This poem was inspired by a memorial to Mary Prince, a plaque erected at the University of London's Senate House in Russell Square.
Mary Prince was a black woman whose family was enslaved on the Caribbean island of Bermuda. She was the first black woman to have her life story published in Britain when the Anti-Slavery Movement transcribed her story to support the growing outcry against slavery in Britain. She testified against her former captors in a court-case that gripped Britain, two years before slavery was officially abolished.
Memorial to Mary Prince
On Malet Street at Senate House
There is a plaque positioned there
It says to those who never knew
Mary Prince, abolitionist, once lived here
From the beauty of Bermuda
where palms and flamingos meet,
there sat a young girl crying,
silenced when she tried to speak.
As the sun shone every morning
were her day’s alarm,
cracked criticism on her.
criss-crossed her back and palms
taken from my mother,
birthday gift needed for little Bess
sold from my sisters,
white lady needed wedding dress
to a salt-pond owner
Strong girls needed to work salt mine
Exhausted, body starved and sore
Legs raw-eaten by greedy brine.
Your men prodded me like cattle
as I stood a child in the market square.
Our women held tight their children,
Scared tomorrow they might stand there.”
So when I saw the bronze plaque
On the corner of Senate House
I wondered at this woman
who confounded court and coffee-house.
The testimony of her half-healed scars
The weight-power of her words
Story lived by forgotten women
Voices freed, their truth was heard
© Antoinette Brooks