An audit published today has shown that the slave trade was embedded in the Welsh economy and society and that this is reflected in many of Wales’ statues, street and building names to this day.
The death of George Floyd during an arrest in the United States in May this year led to huge protests across many parts of the world, including in the UK – such as in Bristol where a statue of Edward Colston was torn down – a merchant involved in the Atlantic slave trade.
In July, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford ordered an urgent audit of statues, street and building names to address Wales’ connections with slavery and the slave trade.
The audit has identified 209 monuments, buildings or street names located across Wales which commemorate people who were directly involved with the slave trade or opposed to its abolition. The audit was led by Gaynor Legall, an advocate for ethnic minority women across Wales.
What did the audit find?
The audit found 209 cases of monuments, building or street names commemorating one or more people who were directly involved with the slave trade or opposed to its abolition including;
- 13 commemorating people who took part in the African slave trade
- 56 commemorating people who owned or directly benefitted from plantations or mines worked by the enslaved
- 120 commemorating people who opposed the abolition of the slave trade or slavery
- 20 commemorating people accused of crimes against Black people, notably in colonial Africa
The audit found that commemorations of the slave trade are often not accompanied by an interpretation to address matters of contention, meaning the figures are presented solely as role models rather than representatives of the past.
The audit did though find some commemorations to anti-slavery activists in Wales, such as a statue of Henry Richard in Tregaron and the Pantycelyn halls of residence at Aberystwyth University.
Research also found that work is necessary to consider how to celebrate the contributions of all parts of the community to Wales, with there few being Welsh people of Black or Asian heritage commemorated across the country.
What happens next?
Gaynor Legall, Leader of the Task and Finish group who led the audit has met with First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford to discuss the findings which are set out in a 133-page report.
Speaking about the audit, Ms Legall said;
“This a piece of work that I am immensely proud of because it gives a very thorough, factual account of Wales’ involvement in the Slave Trade and expands our knowledge of the history of Wales. It will hopefully lead to children learning the complete history, warts and all.”
Mr Drakeford said;
“While the tragic killing of George Floyd happened almost 4000 miles away, it sparked global action that shone a light on racial inequality in society today.
“That inequality exists in Welsh society too and we must work towards a Wales which is more equal. To help us do this, we need a clear understanding of the legacies of the slave trade and the British Empire. This audit provides important evidence which helps us establish an honest picture of our history.
“This is not about rewriting our past or naming and shaming. It is about learning from the events of the past. It is an opportunity for us to establish a mature relationship with our history and find a heritage which can be shared by us all.
“This is the first stage of a much bigger piece of work which will consider how we move forward with this information as we seek to honour and celebrate our diverse communities.”
A second phase will now determine how the Welsh Government can move forward and address the concerns highlighted by the audit.