Undoing 2007; Preparing for 2038

The Exchange 3 Centenary Square Birmingham B1 2DR
Saturday 1 June 2024 (09:00-17:00)

A day-long, co-productive community conversation, about Abolition, Birmingham, and Commemoration, convened and chaired by Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (University of Birmingham). 


We greatly deceived ourselves’, confessed William Wilberforce (1823), in his fourth and final book, ’by expecting much more benefit to the plantation Negroes from the abolition of the Slave Trade than has actually resulted from that measure’. If, in 1824, even Wilberforce, the life-long leader of anti-slave-trade activism, felt ‘greatly deceived’ by the ‘abolition’ of 1807, then We, Too, in 2024, should feel ‘greatly deceived’ by the state-sponsored jingoistic jamboree that, in 2007, was the British commemoration of that ‘abolition’s’ bicentenary (Cultural Brokers & Alchemy 2009; Smith, Cubitt, Fouseki, & Wilson 2011; & Antislavery Usable Past 2019).

This great deception has been denounced (Rendezvous of Victory 2005-2007; Sherwood 2007; Fergus 2010). First, the bicentenary was mere ‘maritimisation’ (Beech 2008 & Moody 2016) and wilful ‘Wilberfarce’ (Agbetu 2011). Second, even on its own terms, the ‘abolition’ was a failure, rescuing only six per cent of the African peoples trafficked over sixty years (Domingues, Eltis, Misevich & Ojo 2014) and, ironically, forcing the people rescued to work against their will as ‘negro apprentices’ (Richards 2020; Ryan 2022; & Anderson 2022). Third, and most crucially, this so-called ‘abolition’ was actually ‘amelioration’ (Fergus 2013; Spence 2014; Dierksheide 2014; Turner 2017; & Burnard 2018). This policy of ‘Stop The Boats!’ was less ‘End Slavery Now!’ than ‘Make Slavery Better (Again)!’—a ‘satanic policy’, as Elizabeth Heyrick (1824) put it, two hundred years ago this very spring, ‘revolting to the common sense of justice’. For Heyrick, Wilberforce was a false prophet and ’[t]he father of lies, the grand artificer of fraud and imposture, transformed himself […], on this occasion, pre-eminently, “into an angel of light”—and deceived’.

How d’you repair a damage like this great deception? Or ‘how might the array of new empirical evidence and research insights that have emerged since 2007 be incorporated effectively into the process of national and local memorialisation’ in the future (Bennett and Dawkins 2023)? One such key insight, published five years before, but curiously overlooked, in 2007, was that ‘the campaign was led from Birmingham, dominated by the provinces and dissent, with no major supporting group in London’ (Hall 2002 & Cook & Hall 2007). Indeed, for this very reason, in Jamaica, the first ‘free village’ founded after ‘Full Free’—i.e. the abolition of British ‘negro apprenticeship’ on 1st August 1838—was called ‘New Birmingham’ (Besson 1984; Hall 1993; & Besson 2002).

New memories cost money. Indeed, ‘an important variable in determining the scale of remembrance [in the 2030s] will be whether the National Lottery Heritage Fund, or another organisation, decides to make a significant financial commitment to support a programme of memorialisation like the 2007 bicentenary’ (Bennett and Dawkins 2023). £27 million of public money was spent on the 2007 bicentenary, around 85% of which was disbursed by the Heritage Lottery Fund (UK Minister of State for Culture 2007). This figure is significant: ‘apprenticeship was a form of compensation for enslavers: […] £27 million [in kind] in the form of the apprenticeship system was in addition to the £20 million [in cash] paid out to enslavers by the British government as compensation’ (Shepherd and Hemmings 2022).

How do we hold the funders of this great deception to account? How do we offer them an opportunity to repair the epistemic damage they have done? How, across the borders and boundaries that divide us, do we partner together, to provoke a paradigm shift in public memory, away from this fanatic fixation on a ‘faux-bolition’/‘false abolition’ (Gilmore 2023) and onto precisely how we got free (if we got free)? To answer these questions, on Saturday 1 June 2024, the bicentenary of the publication of Heyrick’s seismic text, ‘Immediate, not gradual abolition; or, an inquiry into the shortest, safest, and most effectual means of getting rid of West Indian Slavery’, Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman will convene, at the University of Birmingham’s ‘enviable city-centre location’, for ‘communities to shape ideas and solutions together’, a potential partnership of academic, denominational, and GLAM (Gallery, Library, Archive, and Museum) institutions, and of freelancers, volunteers, and activists, in Britain and Jamaica, for a co-productive workshop about how best to undo the deceptive legacies of 2007 and prepare the evidential bases for fresh abolitionist bicentennial commemorations during the 2030s.


09:00 - 10:00

Shared Catering Lounge, The Exchange 


10:00 - 12:00

Assembly Room, The Exchange


10:00 - 10:10: Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (University of Birmingham)
(Hegel and Heyrick & Britain’s #BlackLivesMatter Statue)

10:10 - 10:20: Dr Toyin Agbetu (University College London)
(Restoring the Pan-African Perspective: Reversing the Institutionalization of Maafa Denial)
To feel the warmth’: What shape resistance, when living in the belly of the beast?

10:20 - 10:30: Professor Nira Wickramasinghe (Leiden University)
Slave in a Palanquin Colonial: Servitude and Resistance in Sri Lanka
Ending slavery? Connected oceanic histories of its “amelioration”

10:30 - 10:50: Dr Claudius Fergus (University of the West Indies, St Augustine)
Revolutionary Emancipation: Slavery and Abolitionism in the British West Indies
How did “amelioration” become Britain’s first Code Noir / Slave Code?

10:50 - 11:10: Professor Catherine Hall (University College London)
Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830-1867
Can we repair – and build – learn from the past, and look to the future?

11:10 - 11:20: Emily Burgoyne (Regents Park College, Oxford) & Matty Fearon (BMS World Mission)
Angus Library and Archive
The Angus: an Emancipation Archive for 2038?

11:20 - 11:30: Lucy Saint-Smith & Edwina Peart (Quakers in Britain)
The Library of the Society of Friends
In 2022, Quakers committed to making practical reparations; what does delivering on this commitment actually require?

11:30 - 11:45: Respondents

Marika Sherwood
After Abolition: Britain and the Slave Trade Since 1807

Dr Carol Ann Dixon
Making Freedom: Riots, Rebellions and Revolutions—Emancipation 1838

11:30 - 12:00: Discussion

12:00 - 12:30

Shared Catering Lounge, The Exchange 


12:30 - 14:00

Library of Birmingham


The Gallery on Floor Three, Library of Birmingham

Intended for Jamaica is an exhibition of an artist-led project that is responding to archives held in the Boulton and Watt Collection at the Library of Birmingham. The new work focuses on an unseen part of the archive, held within the Collection, that sheds light on the sale of Boulton and Watt Co. steam engines from Soho Foundry near Birmingham to sugar plantations in Jamaica during the nineteenth century. The work was also informed by fieldwork in Jamaica—a deliberate and reflective act of wanting to make work that unites archival documents with the Jamaican sites, places, and communities those documents discuss. The artist’s work aims to challenge traditional dominant narratives about Birmingham’s industrial heroes and invites audiences to look for a more inclusive representation of our shared history. It seeks to challenge the continued memorialisation of the ‘Golden Boys’ that has overshadowed and erased Caribbean history. Check out the related upcoming events.

The Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Library of Birmingham

Head of Archives & Collections, Peter Doré, will be supported by the convenor, Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, whose keynote, Hegel and Heyrick, and podcast, Britain’s #BlackLivesMatter Statue, are grounded in these very archives, as well as by local post-graduate student researchers, Liz Quibell, author of the MA dissertation, Immediate, not gradual Abolition: The Role of Women in the Birmingham Anti-slavery Movement, 1825-1838, and Ifemu Omari, the inaugural recipient of the President’s Fellowship of the British Association for Romantic Studies, whose PhD research, on A Book That Was Not Meant For Us, affords us insight into The Formidable Layers of Mary Prince. Peter, Nathaniel, Liz, and Ifemu will guide guests, who will consult carefully curated archival material relating to Abolition, Birmingham, and Commemorations possible during the 2030s.

14:00 - 14:30

Shared Catering Lounge, The Exchange 


14:30 - 16:30

Assembly Room, The Exchange


14:30 - 14:40: Revd Dr Doreen Morrison (Open Door Mission, Jamaica)
(George Lisle: A Faith That Couldn’t Be Denied—Jamaica, 1783–1865)
How did things that were not seen, motivate a people to overcome things that were seen – changing the course of history?

14:40 - 14:55: Myrtle Frater, Emmanuel Campbell, Celia Brown, Milicent Gibson, & Andre Ennis (The Alps Community Development Committee)
(The Alps, Trelawny, formerly ‘New Birmingham’)
The brutal, mental slavery, instilled in generations right up till this time: who is accountable for it?

14:55 - 15:10: Allison Dean, Lynvol Campbell, Devon Ferguson, & Delroy Scott (The Alps Sisters Movement)
(The Alps, Trelawny, formerly ‘New Birmingham’)
What is Birmingham’s unfinished business in New Birmingham?

15:10 - 15:25: Bernadette Worrell-Johnson & Dunstan Newman (University of the West Indies, Mona Library)
(The West Indies and Special Collections (WISC), The UWI Mona Library)
(Inventory of archival holdings in Jamaica - Endangered Archives Programme 148)
What Abolitionist Archives, in Jamaica, are currently endangered?

15:25 - 15:40: Gabrielle Hemmings & John Shorter (University of the West Indies, Centre for Reparation Research)
(Introduction to Reparation for Secondary Schools)
(Appleton Estate: From The Dickinson Family to the Campari Group, A Short History)
Research to Repair: How – in new reparative partnerships – do we begin to repair epistemic damage?

15:40 - 15:50: Respondent

Arlene McKenzie (Rastafari Indigenous Village)

15:50 - 16:30: Discussion

16:30 - 17:00 

Assembly Room, The Exchange