Government’s decision to make Mary Prince a national hero and to commemorate her contribution to the abolition of slavery is welcome, even if it is overdue—an editorial from Bermuda’s Royal Gazette.
This newspaper has long felt that Mary Prince’s importance has been underemphasised, and the fact that more contemporary figures have been identified as national heroes before her, and even that other slaves have received statues and the like before her, demonstrates that.
Nonetheless, her time has now come, and should be welcomed. It may be that her obscurity until relatively recently has had something to do with it.
Although on its publication in Britain, ‘The History of Mary Prince’ was a best-seller (going through five editions in the first year of its publication in 1831) and played a significant role in bringing about Emancipation two years later, it later fell off the historical radar until the 1980s when it was published in an anthology of classic slave narratives.
As a firsthand account of the life of slaves in Bermuda and the West Indies, it is vitally important, and its harrowing descriptions of working in the salt pans of the Turks and Caicos Islands bring the cruelty of the salt trade to life.
There is a tendency, not entirely invalid, to favourably compare Bermuda’s slavery with that of the plantations of the Caribbean, the southern states of the US and elsewhere. But the fact that slavery in Bermuda was slightly less brutal than it was elsewhere does not mean that it was not brutal and cruel, and Mary Prince demonstrated that it was inhuman and unimaginably vicious.
We should never forget the cruelty of the slavery era, both in the sense that it has shaped Bermuda in ways that we are still trying to redress, and as a tragic reminder of man’s cruelty to man.
Mary Prince’s history ensures we will not, and her elevation to the pantheon of great Bermudians should ensure that she will not be forgotten again either.
For the original report go to http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20120611/COMMENT01/706119962