On Sunday 17 June, in Liverpool, an historic celebration took place on board the Royal Navy ship, the HMS Albion. A service was held to commemorate the life, faith and musical heritage of those slaves who had been captured in the trade that had figured so largely in Liverpool's commercial growth and wealth.
Five thousand slaving expeditions were made from the port of Liverpool and, by 1795, Liverpool controlled over 80% of the British and over 40% of the European slave trade.
The emphasis throughout the service, however, was on the slaves themselves – their courage, endurance, faith, unquenchable spirit and their music, subsequently classified as 'negro spirituals', which reflected those qualities, and which developed into what is now known as 'gospel music'. The part of African slaves in resisting slavery in the colonies and elsewhere was also remembered.
Among the eminent dignitaries who attended the ceremonies were His Excellency Edwin Pollard, the High Commissioner of Barbados to the UK; Senator Vivien Figures of Alabama; Apostle David Richey, founder of Operation MOBILE International Churches Inc; Bishop Dr Errol Brooks, Bishop of the North East Caribbean and Aruba; Councillor Paul Clark, Lord Mayor of Liverpool; Canon Anthony Hawley, Acting Dean of Liverpool Cathedral; and the Rev Yemi Adedeji, representing CMS, which continues to address issues of modern-day slavery.
Following the order of service, three bowls of shredded African clothes, symbolising the slaves carried from their homes and families into a life of exploitation and forced labour, were carried across the deck to the stern of the ship and strewn into the River Mersey.
Then a bowl of salt, echoing the means by which the purification of the fountain of Jericho was undertaken by the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 2.21, was poured into the river. The words of Elisha accompanied the gesture: Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters, and for the future they shall not be the occasion either of death or barrenness. The Bible notes, So the waters …were made wholesome and lost all their former bitterness.
As Yemi Adedeji testified, this symbolic cleansing of hurtful memories was 'profoundly moving' and enfolded all those present in a respectful and reflective hush.
Each of the three people, including Yemi, carrying the bowls represented a continent involved in the triangular trade in slaves: Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.
It was fitting, Yemi concluded, that Liverpool hosted the event since it was the first city in the UK to apologise for its role in the trade, and that Alabama was represented since it was one of the last cities in the United States to relinquish its part in slavery.
The Love and Joy Ministries Group, an international church-based organisation that pioneers community projects, was instrumental in staging the event.