Midlothian councillor discovers his ancestors were victims of forced servitude in coal mines

A councillor spoke of his shock at realising he could have been “born from slaves” after researching his family history in Midlothian.

Monday, 1st March 2021, 12:30 pm
'I could have been born of slaves' -Councillor Joe Wallace

SNP councillor Joe Wallace made the comment as Midlothian Council debated calls for a working group to be established to ensure that issues of racism and sectarianism were being tackled in the county’s schools along with local history.

Councillors supported a call for Sir Geoff Palmer, Scotland’s first black professor and honorary freeman of Midlothian, to be invited to join the council’s cross-party education working group to advise on the issues.

And Mr Wallace pointed to his own research into the county’s history and the enslavement of miners in the 18th century.

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Invitation to join working group: Sir Geoff Palmer

At the start of the 17th century, coal miners and ‘salters’ were placed in permanent bondage of their employers by a law which was not repealed until the 1790s.

Mr Wallace told the virtual meeting of the council: “I come from mining family and traced them back to the 1800s. I could have been born of slaves.

“The use of human beings as beast of burden is an abomination.”

Councillor Dianne Alexander (SNP) brought a motion to council to have a working group established to ensure “young people and their families are aware of our local history and how it has the power, even here and now, to divide communities.

To ensure that from an early age, pupils understand how the British Empire affected the lives of Scots, and those of many other nations in the past: and manifests itself today in the form of racism and sectarianism and other forms of discrimination”.

Councillor Jim Muirhead (Lab) suggested that the tasks of reviewing teaching of the issues and history be given to the education cross-party working group, which was agreed by fellow members.

He said: “It is important we recognise our history, not erase it. I want to understand more about what happens in schools regarding these issues.”

And Councillor Russell Imrie (Lab) told the council that he had held discussion with Sir Geoff, who had agreed to offer support to any working group.

He said: “He brings a wealth of experience and understanding of the history of Midlothian.”Councillors agreed to approach Sir Geoff about taking part in the discussions.

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