‘More mainstream’: In the UK, push for slavery reparations gains momentum

Malik Al Nasir’s research into a slave trading family for his doctorate was not only an academic project – it was deeply personal.

The author and poet, who is of mixed heritage, discovered that his ancestors were not only among the enslaved people the Sandbach Tinne dynasty profited from but also the traders themselves.

Sandbach Tinne & Co monopolised much of the Demerara sugar trade in the 19th century. Its influence and impact stretched far across the British Empire, and in the UK, the family’s wealth and legacy is visibly seen today in institutions, businesses and legacies in British cities including Liverpool, Manchester, and Bristol.

The company stopped trading only in 1975.

Al Nasir’s award-winning PhD work at the University of Cambridge uncovered missing parts of his history connected with his father’s birthplace in Demerara in today’s Guyana.

“It was important to me because I had to know who I was and how their barbaric trade of enslaved Africans shaped my life,” he told Al Jazeera. “[They] also shaped the lives of many others across the Caribbean and in the UK, in the Americas and also in Africa. So I found this work to be very essential but difficult.”

Over 20 years, Al Nasir has built an archive of photographs and ephemera relating to Sandbach Tinne. He has also gained the support of institutions, including the University of Bristol, to dig further into the family.

In this southwestern English city in June 2020, Black Lives Matter protesters, angered by the police killing of George Floyd in the United States, toppled a statue of slave trader and philanthropist Edward Colston and threw it into Bristol Harbour.

It was a scene that would be replayed across the world’s media. At the time, tensions over the legacy of slavery and the roots of racism were raging globally, and the symbolic drowning of a slave trader kickstarted a national conversation about reparations.

“There are people who’ve been fighting for reparations since the time of slavery,” said Al Nasir, who is writing a book tracing his ancestors back through slavery and colonialism, focussed on Sandbach Tinne.

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