Eyes on Newton Slave Burial Ground as first Site of Conscience

The Barbados Museum and Historical Society is in talks with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience to make the Newton Slave Burial Ground in Christ Church the island’s first Site of Conscience. 

So said director Alissandra Cummins at the Barbados Museum on Day One of a three-day meeting with the coalition, which was the first major coalition event hosted in the Caribbean. The convening of the coalition’s board of trustees meeting in Barbados was in conjunction with International Museum Day on May 17 and comes during the year in which the Barbados Museum celebrates 90 years of existence. 

Once the application to be a Site of Conscience is put forward and accepted, the location will receive benefits such as financial grant support, programmatic support, the ability to join regional and global meetings that build their capacity to lead memory, truth and justice initiatives around the world and other tangible means of support.

 “One of the key things that can come out of this meeting is renewing what the museum means to our community by engaging and by truth-telling in a very real way because we have to find a way out of that silencing which has gone on for a long time,” Cummins said. “Newton, which the museum is the owner and custodian of, will be the focus (of talks with the coalition) but we always thought that there are many other spaces that deserve the title of Site of Conscience.” 

The coalition’s executive director Elizabeth Silkes stressed that the 24-year-old global organisation, which has approximately 370 Sites of Conscience across 80 countries, was very interested in forming a relationship with Barbados. 

“We are completely committed to work in Barbados. It is a thrill to be here and there are a lot of lessons for everyone around the world to learn from some of the initial steps that have been taken here so it is really remarkable for us to be able to come and celebrate the museum and the history of Barbados and all that we can do to transform that into a story that centres on resistance, resilience and a thriving society,” she said. 

Silkes added that Barbados’ rich history made it the ideal location to host this year’s meeting.  

“The global history of slavery is at risk everywhere in the world. History isn’t being taught in certain schools and Barbados has a very important role to play in the history of the slave trade and uplifting this history we can begin to understand the connected stories of oppression. We have many Sites of Conscience in Africa and Latin America so working more closely with Barbados will allow more and more people to understand that these were systems and not isolated instances and that we are looking at the legacy of those systems today when we look at injustice,” she concluded.

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