Calls For A Commission Of Enquiry: Acknowledging The Proceeds Of Slavery In Financing Scotland’s Buildings

Below is a copy of a letter sent by Rev Y Gooljary to the cultural minister in Scotland following on from a recent letter published in the Orkney News regarding Dornoch Cathedral and its legacy of slavery.

Suggested intro to debate at Scottish parliament :

Recent research by Dr Iain MacKinnon & Dr Andrew Mackillop : Plantation slavery and landownership in the west Highlands and Islands: legacies and lessons stemming from that has shown that perhaps half of the land concerned has had the benefit of the proceeds of slavery either directly or indirectly, representing about one tenth of the land in Scotland.

The extent of the Scottish ownership of plantations and involvement in the slave economy can be gauged from the above research and the database of The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery established at University college London (UCL ). This research shows how Colonial slavery shaped modern Scotland and how we all still live with its legacies. The slave-owners were one very important means by which the fruits of slavery were transmitted to Scotland and aids understanding of the extent and the limits of slavery’s role in shaping Scottish history and leaving lasting legacies that reach into the present.

The transatlantic Slave Trade had a significant impact on Scotland as did the wealth obtained by individuals working with the East India Company (EIC), bringing back the wealth to invest in land and buildings in Scotland as set out in the book: European Slave Trading in the Indian Ocean, 1500–1850:By Richard B. Allen 2014.

Major Cities in Scotland had monuments and buildings built through wealth obtained via proceeds of slavery for example:

The Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism and Legacy review led by Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, who chaired the Review Group , identified monuments, issues and buildings that related to the legacy of slavery as applied to Edinburgh.

At least 62 Glasgow street names are linked with people involved in the slave trade. Large cities could be examined in an enquiry to request a report on their strategies for change in relation to their street names, buildings, monuments or land.

An exemplary strategy is modelled by :

The Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow report, co-authored by Professor Simon Newman and Dr Stephen Mullen, It estimates the present-day value of all monies given to the University which might have been fully or partly derived from slavery to be in the order of tens of millions of pounds.

The University has now agreed a proactive programme of reparative justice which includes the creation of a centre for the study of slavery and a memorial or tribute at the University in the name of the enslaved

This can be contrasted with other institutions who have lacked impetus, notably the Church of Scotland who have about 4000 buildings some of which have a legacy of slavery, whether by connection with the transatlantic slave trade, East India Company or by association with the Free Church which raised funds from slave plantations owners. Most prominently Dornoch Cathedral , refurbished at £1.39 million in today’s money by Elisabeth Sutherland, inheritor of slavery proceeds and active in Highland clearances. The Church of Scotland does not have a statement challenging Racism as other national or international church groups rather relying on a statement supporting racial justice form the Churches Together in England. Racial Justice is working towards parity between diverse group of differing ethnic heritage, whilst Racism is the ideology that underpinned slavery and has echoes conscious and unconscious in today’s society and also operates at the institutional level. This points to the need for large institutions like the church of Scotland to implement training and formulate their own statement challenging racism and formulating strategies in dealing with institutional racism in its own organisation.

Image credit: Mark Harkin, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

A commission of enquiry could be instrumental in calling upon large institutions in Scotland to address the legacy of slavery in their institutions or their stance against racism

The National Trust have released an ‘Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery’. It details the connections between 93 of the historic places in our care and colonialism and historic slavery.

Historic Environment Scotland are partnering with other agencies on a 2-year project to explore the legacies of Empire and the Transatlantic Slave Trade on Scotland’s historic built environment .

These organisation could be asked to contribute to a commission of enquiry and other institutions and relevant bodies be asked to conduct similar investigations in their areas of concern.

In this way a commission of enquiry could hold a valuable overview by helping to share good practice, raise the issue if it is new to an organisation, encourage others with advice and research facilities.

The issue of legacy of slavery in Scotland is far reaching, and affects land, monuments and buildings to a large degree given the extent of the wealth brought to Scotland by individuals who profited from the proceeds of slavery.

Proceeds of slavery were brought to develop Scotland, by direct involvement with plantation slavery ; slave trading ;trading in the goods derived from planation economy ; and via those who inherited this wealth, by marriage or succession indirectly, eg Iona Abbey. Also by those who earned their wealth working for The East India Company eg St Johns Episcopal Church Edinburgh, or via bodies who raised funds from plantation owners and built churches, ( such as the Free Church later reincorporated into the Church of Scotland), for example New College on the Mound in Edinburgh.

A commission of enquiry could call upon church bodies to acknowledge the legacy in their own buildings such as the Scottish Episcopal Church and Church of Scotland.

The purpose of the enquiry would be to educate, raise awareness, share information and resources, promote good practice, help commemorate the suffering of black people during the slave trade era, assist with research, which would benefit all people in Scotland to arrive at the truth behind their heritage in Scotland. It would assist those involved with addressing the facts and historical records on their websites and correct the history to include the historical legacy of slavery as it applies to their situation.

I am asking Sessions and Presbyteries who may wish to take part in this endeavour by sending a version of the above letter to the cultural minister in Scotland ; Angus Robertson , and /or raise it in your own church /forums for discussion/ or publicity. If you are so moved formulating a statement challenging Racism/Institutional Racism for consideration at General Assembly.. If you are connected with any other groups you may wish to raise it with them for discussion. Also any feedback to myself would be helpful.

Reverend Yousouf Gooljary, Resident of Church of Scotland Parish Edinburgh

See also:

Official medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society (1795)

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