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A rage at its heart

August 23, 2007

“… at the heart of the museum is a rage which will not be quieted while racists walk our streets”

Dr David Flemming, Director National Museums of Liverpool

I was privileged to be at the opening of the new International Slavery Museum in Liverpool last night, dressed in full black tie regalia! I then spent this morning walking around, observing and experiencing what is an impressive world first for Liverpool. David Flemming delivered an outstanding speech, with passion and compassion in equal measure. I spoke to him afterwards to complement him in general, but specifically on the phrase quoted above, in particular the use of rage. He told me that he had been concerned it might be too strong but I don’t think so.

The museum is not a static review of the past, but a placing of slavery in the context of that past, but also in the possibilities of the present and the potentialities of the future. Its design, philosophy and the passion of its staff make it so. A variety of speakers from the US and the UK emphasised the need for the museum as a mechanism for knowledge and learning – still the main weapon in the fight against injustice. Nicole Lee of the TransAfrica Forum was particularly impressive, unafraid to provide political bite and relevance to the evening.

When you go into the museum you start with a wall of quotes, and also video stories of people from the current day, understanding how their world has been influenced by slavery. As you enter the gallery the discover the richness of the African cultures from whom slaves were taken, and then enter the heart of the museum (well I think it is the heart). This is a full surround sensory experience of what it must have been like to be on a slave ship. From there (and the space is a challenging one) you move on to see the economic context of slavery, the barbarism of the plantations and the history of the civil rights movement into the present day (it includes the Toxteth Riots).

As you leave there are walls on which you can leave comments, and a SenseMaker™ site where you can record your stories. This has been driven through by one of the brightest members of the network, Paul Khan who also gave me the guided tour this morning and secured my invitation to the previous night’s dinner. his first SenseMaker™ project was with school children, to measure the impact of the museum on school visits and its always a pleasure to spend time with him. He also got me into The Kop last year, an act of great kindness to a remote Liverpool FC supporter.

This is an exciting place, the museum itself, but also the rest of the Maritime Museum, and the old Albert Docks in which it is situated. Well worth a day’s trip, or at least a virtual visit.

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