An exhibition exploring Jersey’s connections with transatlantic slavery will open at Jersey Museum & Art Gallery next summer, following the recommendations of a report into diversity and inclusion at Jersey Heritage.
The ‘Jersey Heritage Report on Legacies of Transatlantic Slavery in Jersey’ is published today (14 October) to coincide with Black History Month. It details the Island’s links to the transatlantic slavery trade and considers how that knowledge could be shared in the future. It is the first of a series of reports that will share research about previously excluded voices from the Island’s history.
The report was carried out by a community group in collaboration with Jersey Heritage staff, who researched and audited current museum interpretation to increase knowledge of slave ownership and trading, the material consequences of this trade and the mechanics of how it happened.
The report, which was compiled by Jersey Heritage’s Director of Curation & Experience, Louise Downie, says the audit was about “gathering facts through documented research, presenting these facts, educating people and allowing people to come to their own conclusions”.
One of recommendations from the Jersey Heritage Diversity Group (JHDG) is for an exhibition dedicated to the subject of transatlantic slavery and focusing on the Island’s connections with the mahogany trade. This has already been agreed by the Jersey Heritage Trust Board and the exhibition will open in the Victorian House (No. 9 Pier Road) at Jersey Museum on 23 August 2022, which is International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade. The Victorian House is the main place within the Jersey Heritage portfolio with links to slavery.
Other recommendations from the report include carrying out further research around the topics of equality, diversity and inclusion in Jersey’s history; working with experts to create a terminology guide for museum interpretation about slavery; and continuing the overall audit with the Jersey Heritage collections (as opposed to interpretation).
Community representatives in the JHDG include Jade Ecobichon-Gray, Founder of Mindset Matters Social Wellness Consultancy and DEI specialist, who will be guest curator for the new exhibition, and Vic Tanner-Davy, CEO of Liberate Jersey. Jade said: “As a Jersey-born, mixed-race woman of Black and White heritage, the decision to create an exhibition dedicated to exploring Jersey’s links to the slave trade represents a move towards a more authentic, inclusive and representative history. I have spent a lifetime learning about history that has been written from the vantage point of the conqueror; those in society who held the power, the privilege, the pen. I was unaware of Jersey’s links to the slave trade prior to my work with Jersey Heritage, which speaks to the importance of decolonising our history to ensure that we tell the whole story. It is only when we do this that we can better understand how we arrived in the present day, and how we can all create change for the future.
“For too long, communities experiencing racial inequality have been marginalised or excluded from the history books and in telling the whole story of history through this exhibition, I hope that it promotes a greater understanding of the ways in which racial inequality continues to permeate our systems, structures and society today. Whilst it was incredibly difficult to research the lives of so many men, women and children forced into chattel slavery as part of the transatlantic slave trade, particularly as my ancestors were themselves enslaved in the Caribbean, it has brought with it a deeper, nuanced and more honest connection with the Island I call home, and my hopes for its future.”
Vic said: “Research into Jersey’s links to the transatlantic slave trade has uncovered that Jersey was not a bystander in the trade, as has often been suggested, it was active in it. For a white audience the fact that an exhibition tackles a subject that makes us feel discomfort, shock or guilt should not deter us from learning more about how Jersey profited from the traffic in human beings. As individuals, learning about and acknowledging the whole of Jersey’s history is the best and only way we can now make reparation for the atrocities that enriched our Island and understand why that history continues to touch the lives of the 2,000 black and mixed race people who live in Jersey today.”
The JHDG was set up last year after the issue of diversity was brought to the fore by the global protest movement for equality following international outcry at the killing of George Floyd in the United States and, closer to home, the abuse received by black footballers playing for England. Louise explained that like many museums around the world, Jersey Heritage took the opportunity to begin reviewing its interpretation and collections in order to acquire more knowledge and promote an understanding of different communities.
She said: “The Diversity Group Report is about representation and inclusion. It’s about looking deep into the past and seeing how it impacts on our culture today. We can’t change the past but history is something that is written every day. The Occupation is an example of this. Names such as “Dorothea Le Brocq” are known today because over the past few years, the Island has confronted its past and learnt more about the Occupation to understand it, challenge it and move forward. New stories about people, such as Dorothea, who hid her Jewish friend, Hedwig Bercu, from German forces, have emerged as a result. We hope the same impact can be made on other aspects of Jersey’s shared past, starting with its connections to the transatlantic slave trade.”
The JHDG continue to meet on a regular basis and intend to consider the representation of other voices excluded from Jersey’s history because of their class, gender or ability. Nancy Thomas, Vice-Chair of Jersey Heritage Trust and a member of JHDG, said: “Special thanks must go to the members of the community who got involved in the audit and helped to represent a variety of voices. This collaboration was essential and we greatly appreciate them sharing their knowledge and experiences in a very open and encouraging manner, providing direction on sometimes difficult areas. We have listened and learned, and will continue to do so.
“The report rightly concludes that Jersey Heritage has a responsibility to ensure that its interpretation is equal, inclusive and accessible and that we should play a part in educating about our shared past for the benefit of the community.”
The full Report can be found at www.jerseyheritage.org/about-us/corporate-information/
Image, Jade Ecobichon-Gray, Vic TannerDavy and Louise Downie in Number 9 Pier Road.