The National Trust has drawn both praise and criticism in a Twitter row over its decision to tweet information about the connection between artefacts in its collection and slavery.
To mark Unesco’s Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, which took place on Sunday, the trust’s Twitter account published a series of pictures of objects from properties the charity looks after, along with information about how they were related to the slave trade and colonialism.
Many of the places we care for have direct or indirect links to slavery, including objects made from materials obtained by forced labour.— National Trust (@nationaltrust) August 23, 2020
Today, as we mark the @UNESCO Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, we take a closer look at these materials. pic.twitter.com/StFcyVifF7
These included furniture made from mahogany felled by enslaved people, pots used to serve sugar and chocolate farmed by slaves, and ivory trinkets from the 1800s that were collected using forced labour.
The final tweet in the thread revealed that next month the charity planned to share an in-depth report on the connections between colonialism and the places it cares for.
Despite threats by some Twitter users to cancel direct debits or memberships as a result of the tweets, Third Sector understands the charity has not noticed a change in its cancellation rate.
Many Twitter users responded critically to the tweets, accusing the charity of “lecturing” people, “grievance mongery” and having a “political agenda”.
Please do not ‘educate’ or lecture us . I go round houses to appreciate furniture, art and gardens. We don’t need to have your view of history forced upon us. We know our past was imperfect - think of the servants who worked there. Steer clear of politics - we go for pleasure.— A.G.W. ???? (@agw1437) August 23, 2020
Gosh, stuff in the National Trust emerged under the conditions of history. Who knew ? I have been a member for 20+ years but since my donations are now being used to finance a clearly political agenda, I shall now have to cease. Who elected you to do this ?— Ross Baglin (@ross_baglin) August 23, 2020
You really are on course to totally alienate your members and visitors. ??— Norfolk Painter. He paints, he tweets (@norfolkpainter) August 23, 2020
But others took to Twitter to praise the charity for its honesty and for educating the public.
I’ve wasn’t a fan of @nationaltrust as I was uncomfortable about celebrating the wealth of a few & ignoring the suffering of so many. I’m delighted to see this new direction & considering membership. Well done to those working hard on this.— Catherine Owen (@GeogMum) August 23, 2020
I think the NT is doing a smashing job. I love these history lessons & am very glad to be a member - hope the awful comments aren’t upsetting you guys too much. Please help us all keep learning about our heritage in context, it’s so important ??— Heather (@CupcakeAnalyst) August 24, 2020
A spokesman for the charity said: “We are acutely aware that the legacies of slavery and colonialism are reflected in the nations’ places, buildings and collections, including those looked after by the National Trust.
“To mark Unesco Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, we referenced on social media a number of items in our collection that have connections to slavery. We did so to give people the opportunity to learn more about these items.
“As a conservation organisation we believe the physical legacies of our histories, including buildings and objects, can help us learn and understand the past.
“We do not accept racism or discriminatory language and are committed to creating a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone.”
Last month the trust announced plans to make up to 1,200 people redundant as it expects to lose almost £200m this year as a result of the coronavirus crisis.