Community activist to head up International Slavery Museum

Image: Michelle Charters © Pete Carr

Michelle Charters, a trustee of the museum for the last five years, will take up the new role next year

Michelle Charters has been announced as the new Head of the International Slavery Museum, and will take up the role in the new year, the museum has announced.

Charters will step down from her roles as a trustee of the museum, and as CEO of Liverpool-based Kuumba Imani Millennium Centre to take up the new role.

For the last 17 years Charters has been CEO of the multi-purpose centre in Toxteth, Liverpool, which was created by Black women’s group Liverpool Black Sisters, an organisation formed in the 1970s to address discrimination experienced by the Black community.

She is the Founding Chair of the Merseyside Black History Month Group, and the first Black woman to be appointed a Trustee of the Everyman and Playhouse Theatres in Liverpool. She becomes the first Black woman to lead the museum.

Charters is also a member of the RESPECT group, which was established in 2008, leading on from the Liverpool Slavery Remembrance Initiative Steering Group. For the last five years, she has sat on National Museums Liverpool’s board as a trustee.

The museum said Charters has been an advocate for the museum since she was first introduced to the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery at Maritime Museum by the late Dorothy Kuya in 1994.

“When I first stepped into what was known then as the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery nearly 30 years ago, I committed to be part of a movement to learn, interpret and share what we could about our ancestors’ pain and suffering”, Charters said.

“Ever since, I have used the anger and hurt that I felt when confronted by shackles and artefacts from Africa that had been stolen or purchased by slave merchants, to ensure that my ancestors, their journey and our opportunity to tell the story was never forgotten.”

Charters will navigate the International Slavery Museum through its £28m transformation, part of the wider National Museums Liverpool Waterfront Transformation.

The museum said the new appointment will take the museum “from a gallery space into a prominent museum with the ambition to become the world leader in understanding and exploring the impact and legacies of historic and modern slavery, and how it still influences the world today.”

Charters already features on the museum’s Black Achievers Wall alongside Martin Luther King, Kofi Annan and Muhammad Ali, for her activism work, which dates back to 1979.

She added: “It is a privilege to be joining such a skilled, professional and loyal team and I’m proud to be the one who will lead the International Slavery Museum as it realises National Museum Liverpool’s ambition to become the world leader in understanding and exploring the impact and legacies of historic and modern slavery, and how it still influences the world today.”

Laura Pye, Director of National Museums Liverpool said the new appointment “brings with her a wealth of experience and passion for the museum and shares the vision that we have for its transformation. Michelle has been part of the history of this museum for many years, and we can’t wait for her to be a part of its future”.

The new appointment takes over from interim Head, Paul Reid, who was appointed in 2021 as Dr Richard Benjamin, its last permanent Head, began a two-year secondment to University of Liverpool. After the secondment, Benjamin became a Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Museum Practice at the university.

The museum said Reid will continue to work with it as an advocate for its Waterfront Transformation Project as International Slavery Museum Associate.