In the 1820s, the campaigner Elizabeth Heyrick became actively involved in door-to-door visits in Leicester in support of the anti-slavery cause and sugar boycotts. Her pamphlet ‘Immediate not gradual Abolition’ went into three editions during the first year of its publication in 1824. This exhibition focused on the life and work of Heyrick and in particular her efforts to abolish slavery. A Family Learning Day included ‘Elizabeth Heyrick’ in costume reading her pamphlet, storytelling, gospel music and an opportunity to sample food that would have been eaten by the enslaved.
A performance by the London Shakespeare Workout based on George MacDonald Fraser's novel 'Black Ajax'. The play, set in Regency England, tells the historical tale of two enslaved men through dialogue, song and verse. One slave is from America, another is from Africa. The former, Tom Molineaux, becomes the first Black Prize Fighter in Britain. Black Atlas featured an original score by Tim Williams. The play opened in Cambridge and toured to 40 different venues around the UK.
The Sing Freedom project was based on the Spirituals sung by African peoples as a response to being enslaved. The generally Christian songs often contained instructions about escape and resistance. The project was a collaboration between Kainé Management Group, Leicester African Caribbean Arts Forum, Leicester City Council Arts & Museum Service and Library Service. It included research into the songs, a touring exhibition, and performances. A series of song writing workshops for young people in partnership with BBC Radio Leicester aimed to give each participant an understanding of the effects of slavery and perceptions they have on present day freedom. At Leicester Guildhall Kainé Gospel Choir and friends came together for an evening celebrating the Spirituals, where songs such as The Gospel Train, Wade in the Water and Swing Low Sweet Chariot were sung.
Leicester Libraries collected oral histories from African Caribbean people brought down through the generations from the transatlantic slave trade. Health and healing were essential to slave life, and enslaved Africans developed their own healing knowledge. The Calabash project recorded this secret knowledge by collecting oral histories passed down to descendants of enslaved Africans at workshops and educational sessions.
A bicentenary brochure detailing some of the arts and non-arts activities held in Derby throughout 2007 to mark the bicentenary involving schools, community groups and other organisations. These included performances from the University of Derby's Student's Union, a debate at Derby City Council House, and a presentation of archive material from BBC Radio Derby's African Caribbean Show. The Freedom Showcase featured nine performers and writers from Leicester, Nottingham and Derby sharing their personal visions of 'Freedom' through a variety of spoken styles, from poetry, to rap and monologues. The costumes on display at Derby's Caribbean Carnival in July 2007 depicted positive images of the enslaved surviving and resisting slavery. Derby West Indian Community Association led a performance of dance and drama to depict slavery and its impact on young people, and a school project around the theme of slavery. Creative Thought was part of a Renaissance East Midlands funded Community Learning initiative. Working with an artist, participants explored the concept of slavery and its links to Derby's industrial heritage using The Silk Mill as inspiration. Tactile objects were created to share understanding about links with slavery.
A guide to bicentenary activities and events in museums, archives and other venues across the East Midlands - Leicestershire and Rutland, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire - was produced by Museums, Libraries and Archives East Midlands and Renaissance East Midlands. These events commemorated local connections to the abolitionist movement and to slavery. For example, Manor House Museum in Kettering produced a loans box containing material on William Knibb, a local abolitionist. Rothwell Arts and Heritage Centre produced an exhibition on the life of Rothwell-born missionary John Smith. Derby City Museums and Gallery worked with an artist and young people to explore Derby's industrial heritage and its links to the slave trade using The Silk Mill, Derby's Museum of Industry and History, as inspiration. Chesterfield Local Studies put together a touring exhibition to explore Derbyshire connections to the slave trade. A community commemorative event organised by Lincolnshire County Council and Lincolnshire African and Caribbean Support Group included a service of remembrance and the release of 200 'Freedom' balloons from Lincoln City Square on 24 March 2007.
Leicester's Black History Season in October-November 2007 marked the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. Its aim was to redress the balance from a 'Eurocentric point of view' of abolition, and focus on the Afrikan perspective with the theme of 'Souls of Black Folk'. Musical performances included gospel, Motown, reggae and jazz. Other events in venues across Leicester and Loughborough included traditional South African dance, contemporary dance, performance poetry, comedy, multimedia performances, storytelling, theatre and an exhibition, 'Africa's Gift', focusing on the economic and cultural contributions of the slaves and their descendants.
Crystal Clear Creators is a not-for-profit arts organisation based in the East Midlands. Reflecting on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade enabled a series of community creative writing workshops in Leicester exploring themes of the slave trade. The workshops involved talks from experts in the field, a tour of relevant places of interest, and research at the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Records Office. Those involved then wrote, produced, recorded and broadcast radio dramas on the subject, and held a day of performances for the public. The project was developed with Leicester's Arts forum LACAF and Mainstream Partnership. A follow-on project in 2009-10, Reflections: The Trans-Atlantic Slave-Trade, was a course for young people about the transatlantic slave trade, which included researching and writing about the subject. The project culminated in a day of performances and an exhibition at New Walk Museum.
As made clear by The Long Road to Freedom exhibition in 2007, the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland contains a significant collection of documents which reveal local connections with the slave trade, and with those who campaigned for abolition. Several prominent local families owned slaves on plantations in the Caribbean and on the north coast of South America. Leading Leicester abolitionists, Elizabeth Heyrick and Susanna Watts, orchestrated a vigorous anti-slavery campaign in Leicester, including a boycott on sugar. Local landowner, Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple, was a friend of William Wilberforce and hosted meetings of anti-slavery campaigners at his home. The exhibition also highlighted a unique collection of mid-19th century papers which provide access to the voices of the enslaved in a slave court in Lagos, West Africa. It also told the stories of two former slaves, Rasselas Morjan and Edward Juba, who came to Leicestershire with their owners. This exhibition toured to various venues in the region, including Abbey Pumping Station, where it coincided with family activities focused on the work of Elizabeth Heyrick.
Written by Ghanaian playwright Ama Ata Aidoo, The Dilemma of a Ghost deals with colliding cultures in 21st century Africa. An African-American woman accompanies her Ghanaian husband as he returns home, but the couple are haunted by ghosts of the inheritance of the slave trade. A collaboration between London theatre company Border Crossings and the National Theatre of Ghana, the production used music and dance to celebrate 50 years of Ghana’s independence and 200 years since the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. The play was performed in Birmingham, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, London, Plymouth and Slough. The production was was accompanied by a new book from Border Crossings, working in collaboration with Anti-Slavery International. ‘Theatre and Slavery: Ghosts at the Crossroads’ explored the ways in which world theatre responds to key issues in modern society and politics, including the issue of contemporary slavery.