Britain's Black Past
Based on the 2016 series for BBC Radio 4, Gretchen Gerzina explores a largely unknown past—the lives of black people who settled in Britain in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
She reveals a startling paradox: Although Britain was at the heart of a thriving slave trade, it was still possible for many black people to live there in freedom and prosperity. A few even made it to the very top of fashionable society.
But there were others who were brought over by slave-owners from the West Indies and who were never free, despite living for the rest of their lives in Glasgow or Bristol or London. Some took the law into their own hands, and managed to free themselves, while others went further and advocated violent revolution. Free or unfree, they all saw Britain as a place of opportunity that could become a home.
In chapters written by scholars, artists, and independent researchers, readers will learn of an early musician, the sales of slaves in Scotland, the grave—now a shrine—of a black enslaved boy left to die in Morecombe Bay, of a country estate owned by a mixed-race slave owner, and of the two strikingly different people who lived in a Bristol house that is now a museum. Black sailors, political activists, memoirists, appear in these pages, but the book also re-examines living history, in the form of modern plays, television programmes, and genealogical sleuthing. Through them, Britain's Black Past is not only presented anew, but shown to be very much alive in our own time.