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Gorsedd founder Iolo Morganwg named as ‘requiring examination’ in government slavery audit

26 Nov 2020 3 minutes Read
Iolo Morganwg. A portrait from the Welsh Portrait Collection at the National Library of Wales.

The founder of the Gorsedd of the Bards, Iolo Morganwg is among the names listed as “requiring examination” in a review of Wales’ links with the slave trade ordered by First Minister Mark Drakeford.

The review found that Wales has 209 streets, buildings, portraits or monuments commemorating people directly involved with the slave trade or who opposed its abolition.

The report names a number of historical figures in Wales who were part of the slave trade, supported it or opposed it abolition.

Among those celebrated in Wales who took part in the slave trade named in the report are the privateer Henry Morgan, Goronwy Owen and Thomas Picton.

It also includes “several historical figures who do not fit any of the above categories have been raised by campaigners,” including Iolo Morganwg.

However, the report notes Morgannwg as one individual who “might be exonerated” following further research.

“For example, while Iolo Morgannwg’s inheritance from a sugar plantation requires examination, the plantation was free of enslaved people and he had campaigned against slavery throughout his adult life,” the report says.

Other individuals on this list include William Ewart Gladstone and Winston Churchill.

“Their reputations may be contested, with valid views held on either side. While the culpability or otherwise of most is far from clear-cut, they are addressed in the audit to allow a fair and open discussion of their reputations and commemoration,” the report says.

“The individuals are diverse in roles and records, ranging from the fifteenth century to the twentieth. Many had complex personal histories embodying significant changes of circumstances or views through their lifetimes.”

 

‘Learning’

The audit, led by Gaynor Legall, found commemorations of people connected with the slave trade were often shown without any accompanying interpretation to address matters of contention, so the figures were presented solely as role models rather than representatives of challenging aspects of the past.

The First Minister Mark Drakeford said that the audit provides important evidence which helps us establish an honest picture of our history.

“While the tragic killing of George Floyd happened almost 4,000 miles away, it sparked global action that shone a light on racial inequality in society today,” he said.

“That inequality exists in Welsh society too and we must work towards a Wales which is more equal.

“This is not about rewriting our past or naming and shaming. It is about learning from the events of the past.”

He said the audit was the “first stage of a much bigger piece of work” to “consider how we move forward with this information as we seek to honour and celebrate our diverse communities”.

The audit also unearthed commemorations to anti-slavery activists across Wales, such as Henry Richard in Tregaron, Ceredigion, street names for Samuel Romilly and the Pantycelyn halls of residence at Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion.

 

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