Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Commemorating (the end of) Slavery

Britain plans to commemorate in a big way the 200th anniversary of its abolition of the slave trade. Already, the movie Amazing Grace depicts anti-slavery legislator, William Wilberforce's fight against the trade in the 1700s and 1800s. The anniversary has also given rise to calls for apologies from Britain for the slave trade, as indicated in this video. In the U.S., as Virginia prepares to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown colony, Virginia lawmakers have apologized for slavery.
What is the significance of commemorative activities and/or apologies? The UN, the U.S. government and various international organizations point to a resurgent slave trade -- trafficking, a form of modern slavery. And on Sunday, the New York Times reported Colorado's plans to use prison labor (at $.60/hour) to do the work that undocumented immigrants used to do before before the stricter enforcement of immigration laws.

3 comments:

Grace O'Malley said...
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Grace O'Malley said...

Peter Linebaugh, history prof at the University of Toledo, just published a critical review of "Amazing Grace." Linebaugh excoriates the filmmakers for failing to show (1) "that the English abolitionist movement owed its beginning, its thrust, and its ending to the activity of the slaves themselves"; and (2) "that the abolition of the slave trade could only succeed at the moment in economic development when other sources of exploitation became available to English capital, namely, the working class in England." He notes too that opponents of the slave trade did not come only from the upper classes. "[T]he allies of the Jamaicans, the vast number of Afro-Americans, and above all the Haitian slaves," he writes, included the "steel workers of Sheffield" and "the United Irishmen." Well worth a read, it's available at http://www.counterpunch.org/linebaugh02282007.html.

Eleanor Roosevelt said...

An interesting counter story - Indeed, so many accounts of this era seem to focus on white beneficience rather than black agency.