Professor Trevor Burnard, Director at the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, speaks about the significance of Hull in the abolition of the slave trade, as demonstrations take place across the world as part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
“All over the country, councils are currently reviewing statues under their jurisdiction which hold a connection to slavery.
“There are many monuments in this country which celebrate people who made money from slavery and the slave trade. It is reassuring, however, that in such a review in Hull, one statue to be preserved will be the great statue of William Wilberforce, in Queen’s Gardens.
“The people of Hull are proud of their most famous citizen, and rightly so. Wilberforce was not the only person responsible for the abolition of the slave trade, but three days after his death on 29 July 1833, the bill was passed to abolish slavery in the British Empire.
“Black and white opponents of Britain’s extensive involvement with slavery joined him in these historic late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century campaigns. They attacked as immoral something that Britain capitalised on – slave trading – and which brought enormous wealth to highly influential people.
“Many of those abolitionists were women, such as Marianne Thornton, who like Wilberforce, came from a prosperous Hull family. She was so disgusted by learning about the horrors of the slave trade that she joined Wilberforce in turning her Christian beliefs into practical reforming measures.
“We should not underestimate the magnitude of that task. As we are discovering how many statues of slave traders still exist, slavery was accepted in Britain as at worst a necessary evil.
“That it was based on the cruel treatment of Africans did not matter, just as Africans were treated as though they did not matter. What we in Hull can be proud of, as we remember the many things Britain should be ashamed of in its long involvement with African slavery and racial discrimination, is how some people’s strong moral convictions, such as William Wilberforce’s, changed people’s minds.
“What was accepted as normal began to be seen as evil. Wilberforce knew that Black Lives Mattered. That is why we continue to think well of him in the city that he called home.”