The Belfast Charitable Society has officially launched its Mary Ann McCracken Foundation, whose main objectives are to celebrate her life and build on her legacy.
Although she died over 150 years ago, Mary Ann McCracken is a name that should be well known in Belfast and beyond, however her story and legacy are still not widely publicised. This is something the Foundation said it aims to rectify because she was a truly remarkable woman, who committed her life to fighting social injustice.
Living to the ripe old age of 96 she was a fierce proponent of the poor of Belfast, children, women and workers’ rights, as well as having a keen interest in global matters and fighting for the cause of the enslaved and against the slave trade itself.
Sir Ronnie Weatherup, Belfast Charitable Society’s president, who hosted the launch event, said: “Given the causes Mary Ann championed it seemed more than fitting to invite Professor David Olusoga, the well-known historian and journalist, to highlight the legacies of slavery and how these affect society today. Issues which the Foundation wants to raise awareness of and act to address – keeping the legacy of Mary Ann’s work alive.”
He addd: “The Society has not shied away from the fact that its members, back in the late eighteenth century, were a mismatch of those who benefited significantly from the slave trade – either through the ownership of plantations or related business activity – and another group of people who were part of the abolitionist movement and anti-slavery voice of the day. We share this information on a regular basis through our talks and tours and we try to encourage others to think about how some of those who were dedicated to helping the poor of Belfast were less charitable to suffering elsewhere”.
Around 400 people attended the virtual launch, with guest speaker Professor David Olusoga, who took up this issue in his talk. He focused on the juxtaposition of philanthropy and the slave trade here and in other cities, considering how philanthropic donations to support the poor and develop our towns was actually money made from slavery – telling the story often untold and opening up challenges for the Foundation to explore.
David also looked at the role of individuals such as Mary Ann McCracken and the contribution they played to agitate thought and debate in their time and how this is still relevant today.
Profession Olusoga said: “At a moment when Belfast, like other parts of the UK, is rightly confronting its links to slavery and the Atlantic slave trade it’s important to remember those who grew rich from those trade and those who fought against them. One such anti-slavery campaigner was Mary Ann McCracken who for too long has been hidden in the shadows of history.”
For further information on the Mary Ann McCracken Foundation, visit www.maryannmccrackenfoundation.org