Remembering the past

At the beginning of Black History Month, Petra Davies, Project Support Assistant and member of Riverside’s BAME staff group, Origin, looks back at Liverpool’s annual Slavery Remembrance Day.

Liverpool’s annual Slavery Remembrance Day is held on 23 August, the day, in 1791, when an uprising of enslaved Africans on the island of Saint Dominque (modern Haiti) began.

It was a crucial event in the fight to end the European transatlantic slave trade. The date has been designated by UNESCO as Slavery Remembrance Day, a reminder that enslaved Africans were the main agents of their own liberation.

Our Slavery Remembrance Day commemorations acknowledge this major period of trauma and injustice in world history, which is too often forgotten. The events allow us to remember and reflect upon the millions of lives that were stolen through enslavement while celebrating the many legacies and achievements of people of African heritage during this time.

The annual celebrations include the Walk of Remembrance, a libation on the waterfront and the Dorothy Kuya Slavery Remembrance Lecture, delivered this year by Gina Belafonte.

This year, I had the honour of representing Riverside’s BAME staff group, Origin, and attended the Slavery Remembrance Walk.

It started at 11am at the Bandstand in Church Street. There were drummers and dancers there throughout the walk and they were amazing. I, and a lot of other people, walked behind the drummers with red and yellow carnations which I knew we were going to put into the waters to remember the slaves. I felt quite emotional, I must admit.


The walk headed along Paradise Street and Liverpool 1 where the drummers formed a pathway while we walked between them. We then carried on to the International Slavery Museum at the Albert Dock, to the libation ceremony.

A libation is a ritual pouring of liquid in memory of the dead. In African cultures the ritual of pouring libation is a ceremonial tradition and a way of giving homage to ancestors. The ritual was performed by an elder.

We were given part of a kola nut – a caffeine-rich nut native to tropical Africa, which is considered a symbol of hospitality and kindness. It was very bitter!

At the end of the ceremony we threw flowers into the River Mersey and remembered the slaves during a minute’s silence. It was emotional but I’m so glad I went and represented Origin for something so important.

I have always known that Liverpool was a major slaving port and its ships and merchants dominated the transatlantic slave trade in the second half of the 18th century. The town and its inhabitants derived great civic and personal wealth from the trade which laid the foundations for the port’s future growth. 

Probably three-quarters of all European slaving ships at this period left from Liverpool. Overall, Liverpool ships transported half of the three million Africans carried across the Atlantic by British slavers.

It’s extremely important we remember all sides of Liverpool history including the ugly parts. Whether I like it or not it is still a part of our history.

This is why Black History Month is such an important time to reflect and remember. There will be a huge range of events across the city this month and if people can attend some of these events they will gain some insight as to why it is so important to me, as a mixed race person, and others from ethnic minorities.