An eye-catching, thought-provoking, and well-executed piece of street-art has appeared at the Tesco end of the Rodney Street tunnel. For the full effect, see the foot of this page.
The work, by Mark Tremaine Agbi ‘Okata’, was commissioned by Sustrans UK to mark Black History Month. It is one of eight pieces across the country’s National Cycle Network, created to highlight Scotland’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It’s an admirable initiative, which we applaud.
Particularly pleasing is how Okata acknowledges the source of his inspiration, enabling passers-by to discover more for themselves.
‘No struggle no progress’ paraphrases ‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress’, first heard in an 1857 speech given by the black American Abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1817–95).
The immediate context is as follows:
‘Let me give you a word on the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.’
The full speech is available here.
Interestingly, Douglass toured Scotland in 1846, to the consternation of the Free Church, which at that time profited as an apologist for supposedly humane ‘slave-having’ in the United States.
‘Scotland is a blaze of anti-slavery agitation – the Free Church and Slavery are the all-engrossing topics […]. The Free Church is in a terrible stew. Its leaders thought to get the slaveholders’ money and bring it home, and escape censure. They had no idea that they would be followed and exposed. Its members are leaving it, like rats escaping from a sinking ship. There is a strong determination to have the slave money sent back, and the Union broken up. In this feeling all religious denominations participate. Let slavery be hemmed in on every side by the moral and religious sentiments of mankind, and its death is certain.’
Further Sustrans-commissioned performances and artworks for Black History Month will take place in St Andrew Square on 9 and 16 October, and near Stockbridge’s Junction Bridge beside the Water of Leith on 8 October (6.30pm), 10 October (2pm), and 13 October (6.30pm).
[Our thanks go to Ella Taylor-Smith, who first brought this to Spurtle’s attention.]