Black History Month is a time to celebrate African and Caribbean culture, influences and achievements. It is also a time to reflect and remember the history of black people in the UK and learning and understanding the importance of black heritage.
At CEL Solicitors, we want to educate ourselves on black history and, as we are a Liverpool-based firm, we decided it would be beneficial to invite staff to visit the International Slavery Museum, to learn about the impact of slavery on the city that many of us live in today.
The museum trip taught us how Liverpool was at the centre of the slave trade in Europe and how much of the wealth in the city was built from enslaving Africans. Many of the streets in Liverpool city centre bear the names of landowners that made their fortune from the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Some examples of these include Bold Street, Seel Street and Hardman Street.
Jack Worth, First Response Advisor at CEL Solicitors talks about his personal history and family links to slavery in Liverpool:
“I grew up in London and the South Coast but have always had an affinity for Liverpool, from Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler tearing up the premier league to the amazing boxing history the city possesses. Finding myself living here for 9 years seems quite the coincidence now knowing the ties my family name has to the city through Jamaica.
My dad’s family name, ‘Rennie’ hails from North Jamaica, but trace those steps back far enough, the origins of my family tree stem from West Africa. Between 1662 and 1807 Britain shipped 3.1 million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Africans were forcibly brought to British owned colonies in the Caribbean and sold as slaves to work on plantations.
‘Rennie’ is clearly not an African surname. Slaves tended to take the surname of their ‘Masters’ as they were commodities owned by the plantation. The name ‘Rennie’ ties back to Scotland. John Rennie Strachan Carnegie (1802–1879) inherited the Norris Estate, Portland, North Jamaica passed down through generations of marriage and multiple change of hands. The Norris Estate specialised in sugar cane & rum.
The Norris family owned Speke Hall from the 13th century and had a seat in Parliament from 1324. By the end of the 17th century, as Britain’s colonial expansion accelerated, the Norris’s were already skilled in promoting their business interests in the Commons.
It is often suggested that Liverpool was little more than a fishing village before its explosive growth at the end of the 18th century, but it had been a significant trading port since receiving its Royal Charter in 1207. So too did the Norris’s play an important part in the development of Liverpool.
These findings are from my own research and certainly there are pieces of the puzzle missing, but it gives a great further understanding of the origins of my dad’s family name. Fate or coincidence, who knows, but to now be bringing up my kids in the city knowing that the family that originally owned the plantation my ancestors were a part of, were instrumental in the development of Liverpool, has raised my spiritual connection to the city. Maybe my journey back to Liverpool completed the loop?
For Black History Month, CEL Solicitors have added key books to the library in our amphitheatre, as a way to celebrate black authors and give people the opportunity to gain insights into black history and culture.
I’ve read many books that discuss Liverpool’s involvement in the slave trade, the best being “Why I’m No Longer Speaking To White People About Race” – Reni Eddo-Lodge which touches on The Fletcher Report 1930: A Historical Case Study of Contested Black Mixed Heritage Britishness.
The book examines a controversial report that focused negatively on mixed heritage children born and raised in the city of Liverpool. The official title was: Report on an Investigation into the Colour Problem in Liverpool and Other Ports. The social researcher was Muriel E. Fletcher, who had been trained in the Liverpool School of Social Science at The University of Liverpool in the early 1920s.
The report was published in 1930 amid controversy for its openly stigmatizing content of children and mixed heritage families of African and European origin. It could be deemed the official outset in defining Liverpool’s ‘Half-Castes’ as a problem and blight to the “British way of life” in the city.
The term “Half-Caste” derives from the Latin word ‘castus’, meaning pure, and its Spanish and Portuguese derivative ‘casta’, meaning race. So if ‘Half-Caste’ means impure, it means white is pure and anything else just muddies the blood. If we are half, then is everyone else whole?
The term “Half-Caste” became socially acceptable, and people were blind to where the phrase actually originated from. The phrase is still seen today by some that use it as a “non-offensive” description, when simply the ignorance portrayed when this term is used speaks for itself.
It is important that the background of Liverpool and slavery is not forgotten, and, being of mixed heritage myself and having mixed-race daughters, it is imperative to me that they know their heritage, who they are, and their family history.”
CEL Solicitors aim to ensure that as a firm, we continue to challenge preconceptions, prejudice and ignorance and find ways of making a positive contribution to our society. Black History Month means different things to everyone and we believe it is fundamental to share, celebrate and understand the black history and culture that influences our society.