HOUSESTEADS Roman Fort and its adjoining section of Hadrian’s Wall are missing from the National Trust’s list of its properties linked to colonialism and slavery. No other monument in the British Isles, though, is a more potent statement of imperial enslavement. Why, then, does it fail to make the cut?
The Trust’s report is entitled: ‘Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery’.
It boldly asserts a ‘commitment to research, interpret and share the histories of slavery and the legacies of colonialism at the places we care for’.
TV celeb historian David Olusoga has been dragged in to add a bit of stardust to the re-brand and make-over as the ‘Trendy Trust’.
The report would like us to know that: ‘The 2016 television series and book Black and British: A Forgotten History, by the historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, brought to the fore for the first time the long history of the presence of people of colour in Britain since the Roman occupation.’
So it is not as though the Trust is unaware of Britain’s own subjection to an imperial power. But it is not keen for us to know that the black presence it points to in Britain included Africans who were here as an army of occupation. The African emperor Septimius Severus even called for the mass extermination – the genocide – of those living north of Hadrian’s Wall. He died in York before his order could be carried out.
Like other legionaries, Africans in the Roman army had a clear role. It was summarised by Tacitus: ‘To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.’
The National Trust has decided to pursue the pathway of a racially segregated and unfair historical narrative. It cannot put aside skin colour and racial origins when making judgements about people in the past. The truth is that the people, of whatever colour and race, have a capacity for both good and evil. They are also, and equally, products of their time.
Slavery is an abomination. It reflects man’s inhumanity to man. It is highly misleading however, to suggest, as the National Trust does, that enslaving others is only something that white people do to other races. It is time for the Trust to come clean and tell the truth about all of its sites.