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‘Memorial dedication feels like another crime’

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In remembrance: the memorial to Charles Wotten, who was killed on June 5, 1919 race riot on the Queen’s Dock, Liverpool, and others was unveiled at Anfield Cemetery yesterday (Photograph supplied)
A Bermudian abroad: Charles Wotten, originally from Sandys, is shown with the plaque laid in Liverpool, England, after his death during the race riots of 1919. Mr Wotten, a 27-year-old from Sandys, was murdered on the Queen’s Dock in Liverpool on June 5, 1919
Lisa Howie, National Museum of Bermuda’s director of learning and engagement, is a descendant of murdered sailor Charles Wotten (File photograph supplied)

A Bermudian with family links to a man killed in the 1919 Liverpool Race Riots has expressed dismay that she and her family members were not invited to the unveiling of a memorial in his honour.

Charles Wotten, a Bermudian sailor who was brutally murdered by a White mob on the British city’s Queen’s Dock, was given a permanent memorial at Anfield Cemetery yesterday.

Lisa Howie, the National Museum of Bermuda’s director of learning and engagement, recently discovered she is a direct descendant of Mr Wotten but said neither she nor her family members received an invite by organiser The Liverpool Black History Research Group.

In an e-mail exchange to the group shared with this newspaper, Ms Howie said: “Now that the living family has been discovered, why would anyone want to memorialise Charles Wotten without including them?

“It is clear in the research that some good people have done some fine work in excavating this tragedy and have named a space of learning after Charles, and more. All of these efforts are more than commendable. We are immensely grateful.

“To exclude us from being invited to the upcoming memorial dedication feels like another crime.

“I write this e-mail in the earnest hope that the organisers of this important event will pause and reflect on how the living family is feeling. And consider how we feel so completely excluded, and that this irony of silence and omission is simply too much to bear.”

Laurence Westgaph, of the Liverpool Black History Research Group, responded to Ms Howie saying the group had attempted to make contact with the family.

He said that Jeremy Blades, a Bermudian recently living in Liverpool, was contacted more than a year ago and tasked with tracing down family members.

Mr Westgaph said: “We were told that the family (I'm not sure which family member he is in contact with) were happy that this was going ahead.

“In my most recent discussion with him last week he asked for us to record the event so it could be sent to the family, which we are very happy to do.”

Ms Howie said that the contact with family did not take place, adding: “In this digital age, it only takes a few seconds to find people online if we really do wish to contact them.

“What I am hearing from you is that you are not taking any real responsibility for making contact with us. Why not make that effort to reach us directly?

“We are deeply upset for not being included in the process. I wish you could see and feel that.”

Mr Westgaph responded: “We are all volunteers and I am an alumni of the college named for Charles, we have nothing but good intentions in relation to memorialising your ancestor, whose memory has been honoured by generations of people from Liverpool's Black community.

“I can assure you there was certainly no intention to exclude any family members who wanted to be involved in any way.

“It has taken a great deal of effort and energy to have the memorial placed. As Charles is buried in a public grave we had to acquire special dispensation from Liverpool City Council to erect a permanent memorial at the site, our only intention was to rectify the fact that his grave is not clearly marked and to ensure that people can find his final resting place easily in order to pay their respects.”

Mr Westgaph offered to record and share a video of the unveiling, and to arrange a Zoom meeting to discuss the matter further.

He added that he would like to meet Ms Howie and other family members should they visit Liverpool in the future.

Mr Wotten, who was 27 and from Sandys, was killed the day after a group of Scandinavians attacked a West Indian man because he refused to give them a cigarette.

The man’s friends sought retaliation the next day and mass disturbances broke out.

Black people and their homes were attacked and Mr Wotten, who served in the Merchant Navy in the First World War, which suffered large-scale casualties, was targeted.

He was chased by a mob to the city’s Queen’s Dock and dived into the water to escape.

But he was pelted with stones by a mob estimated at up to 300 people and drowned. Police listed the death as a drowning and no one was charged.

Liverpool was one of several seaports in the 1919 riots — one of the UK’s biggest outbreaks of race-led violence.

Mr Wotten has been memorialised with a marked grave which names him as “victim of a lynching”.

It says on the grave: “Commemorated by the establishment of the adult education centre that bore his name, founded in 1974. The centre became a hub for the Black community of Liverpool and inspired a generation of young activists.”

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Published June 07, 2023 at 7:58 am (Updated June 07, 2023 at 7:28 am)

‘Memorial dedication feels like another crime’

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