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'Slave flag' row historian gets invite to Black Country

OFFICIAL INVITE: Patrick Vernon OBE

PATRICK VERNON, OBE, the man at the centre of a furious backlash after publicly denouncing the chain logo of the Black Country flag, has accepted an official invitation to visit the region, amid calls for him to hand back his OBE.

The leading inequalities campaigner, who was born in Wolverhampton, has been dragged into an online hate campaign after saying that the flag’s chain motif represents an image of an industry which profited from the Transatlantic slave trade. He has called the logo both 'offensive and insensitive.'

According to the Wolverhampton-based Express & Star, which followed up the story revealed exclusively in The Voice, 95 per cent of its readers disagreed with Vernon in an online poll.

And Dudley Council leader Pete Lowe has demanded that Vernon apologises for his ‘divisive words’ and hands back his OBE.

Lowe told the Express & Star: “If he thinks the flag has connotations why did he accept an OBE with the connotations that has? Many have refused on principle.”

But Vernon, a former Hackney Labour councillor, says he has no intention of returning the honour as he has given it to his Jamaican-born parents, who were part of the Windrush generation who answered Britain’s call for help.

He said: “This generation’s hard work and contribution to Britain after the Second World War has still not been valued and recognised by this country today. My OBE is for them and I have no intention of returning it.”

Meanwhile, Councillor Darren Cooper, who is leader of Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, has extended an open invitation to Vernon. In his letter, he says: “Your comments appear to elude to the fact that you feel our flag forms some part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and I can assure you that it not the case.


SUPPORT: Sir Lenny Henry with the official Black Country flag

“The flag represents our history in terms of the Black Country and the Industrial Revolution. The chain links actually represents our unity as a community. The black colour represents the black some that used to bellow out from the foundries, causing the sky to turn black. The red colour reflects the sky at night when the foundries were burning to their full capacity.

“Of course, we would wish to disassociate ourselves from the slave trade, but I do feel you have confused the two issues.”

Vernon told The Voice: “As I have said all along, if this whole issue stimulates a public debate on the region’s links to the slave trade, then it has all been worth it.

“The foundries and factories made chains, fetters, collars, padlocks and manacles which were used on slave ships from Africa and in the plantations during slavery in the Caribbean and North America.

“The iron was used for trading by merchants for exchange in Africa. Such was the extent of the trade that a Henry Waldram, a Wolverhampton ironmaker, advertised his specialism in Sketchley’s and Adam’s Universal Directory of 1770 as ‘Negro Collar & Handcuff Maker.’

“More research is still required to explore the full impact of this relationship between the Black Country and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The Heritage Lottery Fund does recognise this history and legacy and has, over several years, provided £2.5 million funding to museums, community organisations and academics to do research and develop education projects on the slave trade, abolition, emancipation and its impact in the West Midlands.

“It’s disappointing that the organisers of Black Country Day last week and the many politicians who responded to my comments are not willing or open to consider that the logo is offensive to the African and Caribbean community as well as to white working class women who were treated appallingly as chain makers, leading to the strike of 1910.

“I know everyone has said the chain links represent unity, but how inclusive are the Black Country festivals for black people? Is it all about promoting pork scratchings and pints and steam engines?

“Interestingly, in many of the online comments I have been call racist and I find that sad as I have purposefully never used the word at any time during this debate.”

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Do you think the flag’s chain logo denote the Black Country’s links with the Transatlantic Slave Trade? Vote in our poll on the homepage and let us know your thoughts.

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