IT is a shameful part of the city’s rich heritage and has largely been erased from official history books.
But a leading poet has insisted the dark role that slavery played in creating the Glasgow of today should be recognised within the fabric of the city.
Kate Tough hopes her critically- acclaimed poem, People Made Glasgow, can be a catalyst for ideas about how best to confront Glasgow’s past imperial sins.
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A permanent slavery exhibition within a museum, a memorial garden or new street names should all be considered as means of addressing the popular amnesia about the slave trade, says the poet.
She said: “I love Glasgow but an important thing for us to do would be to decide how we are going to acknowledge the contribution of slaves to the prosperity of the city. Why shouldn’t 2017 be the year we sort this out?”.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, when Glasgow was “Second City of the Empire”, city merchants were enthusiastic about the triangular trade route, by which slaves were bought to enable the production of materials such as sugar and tobacco.
Ships sailed from Port Glasgow or Greenock to the West coast of Africa, where slaves were acquired in exchange for goods, before making the two-month crossing of the Atlantic. Appalling conditions on board meant, one in four slaves did not survive the crossing.
Those who did survive were forced to work on plantations in the West Indies or America, often under the brutal direction of the plantation owner, who was frequently a Scot.
Between 1740-1790, Glasgow’s tobacco merchants amassed such wealth as a consequence of the Virginia plantations they built palatial homes in the heart of Glasgow. What is now the Gallery of Modern Art was once the private residence of William Cunningham, one of the most successful Tobacco Lords.
Cunningham and his fellow slave-reliant merchants have been immortalised by streets bearing their names and the source of their fortunes, such as Buchanan Street, Glassford Street, Jamaica Street and Virginia Street.
In recent years there have been increasing calls to memorialise slavery’s ties with Glasgow in a more sensitive way. Changing street names often comes up as a possible tribute.
But Louise Welsh, a Professor in Creative writing at Glasgow University who co-founded the Empire Cafe, a week-long project in 2014 which explored Scotland’s relationship with the North Atlantic slave trade is unsure about the need for a permanent museum.
She said: “Do we want to wipe out the history and pretend it didn’t happen? Maybe if we keep these names it would help us remember. People have to know about these things.”
A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: “Glasgow benefited greatly from the proceeds of the Atlantic slave trade and this is regularly and openly examined within our cultural estate.”