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London Opens Permanent Gallery on Slavery


The first permanent gallery devoted to London's historic involvement in the transatlantic slave trade is now open. The Museum in Docklands opened the gallery to mark the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade. VOA's Mandy Clark has more.

The trade in human misery lasted for more than 300 years and in its heyday it made London the fourth largest slaving port in the world.

The transatlantic slave trade was also known as the triangle trade for its three-part operation. European powers bought Africans as slaves, shipped them to the Americas to work and then profited from the products of their toil.

The film, "London, Sugar and Slavery," is part of the museum's exhibition. Filmmaker Stephen Rudder says he wanted to reach people who are not familiar with the extent of the slave trade. "What I was trying to achieve is for people to see that this is a crime against humanity. I want people to relate to that history so it will transcend people who will say it (the slave trade) has nothing to do with me."

Lynda Agard is a community liaison officer with the museum. She says the building itself is evidence of the city's connections to slavery. "This building used to hold sugar and also was a port for enslaved people so where better for this history to be housed? But also, it makes it very accessible to the wider community to get a better understand of their history."

Historian Catherine Hall helped design the exhibition. She says the legacy of slavery remains in modern society. "The ways of thinking about race, that became so prevalent in the period of the slave trade, do have traces in the present. We can't dismantle it, unless we understand the past."

The gallery aims to show how Europeans tried to justify the inhumane trade that gave rise to rich profits, brutality and sowed the seeds of racism today.

The museum's diversity manager, June Bam-Hutchinson, says Britain is in denial of its involvement in slavery because the slaving ships that once docked outside the building were full of sugar, not slaves.

The slavery gallery is now on permanent display. The curator says he hopes it will touch every Londoner. He says only when the city confronts the truth about its past, can it hope to change its future.

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