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Pastor Daniels Ekarte at the African Churches Mission in Hill Street, DingleA Liverpool councillor recently suggested that in the run-up to 2007 – the 200th anniversary of the passing of William Wilberforce’s Slavery Trade Act – certain streets should be renamed.

Wilberforce? No Way!

By Tayo Aluko

I confess I didn’t realise that Liverpool’s Penny Lane was named after an 18th century slave trader.
The proposal was withdrawn before it reached the council chamber, but the idea still remains for a significant new building or street to be named Wilberforce House, or Wilberforce Way. I beg to differ.
Wilberforce is credited by many as being responsible for the abolition of the slave trade. It is largely forgotten that several years before the abolition act, this devoted Christian had considered blacks “…not yet fit…to bear emancipation”.
His later enlightenment was due partly to him meeting one Thomas Clarkson, who was instrumental in setting up the Committee for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787. Before both these men, one Granville Sharp acted as lawyer on behalf of some runaway slaves in London, and succeeded in obtaining a ruling in 1771 preventing ex-slaves from being returned to their former masters in the colonies.
Liverpool has already honoured one of her own abolitionists, William Roscoe, who was physically assaulted on his return to Liverpool after making abolition the subject of his maiden speech to Parliament in 1806. Yet to be acknowledged to the same degree is Edward Rushton, who was working class, blind and less restrained in his criticism of slave traders.
It would therefore appear that Wilberforce’s name belongs in a list of many benevolent white men helping poor blacks. But wait a minute: what about black names? Here are a few. Olaudah Equiano - a former slave who bought his freedom, travelled the length and breadth of Britain educating the public about slavery, and wrote a best-selling autobiography that is still in print today.
There were others in the UK like Ottobah Cugoano, Robert Wedderburn and Robert Mandeville. In the colonies and elsewhere, people revere names like Sam Sharpe, Bussa and Toussaint L’Ouverture, whose successful revolt on 23rd August 1791 is now commemorated internationally as Slavery Remembrance Day.
From America came Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, John Brown and Harriet Tubman.
People are perhaps more familiar with more recent names like C.L.R. James, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Angela Davis and Paul Robeson. From Africa we have Kwame Nkrumah, Nana Yaa Asantewa, Patrice Lumumba, and of course Nelson Mandela. There are many, many more.
Which of this host of great names would I suggest for the first significant new building or street in Liverpool? None, in fact.
A young man arrived in Liverpool from Nigeria around 1915, expecting to find the streets paved with gold. The Dingle area of Toxteth he ended up in was instead depressed, poor, racist, and to his mind, ungodly. In 1931, he founded the African Churches Mission, in which he not only led services but also housed, fed and clothed the poor of the community, foreign seamen and others denied accommodation elsewhere.
Despite huge local popularity (he was known as the African Saint) he was granted no meaningful state or voluntary support (not even from the Anti-Slavery Society). Still, he and his mission soldiered on for over thirty years, until the dilapidated building was finally demolished by the council in 1964.
A local housing association has just finished building a block of flats on the site of the old mission. I understand that they are going to ask the incoming tenants to name their new home. Whilst this is laudably democratic, it misses a great opportunity. The African Saint’s name mustn’t be buried along with the rubble of his mission. Indeed, perhaps one day, somebody will be inspired by the history behind the building at the corner of Hill Street and Hyslop Street, and write a song about Pastor Daniels Ekarte.

Tayo Aluko runs Aluko Brooks Architects and Bisayo Properties (UK) Ltd in Liverpool.
This article first appeared in The North West Enquirer on 27 July 2005.

Further reading: Pastor Daniels Ekarte and the African Churches Mission, Liverpool, 1931-64, by Marika Sherwood (who also supplied the picture).
Black Liverpool, The Early History of Britain’s Oldest Black Community 1730-1918, by Ray Costello.
Both these books are available at News From Nowhere.

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Comment left by Michael Corfe on 17th January, 2007 at 20:00
My God - how we whites need educating! Here I am in my sixties and a resident on Merseyside for nearly all of that time and I have never heard of Pastor Daniels Ekarte. Some thought needs to be given to getting a wider audience for such knowledge. JMC

Comment left by mbali on 4th May, 2008 at 14:48
thank you for helping us to reremember and honor those who came before us

Comment left by jim reeves on 13th May, 2009 at 13:33
I,m proud to say i new mr daniels

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