INTERNATIONAL

Tearful London Mayor apologises for slavery

TURNS EMOTIONAL: Mayor of London Ken Livingstone is overcome with emotion at an annual memorial day to remember the horrors of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, in London, on Thursday.

TURNS EMOTIONAL: Mayor of London Ken Livingstone is overcome with emotion at an annual memorial day to remember the horrors of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, in London, on Thursday.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: AP

Hugh Muir

London: Ken Livingstone has marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade with an emotional and tearful ceremonial apology on behalf of the capital city and its institutions.

The London Mayor wept as he told a commemorative service of the cruelties inflicted on the millions transported from Africa and the legacy that confronts them today.

Pauses twice

Before an audience of politicians, writers and dignitaries, he twice paused during his address. As he voiced the apology, the U.S. civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson walked over and placed his arm around the Mayor. Mr. Livingstone completed the long awaited statement, dabbing tears from his eyes, his voice shaky.

Before leaving office Tony Blair expressed “regret” for Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, but he was criticised by some — including Mr. Livingstone — for not going further.

In March, the Mayor called on the institutions to say sorry.

On Thursday, to wide applause at City Hall, he said: “As mayor I offer an apology on behalf of London and its institutions for their role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Some say that recognising such a crime is a form of — and I quote — ‘national self hate.’ But the late Senator Bobby Kennedy often quoted the French writer Albert Camus who wrote: ‘I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice’.”

He said London continued to benefit massively from the fortunes made by slavers. He added: “It was the racial murder of not just those who were transported but generations of enslaved African men, women and children. To justify this murder and torture black people had to be declared inferior or not human. We live with the consequences today.”

Afterwards he said he had read the address several times before delivering it but “had no idea how overwhelming it was going to be.”

Apologies have been made by the city of Liverpool and the Church of England synod. But earlier this year, Conservative leader David Cameron appeared to dismiss the idea, saying: “I don’t actually think that one generation can meaningfully apologise for something that a previous generation did.”

Slave rebellion

The Mayor, who was speaking at London’s first Annual Slavery Memorial Day ceremony, called on national leaders to accelerate their plans to have a U.K. wide event each year. The date marked on Thursday coincides with the great slave rebellion in Haiti on August 23, 1791, and is the date preferred by UNESCO.

Francoise Riviere, assistant director general for culture at UNESCO, heaped praise on the Mayor. “You have distinguished yourself as the first high-visibility elected official to take such a historic stand, thereby setting an example.”

Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, said: “This will help increase pressure for a formal apology from the government and an annual national slavery memorial day.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2007

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