Consider renaming all UK roads named after slavers, like Bold Street in Liverpool
Consider renaming all UK roads named after slavers, like Bold Street in Liverpool
Liverpool dominated the UK's slave trade - now it has the chance to lead the way in anti-racism and stop erasing history
In 1792 London had 22 transatlantic sailing vessels and Bristol had 42; Liverpool had 131, according to History Today.
Liverpool dominated the North Atlantic slave trade. It was the backbone of the city’s prosperity.
Many in the city relied on an income from moving enslaved people between the UK, the Caribbean, and Africa.
We're already erasing history: so few know about all the streets in the UK named after slavers, like Liverpool's Bold Street
Bold Street was named after Jonas Bold, a noted slave merchant, according to Douglas Archives Genealogy Pages.
Many of Liverpool’s notable public figures, like Bold, built their wealth and status off the back of the slave trade. Transporters, merchants, and owners did so only to further their own political and social gains and personal fortunes.
These men’s names are immortalised through the likes of Bold Street. We are celebrating figures like Bold rather than condemning them and few know of his background.
While it's important not to erase his role, that story belongs on an educational plaque; not celebrated on a map or street name sign. We've been erasing Black history through ignorance and apathy for too long.
It is not enough to assume passers-by will conduct their own research to make informed choices about their attitudes.
We cannot be quietly "not racist"; we must be loudly anti-racist
We cannot settle for silence in the face of the institutional, structural, interpersonal, and internalised racism killing our Black Britons. We must pave the way for other British cities and shift to the right side of history.
As a Liverpudlian and Briton, this is an appeal to the sense of British people and their representatives to immediately rename streets like Bold Street in Liverpool and to add new street name signs - in addition to the installation of historical plaques on men like Bold.
For some, renaming streets to combat racism may not seem like as high a priority as other initiatives right now, but we must show a meaningful commitment to being against racism in all its forms well beyond this moment in time - overt, covert, institutional, structural, and internal. It cannot stop; it must be ongoing. This may not be the only way of highlighting and celebrating Black history but, ultimately, the complex roles of slavers can be displayed on plaques without being honoured on street name signs.
Many will argue these road names are too embedded in Liverpudlian or British culture. Some will argue changing names will erase history. Others argue name changes are redundant as the streets’ ties with the slave trade are long forgotten.
These valid ideas are addressed below.
"Won't changing road names just whitewash and erase history?"
Liverpool, for example, has tours dedicated exclusively to educating people on the crimes against Black people during the slave trade and an entire International Slavery Museum (the head of which supports the suggestion to rename roads).
Many asserting "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" fail to see that renaming roads won't whitewash its history; most are already unaware of its history as it stands. Liverpool was already due to have plaques erected to educate people about slavers' pasts but leaving their names on signs would seem to send out a confusing message.
We have the chance to stop erasing history and to tell it more fully, from a more plural perspective, centering British Black voices, possibly by naming our roads after Black abolitionists, for example.
We can't say "we aren't racist" unless we are actively anti-racist.
We can use this chance for education to show remorse for our past actions (and recent inaction) and to condemn the atrocities still committed against the many Black people let down like George Floyd: racism in all forms did not stop after the abolition of the slave trade and we must start addressing it now.
"We're already getting educational plaques - isn't that enough?"
Many are oblivious to our history as they walk through our streets and it's a missed opportunity to educate - if we're surrounded by important history and need reminders on why it's imperative to be anti-racist, we should do as much as possible to ensure we're reminder of it as often as possible.
In January 2020, the BBC reported that Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson had proposed the introduction of plaques offering an "honest account" of Liverpool’s extensive links to the slave trade.
The BBC also reported that the head of Liverpool's International Slavery Museum Dr. Richard Benjamin had responded that Anderson’s proposal was "welcome” but a "full renaming" of streets would be preferable.
The stories of slavers should be remembered but they can be left to plaques; we can celebrate others on our streets.
If streets are to be renamed and street name signs are changed, informative plaques will absolutely be necessary to educate people on the roles of slavers so we do not forget but this was only recently agreed on. And educating people on the past is still not an anti-racist statement in itself.
Again, a plaque outlining what Jonas Bold did on its own may simply be confusing: many will read of his complicity and wonder why his name has been left to stain the street, why anyone allowed it to be celebrated rather than condemned, and possibly why we couldn't honor Black Britons and/or abolitionists instead.
Renaming streets after notable British Black figures and adding educational plaques on A. said Black figures and B. the atrocities of slavers like Jonas Bold, means we would actively educate more passers-by more fully and accurately about the racism of the Transatlantic slave trade than ever before.
"Won't changing streets' names ruin maps and harm businesses?"
Streets like Bold Street are known for their amazing independents, not the other way around. Businesses and roads aren't going anywhere and stand to gain through making a positive change like this.
What put Bold Street on the map was not its name but the wonderful sense of community there, and its independent businesses.
As for the risk of getting lost on a map, this is surely outweighed by losing our moral compasses.
"People don't even link the street names with slavery now, surely?"
Yes, most are now oblivious to the history behind roads like Bold Street, unless they choose to educate themselves.
That's the point. We now have a chance to educate. We can teach not just about racism in the Translatlantic slave trade but of the racist atrocities against Black people subsequently up until 2020.
We have a chance to stop whitewashing history and to start telling full stories impartially, thoroughly, accurately, and from the perspectives of those who were persecuted - no more bias, no more lies of omission.
By leaving the street names as they are, we normalise slavers' violence through our silence. Passers-by need more than informative plaques - they need to know we condemn what happened then and what happens now.
We must not conflate the celebration of prominent slavers and their supporters with remembering their actions and condemning them. We can retain their legacies without immortalising them as falsely altruistic. We must stop centering the stories of slavery mainly around slavers when we have many inspirational Black figures to look to.
"Isn't changing the names just empty tokenism?"
Coupled with real, actionable, and equitable initiatives to fight structural racism and support British Black communities in business, education, healthcare, and other sectors, renaming the street will be meaningful.
It will be a powerful show of an historical shift in our acceptance of insidious and institutional racism, as well as Liverpool’s commitment to active anti-racism as part of the change coinciding with the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.
Changing the names will be symbolic of (overdue) change and true solidarity with Black Britons.
We must demonstrate we're willing to stand beside the UK's Black communities with real initiatives to continually battle unacceptable inequity for Black communities.
"Well, what will we call our roads?"
It's hard when there are so many fantastic choices.
Inspired by prominent Black figures in the abolitionist movement, Mary Prince, Ottobah Cugoano, and Olaudah Equiano, here are some suggestions:
- Ottobah Street
- Cugoano Street
- Olaudah Street
- Equiano Street
- Mary Street
- Prince Street
There's a lot of other inspiration here put together by the Liverpool Black History Research Group, Writing on the Wall, the Heritage Development Company, and other local historians such as Laurence Westgaph.
"What if I have other suggestions for British Black voices to center?"
If you have suggestions, add them to your comments when you sign!
Suggestions for Black Liverpudlian figures will be particularly welcome.
"What have road names and education got to do with George Floyd?"
When George Floyd was murdered, someone made an active statement that his life did not matter - but it did, it does, and it always will.
The many families, friendships, and lives destroyed through the slave trade, which was borne out of racism - they mattered.
The lives made harder and destroyed by lasting racism - interpersonal, institutional, structural, and internalised - those lives mattered and still matter too.
Black lives matter. But we keep failing them because we're too stubborn to look at how symbolic attitudes - like prioritising road names over a movement like Black Lives Matter - could be indirectly costing others their mental wellbeing, their equity, their health, or their longevity. It costs lives.
"So what can we do?"
Bold Street is well known as Bold Street other road names were well knownb their previous names in years gone by but this is a weak argument in the face of racial justice.
This movement in 2020 is but a fleeting moment in history, yet it has the chance to be pivotal: while Bold Street is here, we can show which side of history we were on and alter the course of its future for generations to come.
It may feel a radical or hard decision to let go of embedded names but we can also educate through our actions, making hard but right decisions.
Liverpool is good at embracing change, for leading the way in making the right choices in the face of adversity.
What can we do? We can educate through new plaques and street name signs dedicated to telling the full truth of brave Black people like Mary Prince, underlining the full reality about those like Jonas Bold, and explaining why it took until 2020 to rectify.
It will make a powerful statement that simultaneously condemns our history in the slave trade, we can show which side of history we were on at this important time in 2020, and we can educate anyone who passes through places like Bold Street and others in the future.
We have a possible solution. It is incumbent upon us to effect it
Looking to initiatives such as the City of Women for inspiration, we can use our street names to tell powerful stories for those who come to Liverpool, about those we admire, and the values we aspire to.
It is through our own small, individual actions that we can begin to undo structural inequity.
Let us show we are on the right side of history.
Not then. Not now. Never again. Black Lives Matter.