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   Inside Out - West: Friday March 23, 2007
Marvin Rees
Marvin Rees investigates racial equality in Bristol

Slave trade legacy

Is Bristol "racially fractured"?

Two hundred years ago it made vast profits from the toil of enslaved Africans.

Now it strives to be a place where people of all races have equal opportunities.

But where does the truth lie about race relations in the modern-day city of Bristol?

Is there genuinely a level playing field for people from ethnic minorities or is the legacy of the slave trade still holding us back?

Racially fractured?

Social commentator and journalist Marvin Rees has lived in the city all his life.

In a special edition of Inside Out West he argues that Bristol remains "racially fractured".

He claims that while on the surface there appears to be racial harmony, there are still some serious inequalities we have to address.

Marvin Rees
Marvin Rees argues that Bristol remains racially fractured

Marvin was born in Bristol to a white mother and black father.

It has made him very sensitive to questions about racial identity and to the relationships between people from different ethnic groups.

He uses a quote from the former Czech Republic presdient Vaclav Havel to describe how he feels about the modern-day Bristol:

"The absence of conflict is not evidence of the presence of peace".

In Marvin's view there is a racial imbalance in education, housing and political power.

He points to the number of black councillors on Bristol City Council, just one out of 70, as evidence of this.

New opportunities, new beginnings...

Marvin says, "It's easy to look at history today and disapprove of slavery.

"It's easy to look at the future and wistfully dream of unity and togetherness, but it’s hard to deal with the messiness of the now and the bad feelings that exist.

Slave ships
The anniversary of the abolition of slavery provides opportunities

"For me there is definitely some unfinished business and I think it’s exposed in the opinions expressed on radio phone-ins and 'letters to the editor' pages.

"I am not saying everyone is about to join the BNP, and I am not saying things are the way they used to be.

"But I am saying that as a city we live with a rawness around the topic of race."

Marvin thinks the 200th anniversary of the passing of the act to abolish the slave trade gives Bristolians an opportunity.

He's hoping the anniversary will encourage people to find out about the city's history and learn about the abolitionist struggle.

But more than that he hopes it will bring people together to find a way of moving forward as equal partners.

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Slavery timeline

Slave ship
Campaigners worked hard to abolish the slave trade

From about 1500 onwards companies would visit Africa and capture men, women and children as slaves.

They were taken in ships to work in the sugar cane plantations of the Caribbean, North America and South America.

Some slaves were used as servants by rich household in cities such as London and Edinburgh.

It is believed that about 24 million Africans were sold to slave traders.

This is a brief timeline of the key events in the abolition of the slave trade:

Slave
Many slaves took the name of their owners

Late 18th Century - the anti-slavery movement started. It was backed by some religious groups, including the Quakers.

Thomas Clarkson rode 35,000 miles across Britain to obtain support for the antislavery campaign. He persuaded the MP William Wilberforce to take the fight into Parliament.

June 1772 - Slavery is virtually outlawed in England. Enslaved James Somerset's case is taken to court by abolitionist Granville Sharpe. He had escaped from his owner in London. The Lord Chief Justice ruled that Somerset should be freed.

1774 - 'Thoughts upon Slavery' published by John Wesley, the Methodist.

1791 - William Fox produced the pamphlet 'Address to the People of Great Britain, on the Propriety of Abstaining from West India Sugar and Rum'.

It called for ordinary people to boycott sugar produced on slave plantations.

March 1807 - The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed by the British Parliament. It introduced a fine of £100 for every slave found on board a British ship

1823 - The Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery (later the Antislavery Society) was formed including William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson.

June 1833 - The British Parliament passes the Abolition of Slavery Act.

August 1838 - Slavery abolished in the British Empire.

 



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