Campaign for statue of Sheffield's pioneering women's anti-slavery group prompts debate around city's history in wake of Black Lives Matter protests

Activists and councillors have organised a meeting for the people of Sheffield to discuss how to educate people about the city’s history following the Black Lives Matter protests at the weekend.

By Lloyd Bent
Monday, 8th June 2020, 2:22 pm
Updated Monday, 8th June 2020, 3:54 pm

It follows the suggestion to erect a statue in honour of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society, who were the first group in the country to campaign for immediate abolition of slavery.

This suggestion drew criticism from people who argued that the best way to support black lives was not to erect a statue recognising an all-white group.

Cllrs Sophie Wilson and Ben Miskell have joined with campaigners to launch an online meeting to gather people together to discuss the issue and launch a campaign.

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Those who give their details via the form will be invited to a Zoom meeting at 7pm on Friday (June 12) to kickstart the debate and campaign.

Local activist Nadia Jama, who is chairing the meeting with SADACCA’s Rob Cotterell, said: “There’s been lots of discussions on social media about a potential statue to mark the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society. Many people in the black community aren’t convinced that this is necessarily the best way forward, so I am looking forward to hearing different views.

“Thousands of people came together at the weekend and people want to see change. We want to see meaningful material change, but there’s still a debate to be had about getting rid of bad statues and making new ones.”

Councillor Ben Miskell said: “The virtual meeting on Friday will be an opportunity to hear the views of residents.

Mary Anne Rawson, who founded the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society

“A statue or mural of some sort might be appropriate, but what people seem to be saying is that it needs to be educative and focus on the black community, not just white women who pushed for the abolition of slavery.”

Councillor Sophie Wilson added: “I think it's important that as a response to BLM we seek to delve deeper into our city's political history, and educate others on the good and the bad.

“We still have statues of colonisers around our city, including the empress of India who oversaw the largest expansion of the British Empire and saw it as a moral duty to do so.

“With that in mind we would like to start a conversation about what meaningful action we can take to start difficult conversations about our past.”

Responding to the suggestion of the statue, Dr Muna Abdi, a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, tweeted: “Instead of pats on the back, can we commit to meaningful change in the city? When there is such socioeconomic and racial disparities in the city, I hardly think a statue is what we need.”

Founded in 1825, in part by Sheffield woman Mary Anne Rawson, the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society was the first group in the country to campaign specifically for an immediate end to slavery, rather than a gradual one. It began this campaign in 1827.

They operated by giving lectures and distributing pamphlets, and one of their major achievements was to reduce the sales of goods produced by slaves in the West Indies, such as sugar and coffee, by organising a boycott.

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