Exhibits at the new International Slavery Museum in Liverpool span the sufferings endured by slaves to the achievements realized by people of African heritage worldwide. (Jonathan Player for The New York Times)
LIVERPOOL: The riverside docks here, now a gentrified quarter, were a critical pivot in the trans-Atlantic slave trade when this city rose from seedy port to rich entrepôt in the 17th century.
From Liverpool, traders sailed forth with guns and metals to sell in Africa, and from the proceeds bought slaves for the flourishing markets in the Americas. After the merchants sold their human cargo, their ships returned home brimming with sugar, cotton, coffee and tobacco.
To commemorate and, more important, elucidate this dark passage of the city's past, the International Slavery Museum opened here Thursday, part of a series of events across Britain on the bicentenary of the 1807 British law that banned the slave trade.
The windows at this compact museum's entrance, on the third floor of a refurbished Victorian warehouse, overlook the gray and blustery Mersey River; it is a vista that conjures the sailing ships, hard-nosed traders, sailors, African and Asian servants, and runaways who journeyed to Africa.
But rather than focus on the local story, Richard Benjamin, who directs the new museum and is a Briton of Guyanese descent, takes a different tack. Under his guidance, some of the museum exhibits thrust the visitor directly into the cultures of West Africa, emphasizing that many slaves came from a proud heritage that continues to thrive. Its aim is to be an educational institution rather than primarily a repository of important artifacts.
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