This book has its roots in the early Spring of 1970 when I saw a production of Slave Ship by Amiri Baraka at the Brooklyn Arts Centre in New York. It was an unforgettable experience staged at a time when radical groups such as the Black Panthers influenced the revolutionary politics of that period. There were only a couple of white people in the audience and one felt that America was on the edge of a revolution. Someone blinked and a decade later Ronald Reagan and Thatcherism reigned triumphantly and the death squads that operated freely in Central and South America received funding directly from the American political system and the coup in Chile by General Pinochet would not have been possible without American financial and political support.
Fast forward to 2006 and as soon as I heard of Abolition 200 which would mark the bi-centenary of the abolition of slavery in the UK I thought that it would be appropriate to put on a production of Slave Ship. Through the auspices of Say It Loud and with the help of Elisa Amesbury, Poojah Shah, Amy Watson, Grace Ekall, who were in their final year as drama students at Bristol University,Stephen Perry and a cast of actors, dancers and musicians and with financial backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Quartet, a community funding body linked to Bristol City Council and to Baggator, a youth project in Easton, Bristol the play was staged at Circomedia in the heart of St Paul’s, an inner city area of Bristol.
To get the cast together a public meeting was called by Say It Loud at the Learning Centre in St Paul’s in Bristol and about 30 people turned up. Rehearsals then took place on a weekly basis at The Pickle Factory in Easton which is the home of Baggator, a youth project based in this inner city area. Further auditions took place at the beginning of September and from then until the second week in October there were rehearsals throughout the week at The Learning Centre and over the weekend at The Pickle Factory.
On October 18th, October 19th and 20th in 2007 one of the few productions of Slave Ship staged at Circomedia with a one act play by Bristol playwright, Edson Burton called Land. Amiri Baraka and his wife came over for the 4 performances, one of which was a matinee on the 20th October. At the end of each performance he gave a short talk, read some of his poetry and took questions from the audience.
The book is the last part of the project and received funding from Heritage Lottery Fund. It was at first going to be a student’s text book but after a lot of thinking I decided that a teacher’s resource book would be the most useful way of getting information out on Africa into a positive educational package. This partly came about through my past involvement in organizing Black History Month projects in Bristol schools. Very little information was available and much of the material related to individual achievements but no one was addressing African history in a wider context. Also many school teachers did not have access to material on African history.
The purpose of this resource book is to address that problem. By making the information available on the web with some ideas on how it might be used to engage pupils in the classroom it gives teachers immediate access to many aspects of African history. Also as it is free to download school budgets are not affected and each individual teacher can use the available information to design and create their own lesson plans. The illustrations and photographs of African artifacts are also a useful educational tool and can be projected onto classroom screens.This resource book just touches the surface of African history. The idea is to create an expanding resource which can be added to and where some pupil input can also be shown.