Blockade Runners and Minstrels


Frederick Douglass

I’m working on a fascinating feature for BBC Radio 3 with producer Louise Yeoman.

At the start of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared a blockade of the Confederate coastline, cutting off supplies to Southern states, and preventing their exports from getting out. The policy was to prove a golden opportunity for enterprising Glasgow and Liverpool shipbuilders and brokers, some of whom made fortunes from enabling the breaking of the blockade, with steamships specially adapted for the purpose – blockade runners. Their involvement was to significantly lengthen the conflict at a huge cost of lives and made British involvement an essential factor in a war where she had declared herself neutral. It’s a history that many of us who live in the centre of modern Glasgow are unaware of.

At the same time there was a rise in racist black-face minstrel acts across Britain. The programme explores whether these two factors were connected. Were those making fortunes from prolonging the civil war and in effect supporting slavery salving their conscience with the thought that slaves were not worthy of, or able for, freedom?

Dr Eric Graham whose book ClydeBuilt: Blockade Runners, Cruisers and Armoured Rams of the American Civil War helped inspire the programme has written a brilliant article on the Clyde’s connection with the Civil War for the Glasgow Herald.

Blockade Runners and Minstrels will be broadcast on Sunday 1st May at 9.30pm, and will be available via i-player for a week afterwards.


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