A bicentenary service in commemoration of William Wilberforce and the passing of the 200th anniversary of the Abolition Act took place in February 2007 at York Minster. The service featured Pocklington School Choir, Transglobal Drummers and the Riding Lights Theatre Company (performing extracts of the play African Snow). Organisations associated with the service included Churches Together in England and the Set All Free project, and the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull
The official publication from the Evangelical Alliance to commemorate the bicentenary had three main aims: to draw attention to biblical perspectives on slavery and society, to examine the contributions of some key abolitionists, and to offer some suggested activities for churches and groups to mark the bicentenary.
A programme of events to mark the bicentenary was organised by Edinburgh Inter-Faith Association. This included a slavery walk in the footsteps of Robert Wedderburn, a commemoration and thanksgiving service at St John's Church in Edinburgh, and a debate and discussion on the theme 'Trading People - Then and Now'.
After 1825, on leaving Parliament, William Wilberforce retired to Hendon Park in Mill Hill, North London, and during his retirement built a chapel on his estate, now St. Paul's Church. St. Paul's organised a programme of events in 2007 to mark the bicentenary, including concerts by The London Community Gospel Choir and The St. Ignatius Gospel Choir. A series of exhibitions in London Borough of Barnet libraries explored Wilberforce's local connections, and visits to local schools encouraged pupils to express their understanding of slavery and abolition in art, and stressed the need to continue the work of abolitionists today. The programme also included a number of open public meetings with invited speakers exploring different aspects of Wilberforce's life and work, including his collaborations with Thomas Clarkson and John Newton. In 2008 the Wilberforce Centre was opened in the crypt space of St. Paul's.
Westminster Abbey organised a series of lectures and events to commemorate the bicentenary. These included the lectures 'Olaudah Equiano, Black Abolitionist' by Professor Vincent Carretta, and 'The Abbey and the Abolition of the Slave Trade' by The Reverend Nicholas Sagovsky, Canon of Westminster. There was also an opportunity for visitors to attend William Wilberforce's memorial. On 27 March 2007 a national service of commemoration was held at the Abbey, and broadcast live on BBC One and BBC Radio Four. The service was attended by HM The Queen, the Prime Minister Tony Blair, other dignitaries and members of community and human rights organisations. Proceedings were disrupted by Toyin Agbetu of the Pan African, human rights based organisation Ligali. He objected to the celebratory tone of the service and its primary focus on William Wilberforce, highlighting the role of African freedom fighters and the absence of an official apology by the monarchy, government and church for Britain's leading role in transatlantic slavery, or Maafa (the Kiswahili term meaning ‘Disaster’, which is used to refer to the exploitation of Africa and its people by Europeans).
The Quaker Quilters of Norwich Quaker Meeting held the Slave Quilts Exhibition at the Friends Meeting House in Norwich in May 2007. By the 1860s in the United States there were organised flights to freedom for enslaved people from the southern plantations via the Underground Railroad – a network of paths leading to the North and Canada. The ‘safe houses’ where assistance was offered on the way were often the homes of Quakers. This exhibition looked to reproduce some of the secret codes said to be hidden within the symbols and patterns featured in quilts made by slaves, to pass on directions to those looking to escape.
A collaborative project between Churches Together in Northampton, English Heritage, Northamptonshire Black History Association (NBHA) and The Northampton Schools Excellence Cluster. Freedom From the Past: Long Time Coming was led by Mary Clarke, Director of the Doddridge Centre, where the NBHA office is based. The project commemorated the 1807 Act and the wider histories of black resistance and the fight against the slave trade through music, drama and historical workshops in Northampton.
The 'Passage' event was held in St Giles' Church on 25 March 2007, an evening of drama, songs and speeches reflecting on the legacies of slavery. There was a 150-strong gospel-style community choir drawn from schools in the Northampton area and local community groups. The event was one of a range of project activities in Northampton which brought together schools, community groups, churches and heritage organisations to explore the issues of slavery in the British Empire. Other events included a community event and 'Walk to Freedom' at the Northampton West Indian Community Association (NWICA) to mark 'Emancipation Day', annually held throughout the Caribbean to celebrate the abolition of slavery. English Heritage funded a professional DVD recording which was afterwards made freely available to NBHA members and others.
A multi-faith service of penitence and remembrance was held at Liverpool Cathedral on 24 March 2007 by Churches Together in the Merseyside Region. Some material in the service drew upon resources produced by Set All Free, the project of Churches Together in England. A musical welcome was offered by African drummers and the Philharmonic Gospel Choir. A procession to the waterfront at Albert Dock followed the service, where the Petals of Penitence Liturgy took place.
Hull's parish church of Holy Trinity is where William Wilberforce was baptised in 1759. The Church held a number of performances and events throughout 2007. The Together for Freedom commemorative service took place on 25 March 2007, led by the Archbishop of York and featuring the Redemption Gospel Choir from Hull and Middlesbrough. The Freedom Flower Festival took place in June and the Songs of Freedom Music Festival in September, featuring performances by leading gospel performers and local schoolchildren. The London Community Gospel Choir gave a powerful concert, which highlighted the important role of music in the lives of slaves living on plantations. In August, the Freetown Society of Hull hosted a performance of the Milton Margai School for the Blind Choir from Freetown, Sierra Leone. A Panos photographic exhibition at the Church, Slave Britain, revealed the realities of contemporary human trafficking.
Inspired by the bicentenary, the Distorted Image exhibition at Hereford Cathedral explored how distorted perceptions throughout history have resulted in prejudice, discrimination and enslavement. Incomplete or misleading images of human beings, who are black or female or in some way considered 'other', have resulted in unjust behaviour against them, particularly in the case of restricted legal and political rights. Alongside the example of slavery, this exhibition also looked at the invariably inferior position of women within church teaching. Distorted Image was part of the ongoing Mappa Mundi and Chained Library exhibition. The Hereford Mappa Mundi is a 13th century map featuring drawings of the history of humankind and the natural world, which records how medieval scholars interpreted the world in spiritual as well as geographical terms.
The Gloucestershire Set All Free initiative was organised by Churches Together in Gloucester and other organisations to mark the bicentenary. An Events Guide set out some of the events, lectures, film screenings, music festivals and exhibitions taking place in Gloucestershire to remember the horrors of transatlantic slavery, while also making clear the imperative to take action to end modern forms of slavery. There were bicentenary related activities at Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery and Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. There were also a number of events at Gloucester Cathedral and local churches, including St Mary's in Wotton-under-Edge. Two exhibitions focused on contemporary slavery were organised by the Anti-Slavery International League. The Guide also includes details of various festivals with a focus on the bicentenary, including the 1 World Festival Freedom 07, the Gloucester International Rhythm and Blues Festival and Cheltenham Music and Literature Festivals.
Set All Free: ACT TO END SLAVERY was a project of Churches Together in England, based in London. It was also a collaboration between church-related groups, societies and organisations around the UK working together with a Christian ethos to assess the relevance of the bicentenary, and in particular the legacies of slavery. The project aimed to highlight how the values of the abolitionists can transform relationships on an individual, community and society level. The project included building a network coalition, campaigning, producing research and resources for churches, schools and individuals. Set All Free also worked closely with Anti-Slavery International and Rendezvous of Victory, a leading African community-led organisation.
The Reconciliation Reredos project to develop a major public artwork was the response by Saint Stephen’s Church in Bristol city centre to a complex historical legacy. St Stephen's was the harbour church which benefitted from merchant’s donations, which effectively ‘blessed’ slave trade ships leaving the port, and which served as the burial site for Africans living in Bristol in the era of the transatlantic slave trade. The project involved the commissioning of a new altarpiece: four pieces of contemporary artwork exploring the mercantile connections that built the city of Bristol were created by artist Graeme Mortimer Evelyn, transforming the stone-carved Victorian Reredos housed in the church since 1875. A community learning programme engaged groups of people from the city through workshops, forums and events around the four focus concepts: Creation, Imago Dei (the Image of God in humanity), Reconciliation and Hope.
Bristol was major trading port for the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th century. The city of Bristol marked the bicentenary of the Abolition Act with more than 100 events across the city - exhibitions, plays, debates, talks, concerts - under the umbrella organisation Abolition 200. In January 2007, city leaders signed a declaration of regret for the city's role in the trade. Over the weekend of 24-25 March, bells rang out across the city and a Service of Remembrance and Reconciliation was held at Bristol Cathedral, organised by a partnership of the Cathedral and the Council of Black Churches. 2007 was themed as the Year of Black Achievement, aiming to bring better provision of black heritage resources to schools in Bristol, with a particular focus on black attainment. Over 30 creative community projects were funded by Abolition 200 - including art installations, educational projects and community theatre - to reflect the themes of education, commemoration and legacy.
Featured here are some of the events from Abolition 200.
This project was the Church of England’s official response to the bicentenary, as CMEAC (established by the Archbishops’ Council) explored the Church’s multi-faceted role in the history of slavery in Britain. Making our Mark focused on connections with local communities, opening access to heritage, and raising awareness of the legacies of slavery. The project had two main strands. The first was a set of regional dialogues – the Bicentenary Hearings – which represented local opportunities for discussion about experiences of slavery, as a way to make new connections between past and present, education and action. The Hearings took place in Liverpool, London, Birmingham, Hull and Southwark in February and March 2007. The second strand was the Walk of Witness, a heritage trail through London on 24 March 2007. Participants included government representatives, leaders in the Church of England, social justice organisations, ecumenical and multi-faith partners, and schools. A pack was produced for schools, including a DVD with footage from the Walk and Hearings.
The Lifeline Expedition began in 2000 as a reconciliation journey linking the European and African nations. The March of the Abolitionists was organised for 2007, aiming to bring an apology for the slave trade (especially the role of the church); to promote understanding of slavery and abolition by engaging with schools and the media; and to remember black and white abolitionists of the past, and of current campaigns. For the first stage in March 2007 (the Meridian Walk), a group of walkers included Africans and descendants of enslaved Africans, while white people from the former slave trading nations wore yokes and chains on their 250-mile journey from Hull to London. In the capital they joined the Walk of Witness at Westminster, led by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. The second stage of the march (the Sankofa Walk) linked the former slave ports of London, Liverpool and Bristol in June and July 2007.
Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS), which brings together nine Scottish denominations, marked the bicentenary with the Scottish Ecumenical Service to commemorate abolition held in the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre in June 2007. The group also published a leaflet, ‘Slavery and Scotland’. On 25 March 2007, a commemoration walk was organised in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland. The walk started in Musselburgh and ended at the Gardens of Inveresk Lodge, once owned by James Wedderburn, who made his fortune as a slave owner in Jamaica. His son, the Jamaican-born Unitarian radical and anti-slavery advocate Robert Wedderburn, came to Musselburgh in 1795 to visit his father, but did not receive a good welcome.
ACTS also set up Freedom for All, a website project to mark the bicentenary. The website was intended to be a hub of resources and information on the impact of slavery, slave trade and abolition on Scotland.