We have an akogo in our Racial Justice Collection.

The akogo, also known as the thumb piano, is a very popular instrument from Uganda. It is made up of a series of flexible metal tongues of different lengths. It makes its sound by pairing these vibrating membranes with a small wooden chamber made of kiaat wood. Kiaat is a small tree with yellow flowers that is native to southern Africa.

Musicians play the akogo with two hands. They use their thumbs to pluck the upturned end of the metal tongues, which they usually tune to the diatonic scale of G major. In Uganda, the instrument is usually played by solo musicians. Some musicians add small metal wraps to the tongues, which makes a rattle effect as they play. The akogo is classified by musicians as a type of instrument called a lamellaphone or idiophone.

There are many variations of these types of instruments across Africa. In Zimbabwe, the instrument of the Shona peoples is the "mbira", which is another type of lamellaphone. Mbira are a family of musical instruments which are traditional to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. They have a wooden board with attached staggered metal tines. They are played by holding the instrument in the hands and plucking the tines with the thumbs, the right forefinger, and sometimes the left forefinger.

The Pitt Rivers Museum website hosts a video of a conversation with Thabo Muleya who explains the cultural significance of the mbira instrument here. He explains how the instrument was used in celebrations and community events such as harvests, rain dances, weddings and funerals, as well as being used by spiritual seers and traditional healers. Mbira players would play the instruments while seers and healers were practising. When the country was colonised, he notes that the mbira was regarded with suspicion by Christian missionaries and converts.

The playing of the mbira "went underground", resurfacing as a source of inspiration during the Zimbabwean struggle for independence up to 1980.  


Antislavery Token

We have a replica antislavery coin with "Am I Not a Woman and a Sister" on one side, and "Am I Not a Man and a Brother" on the other side.

In 1830, the American abolitionist newspaper Genius of Universal Emancipation carried an image of a slave woman asking "Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?". This image was widely republished in the 1830s, and struck into copper coins, but without the question mark, to give the question a positive answer.

It consciously echoed the motto, ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother’, adopted in 1787 by the founders of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

Liberator Newspaper

We have an original edition of the Liberator antislavery newspaper which was printed on April 8, 1864, in Boston.

The newspaper was created by the abolitionist publisher William Lloyd Garrison. The masthead features two engravings, one of a slave auction and the other of slaves being freed. It features articles concerning general liberty and the emancipation of slavery in the United States. William Lloyd Garrison founded the newspaper in 1831 and it was published until December of 1865, when slavery in the United States was abolished by Constitutional amendment.

William Lloyd Garrison was also a leading advocate of women's rights, which prompted a split in the abolitionist community. In the 1870s, Garrison became a prominent voice for the women's suffrage movement.

Bristol Bus Boycott Photographs

We have three images from the Bristol Bus Boycott campaign.

The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 arose from the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus Company to employ Black or Asian bus crews in the city of Bristol. The campaign was led by youth worker Paul Stephenson and the West Indian Development Council. The boycott of the company’s buses by Bristolians lasted for four months until the company backed down and overturned the colour bar.

Our photographs and images feature local protests and the leaders of the campaign.

1787 Antislavery Medallion

We have a 1787 antislavery medallion in our Racial Equality Collection.

The design was created by Josiah Wedgwood’s pottery firm. The British abolitionist seal features the slogan “am I not a man and a brother?”. Josiah Wedgwood was friends with Thomas Clarkson, an abolitionist campaigner and the first historian of the British abolition movement. This aroused his interest in slavery. The inscription 'Am I Not a Man and a Brother? ' became the catchphrase of British and American abolitionists.

A kneeling figure with pleading hands asks humbly for compassion, poses no threat through rebellion or resistance, and would gratefully receive freedom. It has been observed, however, that the image does not encourage solidarity with the slave, but instead it invites a paternalistic association with the morally righteous abolitionists who will answer the captive’s question by releasing his chains.

Black Lives Matter Face Masks

We have two face masks used in Black Lives Matter protests during summer 2020.

One has "Black Lives Matter" written on the left side, and the other has "I Can't Breathe" written on the right side. The summer protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd, who was killed in Minnesota while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. He was recorded as saying he was unable to breathe before he was forced to the ground, where a police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.

The Black Lives Matter movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin 17 months earlier in February 2012. The movement became known for street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans.

Face masks were used by most of the protesters due to the Covid-19 pandemic.