Legacies of transatlantic slavery: racism in Manchester

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‘Pass it on’ by Lemn Sissay

Lemn’s family comes from Ethiopia but Lemn was put up for adoption when his mother moved to England. He was brought up by a white family living in a Lancashire cotton town.  When he was 18 years old, Lemn moved to the city of Manchester.

In 2006, Sissay wrote an article, 'Growing up in an alien environment' about his life in Britain:

‘My mother came to England in 1967... Ethiopia was a prosperous place... a comfortable time for Ethiopians. But as she found out, it was not a comfortable time for race relations in the UK. My mother, finding herself in difficulties, sought to have me fostered for a short time. However, my care worker told my foster family that it was a proper adoption. I was with them for 11 years. Although my adopted father and mother were white I believed they were my father and mother. I had seen black people in the street or maybe even said hello but until I was 17 years old I never actually knew another black person. Throughout my life I have been very lost, I've been very confused – but I've always searched for answers and the ultimate answer is that the buck stops with yourself.’

By the age of 19, Lemn was one of only two black literature development workers in Britain at Commonword, a community publishing cooperative in Manchester. Today, a number of his poems can be found on buildings throughout the Manchester area and have become local landmarks, making Lemn a local literary hero. He has performed his plays and poems throughout the world, on TV and on radio programmes. 

You can download a PDF version of Lemn Sissay's poem in a larger font to use in the classroom.

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An interactive video drama on slavery and abolition

This Accursed Thing

James Watkins