WITH all the talk in the last few weeks of removing statues relating to slavery, could I suggest that we actually erect one in Bournemouth.

Thomas Lewis Johnson was born into slavery in Virginia, USA in 1836. His mother was a slave and his father a free black man.

He became free at the end of the American Civil War. He thought Queen Victoria was black because he had heard that she was giving money to help Africans become free. So, in 1876 he and his wife came to England and he trained as a Baptist missionary.

They then went to Africa two years later and settled in Cameroon. Unfortunately, both he and his wife became seriously ill and, after his wife died, he was sent back to England in 1879.

He remarried and ministered throughout the UK, America and Europe, while at the same time raising money for missionary work in Africa. He campaigned against slavery and was a member of the Foreign & Anti-Slavery Society. Around 1894, he settled with his wife in Boscombe and was well known for his comment - “Shake hands – the black won’t come off”. For many people he would have been the first black person they had seen.

He became a British citizen in 1900. The first edition of his autobiography Twenty-Eight Years a Slave was published in Liverpool in 1882. The eighth edition was published in Bournemouth in 1908.

From 1910 he was confined to a wheelchair, but he opened his home to people, showing them the whips and chains of slavery.

He died in 1921 at the age of 85 and is buried in the non-conformist section of the Bournemouth East Cemetery. The grave was dug nine feet deep so that there was room on top for his wife. However, what became of his wife after his death is not known, although it is thought she may have returned to Chicago.

There are few statues of black people in the UK and none of a black ex-slave. It would make a positive statement if we were to have one in Bournemouth. Would the council support such a statue?

Dr R F Cooper

Mayor of Bournemouth 2013/14

West Cliff Road, Bournemouth