TAKING THE KNEE

cameo

Following the booing by Millwall supporters last Saturday of players who took the knee, Sanjay Bhandari, Chair of Kick It Out, negotiated with club managers and came to an agreement that in the Millwall v QPR game today the players should link arms in a gesture of solidarity. Bhandari said that it wasn’t taking the knee, but that it was an anti-racist gesture and he supported it.

Bhandari thought the objections to taking the knee on Saturday were mischievous (a mild description) and said that taking the knee isn’t a recent thing: it didn’t originate in the protests against the killing of George Floyd and it could be traced back to Josiah Wedgwood’s anti-slavery medallion (above), made in 1787.

wedgwood

In his biography of Wedgwood (above) Robin Reilly recounts that in the case of a runaway slave, James Somerset, Lord Mansfield ruled in 1772 that English law had never recognised the right to property in slaves and as Somerset did not belong to the claimant he should remain free. His judgement led to the release of 14,000 slaves in Britain. But the slave trade continued.

Wedgwood was familiar with the trade through business with the port of Liverpool and was active in the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. He made the Society’s seal in black jasper on white ground, showing a slave on one knee with chained hands raised and the words “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” lettered round the rim.

Wedgwood distributed the cameo free and it became fashionable. Men had them inlaid on the lids of their snuff boxes. Ladies wore them in bracelets and in their hair.

In 1788, Wedgwood sent a quantity to Benjamin Franklin, President of the Pennsylvanian Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He wrote to Franklin, “I embrace the opportunity to inclose for the use of your Excellency and friends, a few Cameos on a subject which I am happy to acquaint you is daily more and more taking possession of men’s minds on this side of the Atlantic as well as with you.”

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