Caribbean islands and the Americas up to today. Dr Stephen Mullen will explore the history of Glasgow’s links to the Americas and the Caribbean, before Councillor Graham Campbell tells us more in detail about Glasgow’s links to Jamaica, and why Jamaica is the Caribbean’s most Scottish island.’ (Glasgow, 22 May).