Greg Coyne, Education Director (Quality) and Lead Director for the North East and North West region of the WEA will be cycling from Whitehaven to Sunderland – a total of 131.7 miles on the 11th to the 13th of May. He will be doing the cycle ride with Ian Standish, Regional Education Manager for the North West Region of the WEA. They are fundraising for a glass memorial to international social campaigner Edmund Morel.
WEA tutor, Tina Read, lives near West Kirby where Morel lived from 1897 until 1902. The memorial is planned for windows in West Kirby library. Tina has run a WEA course in West Kirby about Morel and Mary Kenny, Morel’s granddaughter, came to speak to the group. Morel’s family would be really proud to see a memorial to Morel in a place where he started his campaigning work on the Congo. The Congo Children’s Trust will be collecting donations for this project as they are happy to be involved in a project which raises awareness of the Congo; all donations from the Just Giving webpage will be ring-fenced for the Morel memorial.
Tina is going to be working as a WEA tutor at the Ark, the homeless charity based in Birkenhead. The participants on the course will create a design for the memorial on computers and then go on to work with Tina and glass artist Robbie Macoy to make the memorial. The fundraising will cover the costs of the materials and having Robbie Macoy involved in this project. If you feel you can contribute in any way all donations will be gratefully received. Despite being very well known during his lifetime, as far as we know, no memorial exists to Morel anywhere in the world. We hope the following paragraphs help to explain why we think a memorial is well overdue.
In the late 1890’s Edmund Morel, a young shipping clerk working for a British shipping company (Elder Dempster) made a shocking discovery about the trade between the Congo (a new colony that King Leopold II of Belgium claimed as his own private fiefdom) and Europe. The ships sailing from Africa were filled with valuable cargoes of rubber and ivory and on return to the Congo they carried soldiers, military supplies and firearms - but no cargo. Morel realised there was no exchange of trade taking place and there could only be one explanation for the rich and lucrative cargoes: slave labour on a vast scale. Morel dedicated decades of his life to end these atrocities and he organised the first international human rights movement of the 20th century.
Morel was born in Paris in 1873, he was brought up bilingual as he had a French father and English mother. In 1891 he left Paris to return to England having obtained a job as a clerk at the shipping firm Elder Dempster in Liverpool. The company made use of his language skills and whilst he lived in West Kirby he was sent to Belgium to supervise the company’s contract for shipping between Antwerp and the Congo. Through his work for Elder Dempster he was able to look at the books for King Leopold’s companies in the Congo and make his discovery that a forced labour system must be in existence. Morel dedicated years to his campaign against the atrocities in the Congo. His efforts helped to ensure that the Congo Free State passed out of King Leopold’s direct rule in 1908 and it was taken over by Belgium as the Belgium Congo. He then ran equally committed campaigns against the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles after the war.
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Powerpoint presentations on Morel's life and campaigns are available to download here:
More information about Morel’s campaign against the atrocities which took place in the Congo is available from Adam Hochschild’s book King Leopold’s Ghost (1998) Pan MacMillan ISBN_0-330-49233-0.