Bewilderment as councillor criticises Black History post as ‘woke’

Facebook users were left baffled after a Saddleworth councillor criticised Oldham Council for being ‘woke’ by sharing a post on Black History Month.

The post described how American slavery once helped to produce cotton which was exported to Oldham’s mills, despite the abolition of slavery in Britain in 1833.

Cllr Woodvine criticised the post as ‘inaccurate’ – to the dismay of many Facebook users.

Cotton slavery

Revealing Histories, a partnership project of eight museums in Greater Manchester, estimates that Oldham was in receipt of nearly eight per cent of America’s slave-grown cotton crop in 1860.

Not long after the boom, between 1861 and 1865, Lancashire cotton mills faced a shortage of cotton due to the effects of the American Civil War.

While some in the North West supported the Confederacy in the hope that the supply of cotton would be restored, many cotton workers in Lancashire supported the Union, which won, in its fight to abolish slavery.

After cotton workers in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall sent a letter of support to US President Abraham Lincoln, he responded with thanks to the ‘working men of Manchester’ in 1863.

A statue now stands in Manchester’s Lincoln Square to commemorate the events.

The Bolton News: Abraham Lincoln statue by George Grey Barnard, located in Manchester City CentreAbraham Lincoln statue by George Grey Barnard, located in Manchester City Centre (Image: Mike Peel, under Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0 licence)

Councillor criticises ‘woke’ post

Conservative councillor Max Woodvine, who represents Saddleworth South, commented on Oldham Council’s Facebook post, saying: “Is this a joke? There is no historical accuracy in this post.”

Oldham Council said its post was accurate and linked to information on the Revealing Histories project.

Cllr Woodvine said he could not access the link and said a book that he owns “is nothing like this in its telling of Oldham’s cotton spinning story”.

The Bolton News: Cllr Max WoodvineCllr Max Woodvine

He went on to say he would do his own research, adding: “I think this post should be removed as it is misleading. It is insinuating that slavery powered our mills, which it did not.

“Oldham’s major boom was around the time of the abolition of the practice in this country.

“Perhaps mill owners did purchase cotton from plantations in America but that does not include Oldham in the abhorrent practice.

“More woke nonsense from OMBC.”

The council hit back, adding: “The purpose of Black History Month is to talk about Black history and the contributions our black communities make to Oldham.

“We can’t rewrite history but please do take this up with the historians from the eight museums and galleries and if they report an error then we will, of course, edit our post to reflect that.”

Cllr Max Woodvine did not respond to The Oldham Times’ request for comment. Oldham Council did not wish to add any comment.

Commenters baffled

Facebook users were less than impressed with Cllr Woodvine’s comments.

Chris Nortcliff wrote: “This is disgraceful.”

Jane Goodwin commented: “Why do you think there is a statue of Lincoln in Manchester?

“I am genuinely baffled by your comment as you clearly don’t know your local history, the history of slavery on the cotton plantations and the huge sacrifices made by the workers in the cotton mills to support the struggle for the emancipation of people from the slave trade.”

Mags Hughes added: “Totally accurate and a blue plaque in Alexandra Park is a testament to its accuracy.”

The Bolton News: Blue plaque commemorating the cotton famine in Alexandra ParkBlue plaque commemorating the cotton famine in Alexandra Park (Image: Ian Roberts, Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

Karen Barton agreed, writing: “It’s very accurate. My family history documents the hardships faced during the cotton famine.

“Alexandra Park was built by Oldham textile workers who had become unemployed due to a lack of cotton from the USA.”

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