When I moved to Bristol about 32 years ago to train at Trinity College it took me some while to figure out why our road was called “Black Boy Hill” and the road next door with all the shops was called “White ladies walk”. I late discovered the ignominious role ports like Bristol and Liverpool played in the slave trade. The many fine buildings in these cities were built with the profits, as was this very church. It is easy to become desensitised to the suffering that occurred in our distant history. The British government has been careful in the way it has expressed sorrow for the past, to avoid a flood of legal claims by the descendants of slaves demanding compensation. Even art does not escape politicisation. We can recognise paintings that epitomise our national heritage – scenes like these painted by John Turner. But what about this one? Recognise it? Painted in 1840, it hangs in Boston’s museum of fine art. Know what Turner is saying? Its title is “The Slave Ship” but Turner wasn’t satisfied. It has a subtitle, “Slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying, Typhoon coming on.” “It kicks you in the gut” says art historian Simon Schama. Turner has captured one of the most shameful episodes of the British Empire, when 132 men, women and children, their hands fettered, were thrown into shark-infested sea, so that traders could claim the insurance for their loss. When the transatlantic slave trade was abolished in the British Empire, two hundred years ago, estimates suggest there were around 11 million slaves in the world.
Read more here stephensizer.com/2012/07/speaking-to-god-about-people-and-to-people-about-god/