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  • My history is your history,

  • your history is my history,

  • and our history is our story.

  • We share the same place in time and space

  • in the world, in today's society, and we owe it to each other

  • to know more about our ancestors together.

  • If we want to see the legacies

  • of slavery and colonialism in Britain,

  • we need look no further than the people.

  • So my father left Jamaica in 1958,

  • he came here to live with his sister and to find work.

  • He found that experience, as you can imagine, quite daunting.

  • He often reminds me of seeing smoke coming out of a chimney

  • and him thinking that the house was on fire.

  • So he settled here and, eighteen months later,

  • he sent for my mother and my sister.

  • Jen Reid grew up in Bath,

  • the only black child at school, where she regularly encountered racism.

  • I moved to Bristol in 2012.

  • You know, I've always been very aware of what Bristol is,

  • and it being built on the back of slavery.

  • I remember an office that I had worked in,

  • directly opposite was Colston standing proud over Bristol.

  • The statue that Jen is referring to was of Edward Colston -

  • a 17th Century Bristol merchant and slave trader.

  • He was a member of the Royal African Company.

  • Between 1662 and 1731,

  • the company transported 212,000 enslaved people across the Atlantic,

  • of whom 44,000 died en route.

  • As well as a statue in the city centre,

  • schools, streets, and many other buildings in Bristol

  • were named after Edward Colston.

  • When he died he left a lot of his wealth to charities in Bristol

  • and it's for that reason

  • why his name was registered very largely on the city,

  • but his larger role

  • in the trading of Africans

  • for slavery and slave labour

  • in the Caribbean

  • is something that is very important for us to emphasise

  • because it speaks to a silence that often follows

  • a lot of these figures in history who were involved in the slavery business

  • and how that silence is obscured by this elevation of them

  • in these other roles that they performed in their lives.

  • But on the 7th of June 2020,

  • in the midst of global protests against racism,

  • sparked in part by the murder of George Floyd

  • by an American policeman,

  • protestors in Bristol tore Colston down from his elevated status,

  • both literally and figuratively.

  • Jen Reid and her husband, Alasdair Doggart, were there -

  • attending their first ever political protest.

  • It was a sight to behold, it was almost like a carnival atmosphere.

  • I watched my husband drag Edward Colston to the water

  • and throw him in to the water. It was just such an historic moment.

  • It was an instinctive action on my behalf.

  • As soon as I put my hands on him,

  • and we started pushing him towards the water,

  • then it was as simple as:

  • "I know how to do that, I can do that. Let's do it".

  • Jen's role in the protest renewed her interest in tracing her family tree.

  • With the help of the Legacies of Slavery database at UCL,

  • she was finally able to find out more about her family in Jamaica.

  • What really shook me to the core

  • was discovering that my great-great- great-great-great-grandmother

  • was the first of my ancestors to be enslaved.

  • Jen also discovered

  • that the documents relating to her 5x great-grandmother

  • had listed her name as Sylvia. But that wasn't her real name.

  • Like many enslaved people,

  • she'd been given an English name by her enslaver -

  • robbing her of her African identity.

  • I've also discovered that my grandmother five times removed

  • had a daughter.

  • And her daughter had a daughter.

  • And they were all kept together by their enslaver,

  • by the name of Donald McLean.

  • It made me really angry.

  • It made me want to research the McLean clan -

  • who are they, where are they now what riches do they have?

  • A lot of those memories of slavery are not memories

  • that are just recorded and registered in history books

  • or that are told in classes.

  • These are memories that people embody.

  • They are memories that people carry from generation to generation.

  • For Jen's husband Alasdair, the Black Lives Matter protests

  • also triggered an interest in finding about his past.

  • When he started looking into his family history,

  • he found that he was related to people with the surname Colston -

  • though there's no evidence

  • that they were connected to Edward Colston himself.

  • I think it's a complex picture

  • when you try to unpick the detail of everything

  • about why race is so important today,

  • and why people have to accept the truth

  • of Britain's involvement in the slave trade.

  • I think history can't be sectioned off

  • and it's “this is your history, this is my history”.

  • It's our history together.

  • As well as personal connections to the slave traders and the enslaved,

  • in Britain there are deep financial ones.

  • When slavery in Britain was abolished in the 1830s,

  • the government paid £20 million to slave owners in compensation.

  • There was no compensation for the formerly enslaved.

  • The compensation of £20 million

  • was really meant to be a form of reparations to slave owners

  • for the loss of their property and people.

  • An extraordinary figure, and that even as we consider today

  • the £20 million,

  • we should also remember that it is a fraction

  • of the full extent of the wealth earned by enslaved labour

  • for Great Britain in the entire period of British slavery.

  • A lot of that money ended up being reinvested

  • in banking, in finance, in the commercial sector,

  • but also in non-commercial activities,

  • in the arts, and in museums

  • and even in education

  • and philanthropic associations and endeavours.

  • So there's clearly a disconnect

  • between the wealth that slavery brought to Britain

  • and the immense suffering inflicted on those who were enslaved.

  • In some cases, it's only names that can offer clues to the past.

  • There are threads that are connected to places and to place names.

  • Why a plantation in Eastern Jamaica

  • shares the name of a location in London,

  • but there are also threads that are connected to people.

  • Why someone in Bridgetown, Barbados,

  • shares the name of somebody in Liverpool

  • even though they have never met.

  • They are tied to that history

  • through the history of slavery and colonialism,

  • and it is something that we cannot ignore.

  • As for Jen, although she knows the names of her family's enslaver,

  • she still doesn't know her ancestor Sylvia's real name,

  • or anything about her origins in Africa.

  • I want to know what tribe I belong to,

  • I imagine my tribe to be fearless because I am fearless,

  • and I am powerful,

  • and I imagine my ancestors to be exactly the same.

My history is your history,

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Tracing my family’s stolen ancestors | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2021/07/15
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