Britain's Queen Elizabeth, and Prime Minister Tony Blair, among
a congregation of 2,000 attending the memorial service at London's
historic Westminster Abbey March 27, 2007 to commemorate the 200th
anniversary of the abolition of slavery, quickly glanced at their
to the official schedule, which included speeches and readings
from the writings of abolitionist William Wilberforce delivered
by a succession of dignitaries and church leaders, the next item
was to be a recitation of the Absolution prayers, but suddenly
there's this shouting black guy in a colorful African tunic out
of his seat and storming up the central aisle towards where the
Queen sat with her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh,
along with senior members of the government and their wives. This
was an unrehearsed event in the ceremony. It was real.
is a disgrace!" shouted the shaven-headed man. "It is an insult
10 feet of them, and pointing, he ranted on: "You are the Queen
and the Prime Minister - this is all wrong. You don't have the
decency, Mr Blair, to make an apology and the word sorry, and
you, the Queen... "
and security-men rushed forward to tackle him as he roared: "I'm
a proud African. Men of God should be ashamed. We should not be
here. This is a white man's service - it is an insult to us. I
want all the Christians who are Africans to walk out."
police entered the church and lent their force to drag the angry
black away as he shouted and pointed at the icy-faced Queen. Outside
he was handcuffed and arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order
briefly managed to learn a little about the protestor before he
was whisked off by armed police.
Toyin Agbetu. Age: 39. As a founder of the African-British human
rights organisation, Ligali, which campaigns against racial discrimination
and fights for black people's rights, Agbetu had obtained a media
pass to attend the ceremony, which he decried.
"It was an
insult to us. This is just a memorial for William Wilberforce.
There was no mention in there of African freedom fighters. What
about my ancestors? Where were the Africans talking about how
major institutions involved in slavery - the monarchy, the government
and the church - are all inside there, patting each other on the
back," he said. "No one has had the decency to say the word 'Sorry'."
Family and Government have both refused to follow the example
of the Church of England and apologise publicly for their roles
in the slave trade.
protest was aimed at forcing the Queen and the Prime Minister
to pronounce an official apology for Britain's central role in
the trade that enslaved as many as 20 million Africans in the
colonies' cotton, tobacco and sugar plantations for over three
centuries. Blair has expressed instead a "deep sorrow and regret"
for the suffering caused. And royal aides insist that the Queen
was acknowledging her family's role and the wrongs of past generations
by simply attending the service.
however, demands that the Queen officially apologize for the monarchy's
role in supporting the slave trade, an industry upon which much
of the wealth of the UK was built on.
to say sorry," he said. "Queen Elizabeth I commissioned John Hawkins,
financed him, and funded him to go to my continent and enslave
my people." (In 1564 she loaned Hawkins her armed 700-ton ship,
Jesus of Lubeck, as a slave vessel, made money from the investment,
and knighted him for his efforts.)
Hazelwood, in his book The Queen's Slave Trader: John Hawkyns,
Elizabeth and Trafficking in Human Souls, writes: "In their simplest
form the Hawkins voyages were exercises in turning a quick profit:
for the Queen, for himself, and for the group of rich London merchants
and royal courtiers who had invested in the expedition."
Family built much of its fortune on the slave trade. The Royal
African Company was a slaving company set up by the Stuart family
and London merchants once the former retook the English throne
in the English Restoration of 1660. It was led by James, Duke
of York, Charles II's brother.
known as the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa, it
was granted a monopoly over the English slave trade, by its charter
issued in 1660. With the help of the army and navy it established
trading posts on the West African coast, and it was responsible
for seizing any rival English ships that were transporting slaves.
In the 1680s
it was transporting about 5,000 slaves per year. Many were branded
with the letters 'DY' on the left buttock, after its chief, the
Duke of York, who succeeded his brother on the throne in 1685,
becoming James II. Other slaves were branded with the company's
initials, RAC, on their chests.
crown and parliament were involved in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht,
which granted Britain the exclusive right to sell African people
into slavery in all of Spain's American colonies. The 'asiento'
was crucial because it broke the Spanish hold on the trade; England
became, and remained, the world's biggest slaver.
then awarded the right to the notorious South Sea Company, 'forever'.
Lord Harley, the Lord Chancellor was directly involved in the
running of South Sea Company, as were several other members of
government. The Company exported 75,000 slaves from Africa between
1713 and 1739, shipping them thousands of miles via Liverpool
and Bristol, tied like hogs, lying in their own excrement, then
whipped and forced to work on plantations for generations, all
for the benefit of the British economy.
rate of South Sea Company slave-ships was so high that in later
years captains were allowed four slaves each, as an incentive
to keep the their cargoes alive and healthy.
of England also owned hundred of slaves, branded them like cattle
on plantations in Barbados and, of course, made money off the
evil. But the Church, unlike the Government and the Monarchy,
has apologized and is studying what to do about reparations.
an official government statement of apology might fuel attempts
to seek reparations from descendants of slaves seems to be the
reason for Blair's weak "regrets" rather than "apologies".
And in response
to a letter from a group of Rastafarians from Jamaica seeking
reparation a few years ago, Queen Elizabeth II skirted the issue
statue of the International Civil Court, acts of enslavement committed
today do constitute crimes against humanity. But the historic
slave trade was not a crime against humanity or contrary to international
law at the time when the U.K. government condoned it."
service, before the interruption, Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan
Williams, spoke movingly: "Slavery
is not a regional problem in the human world; it is hideously
persistent in our nations and cultures," he told the Queen and
"We are born
into a world already scarred by the internationalizing and industrializing
of slavery... and our human inheritance is shadowed by it. We
who are heirs of the slave-owning and slave-trading nations of
the past have to face the fact that our historic prosperity was
built in large part on this atrocity; those who are heirs of the
communities ravaged by the slave trade know very well that much
of their present suffering and struggling is the result of centuries
of abuse. Today it is for us to face our history; the Atlantic
trade was our contribution to this universal sinfulness."
And he urged
the congregation "to have the courage to face the legacies of
slavery... (and) the courage to turn to each other and ask how,
together, we are to make each other more free and more human."
like a very good idea. So where do we start?
A start would
be ending, NOW and FOREVER the obscene exploitation that still
goes on in Africa. We can do nothing to alleviate the suffering
of those who are long dead. Their best memorial would be for us
all to demand the end of the poverty-driven slavery of this century.
To be successful we have to examine how we in the west relate
to third world peoples, particularly, but not only in Africa,
where the current western hegemony is maintained, among other
things, by crippling loans, and 'strings attached aid', 'unfair
trade', and the still continuing 'propping up' of tyrants that
serve the western interests. It is conditions like these that
largely give rise to child labour and sex slaves. Debt has to
be cancelled - no ifs or buts, no cavilling, no arguments. That
would be one way of giving back a little of what we stole.
the monarchy rather than asking the queen to apologize for slavery.
The monarchy has been responsible for the robbing and exploiting
its 'subjects' since its conception, and there is much that it
could apologize for. Let the queen resign instead. If we are to
'make each other more free and human', how can there be a monarch?
And as for
the corrupt lying government - that must go too, or change, and
we must establish a proper social democracy, putting people first,
with deep structural changes aimed at making a better society,
hand in hand with proper reparation. Then could begin the process
of transforming the country and the world away from operating
on the principle of personal greed, to principles of decency,
equality and human values. This world was made a common store
for all to share. Are we not all, whatever our color or race,
men and women and brothers and sisters?
Michael Dickinson is an English teacher working in Istanbul, Turkey.
Dickinson did the cover art for two of CounterPunch's books, Dime's
Worth of Difference and Serpents in the Garden, as well as Jeffrey
St. Clair's Grand Theft Pentagon. He can be contacted at Saatchi
The King's New Clothes
Arrested In Istanbul
Censoring The Carnival Of Chaos
Listening To Lennon In Istanbul
The Madness Of Money