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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2007, 23:41 GMT 00:41 UK
Discontent voiced over slavery events
By Amanda Kirton
BBC News

Lone protester Toyin Agbetu disrupted a service at Westminster Abbey last week marking the 200th anniversary of Britain's act to abolish the slave trade.

Toyin Agbetu, protester, with a police officer
Toyin Agbetu said the service was an insult to African people

At first, Mr Agbetu appeared to be reflecting his own discontent with the tone of the service, attended by the Queen, in London.

After the outburst, interviews and statements from black representatives supported Mr Agbetu's words and actions, suggesting a general unrest among the black community, as well as a degree of concern and objection, to the way anniversary was commemorated.

House of Lords leader Baroness Amos was one of the guests seated in the abbey during the protest.

"Toyin's protest reflected the anger and the pain that still exists," she said.

The "absolute horror and degradation" of the slave trade was not generally discussed, she added.

I knew about slavery and that it was bad but that was it
Youth worker Carolyn Stevens

"The commemoration period has raised all these issues which have not been easy to read, or watch. People need to recognise that it is very sensitive and emotional, especially for the black community."

Prime Minister Tony Blair, in his statement leading up to the commemoration period, declared that the bicentenary would be a chance for Britons to "speak about how shameful the slave trade was".

First chance

It was also, he said, a chance to "respond to the problems of Africa and the challenges facing the African and Caribbean diaspora today" with the goal of increasing "understanding of the heritage shared".

The commemoration has raised many debates and stirred up a lot of pain.

Queen
The Queen was among those attending the service

For youth social worker Carolyn Stevens, the commemoration has offered the first chance to seriously read up on the subject of slavery.

"My parents are West Indian," she said. "I knew about slavery and that it was bad but that was it.

"During this time, I have read a lot and watched a lot of the programmes and it's been very emotional for me.

"I have spoken to family and friends who have told me they've cried after reading or watching material."

She had never before seen the need for an apology, she said.

"But the knowledge that our British Church used racism to justify treating my ancestors as sub-humans, and the fact that the monarchy was instrumental in the slave trade, makes me angry.

"They can see the effects today that have been passed down through slavery but they choose to do nothing about it."

'Wrong emphasis'

Michael Eboda, editor of black newspaper New Nation, said he was angry about the way the commemoration period had been handled.

We need to know that black people resisted at every stage
Michael Eboda
New Nation

"The reason why a lot of black people agreed with Toyin Agbetu is because what should have come out of this commemoration period hasn't," he said.

There had been too much emphasis on the role of William Wilberforce, the parliamentary spokesman for the abolition movement.

People needed to know about "great black freedom fighters" such as Nanny Maroon, Yaa Asantewa, Bukman Dutty, Sam Sharpe and Toussaint Louverture, he said.

"We need to know that black people resisted at every stage," he added.

"The only reason that rebellions on the slave ships were not more successful was because the British navy, as soon as Africans rose up... massacred hundreds at a time and took the ring leaders and quite often burned them alive.

"These things are what should have come out."

Complex issue

On the subject of reparation, Mr Eboda said: "The slavers received massive compensation for what they had supposedly lost, the Africans received nothing.

"Reparations for slavery have already been paid they were just paid to the wrong people," he added.

This is a complicated story - not every white person was guilty and not every black person was innocent and it is not a blame game
Baroness Amos

The trauma and legacy of slavery make it a very complex issue to discuss.

Baroness Amos agrees with the view that education on the subject is a must in our schools, and that Britain should continue to acknowledge its participation and the legacy that has been created through slavery.

"This is a complicated story - not every white person was guilty and not every black person was innocent and it is not a blame game.

"It is about the intensity of that history being recognised, and things being retold in its entirety."


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