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The Equiano Project

The Gas Hall at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was host to a biographical exhibition of the life and adventures of Olaudah Equiano, a leading African figure in the British abolition movement in the 18th century. The project was led by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Equiano Society. The national exhibition was inspired by Equiano's autobiography 'The Interesting Narrative' (1789), by international and national artworks, and objects from Birmingham museums’ collections. It provided a narrative of Equiano’s life, and also explored wider local links between the West Midlands and the transatlantic slave trade. The Equiano Project also created a website, educational packages (available to buy via the project website), and a series of events and outreach activities. The exhibition publication 'Equiano - Enslavement, Resistance and Abolition' was edited by Arthur Torrington, Rita McLean, Victoria Osborne and Ian Grosvenor, and provided new insights into enslavement, resistance, abolition, and the African presence in Britain in the 18th century. Two touring exhibitions were loaned to community centres, libraries and other venues, including Walsall Museum, Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association and the Hudawi Cultural Centre in Huddersfield.

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Freedom Think Tank

Freedom Think Tank was a time limited Black-led voluntary group established to influence the agendas of organisations in the North East commemorating the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. The group also organised commemorative events, focusing on themes of promoting social solidarity and raising awareness of the participation of Black people in abolition.

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Hidden History of the Dales

This project was a collaboration between the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes and North Yorkshire Record Office to research people and places of the Yorkshire Dales connected with Africa, the Caribbean and India. 'Hidden History' collected local stories of slave owners and traders, abolitionists, Africans and Asians who moved to the Dales, and others like the actor Ira Aldridge who passed through. The project included various community activities. Working with actor Joe Williams, pupils from the Wensleydale School explored the life of Olaudah Equiano and performed alongside Joe at the exhibition opening. There were drop-in sessions on exploring family history, carnival costume making, talks and music. The exhibition toured to other locations in Yorkshire, including Boroughbridge Library. The Dales Countryside Museum has continued to collect information relating to individuals who were connected with the Yorkshire Dales and the wider world.

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Set All Free: ACT TO END SLAVERY

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.

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2007 Bicentenary Cross-Community Forum

The main aim of the 2007 Bicentenary Cross-Community Forum (2007BCCF) was to facilitate space for dialogue and alliance building in areas of work connected to the legacies of enslavement, related global injustices today and contemporary forms of slavery. The forum was jointly convened by Rendezvous of Victory, Anti-Slavery International and the World Development Movement. The education initiative aimed to assist in discussion and alliance-building on issues arising from the legacies of African Enslavement such as Maangamizi (Afrikan Holocaust) Awareness, Afriphobia, reparations, global injustices today and contemporary forms of enslavement. Open meetings were held in London between 2005 and 2007, and the group produced the 2007 Cross-community e-bulletin three times a year, including comment pieces about the significance of 2007. Task Action Groups were set up, such as the Cross-Community Dialogue Action Group on Education (CCODAGE), jointly hosted by the Council for Education in World Citizenship and the School of Education at Kingston University. A Global Justice Forum was developed out of the 2007BCCF in order to advance work beyond 2007.

2007 Gloucestershire Inhuman Traffic virtual exhibition.pdf

Inhuman Traffic

The Inhuman Traffic project was led by Gloucestershire Archives, in partnership with the Set All Free initiative. The virtual exhibition and accompanying web resource were based on documents held at Gloucestershire Archives and, in particular, the papers of the anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp (1735-1813). The exhibition explored topics such as the contribution of black people to the abolition movement, aspects of the legacies of slavery, including racism and domestic violence. Over 400 copies of the exhibition DVD were sent to schools, churches, tourist information venues and individuals across Gloucestershire. The associated programme of events included performances of the play 'Inhuman Traffic', developed in collaboration with a local theatre company, Spaniel in the Works. The play features four interacting characters with different perspectives on slavery. A cross-curricular teaching resource was later developed, which included a second performance, 'Master and Slave', in partnership with Stroud District Museums Service, Spaniel in the Works, and Parliament Primary School, Stroud.

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Soham at the Time of the Abolition

Soham Village College partnered with Soham Action 4 Youth (SA4Y) and Soham Museum in a project to record Soham at the Time of the Abolition, to commemorate the bicentenary and celebrate the life of Olaudah Equiano. Equiano, otherwise known as Gustavus Vassa, was the former slave who became an antislavery campaigner in the 18th century. His connection to the Cambridgeshire town of Soham is in his marriage to a local woman, Susannah Cullen, at St Andrew’s Church. Both of his daughters were born and baptised in the town. The research aspect of the project including mapping the town of Soham as it was in the 18th century, the results of which were published in a book by Mac Dowdy. 'Olaudah: The Life Story of Olaudah Equiano' was written by Donna Martin.

Several community events took place during the course of 2007 and 2008, including a re-enactment of Equiano’s wedding at St Andrew's Church in Soham, performed by Soham Village College theatre group Stage Chance, in partnership with Momentum Art’s Untold Stories Arts and Heritage Project. The event also comprised several speakers and performances of African dance and drumming, and the launch of a book by Angelina Osborne about the life of Joanna Vassa, Equiano’s only surviving daughter. A permanent plaque to Olaudah Equiano was unveiled in the church. The project also featured an exhibition of African art and portraits of Equiano by Soham residents and young people.

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Abolition Voices from Abney Park

Abney Park is a non-denominational cemetery in Stoke Newington, London. The walking tour Abolition Voices from Abney Park was developed to highlight the individuals connected with the abolition of slavery buried there, including the Baptist missionary Reverend Thomas Burchill (associated with Samuel Sharpe and the 'Baptist War' in Jamaica), Reverend Newman Hall and Reverend James Sherman (both associated with abolition in the USA). The grave of Joanna Vassa, daughter of Olaudah Equiano, was identified and restored. The monument to Joanna Vassa was designated Grade II listing by Historic England in 2008 as part of the bicentenary commemorations. There were accompanying talks and school workshops. Abney Park Cemetery Trust was also responsible for the carving of a new memorial stone for the writer Eric Walrond.

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Links and Liberty

An exhibition at Bruce Castle Museum (in partnership with Euroart Studios) explored the transatlantic slave trade, Haringey's heritage relating to the trade and its legacy, and the historic Black presence in the borough from the 16th century onwards. There was a particular focus on the painting of Lucius and Montague Hare, sons of Lord Coleraine (former owner of Bruce Castle), with their African servant. The exhibition also looked at the extra-parliamentary popular movement against the trade by local Quakers such as Priscilla Wakefield and others. Contemporary dance workshops for secondary schools were led by dance company Movement Angol.

The Links and Liberty exhibition included 'Stolen', a life-size installation by artists at Euroart Studios (John Fowler, Lorraine Clarke and Nigel Young) of a section of a slave ship. School pupils were encouraged to climb inside to imagine conditions on board.

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Portraits, People and Abolition

The National Portrait Gallery created a new gallery trail to mark the bicentenary, written by Dr Caroline Bressey. The trail highlighted portraits of key individuals, ranging from Elizabeth I to William Wilberforce, linked to the slave trade and its abolition. Portraits included those who invested in the trade, or who owned slaves and supported slavery, as well as images of enslaved people themselves and of people who were prominent in the movement to abolish the trade. The trail ended with a series of contemporary portraits of individuals involved in preventing slavery today. A week of talks, music, film and family activities included a discussion of the painting 'The Anti-Slavery Convention, 1840' by Benjamin Robert Haydon.

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Abolition 07

Hackney Museum's Abolition 07 exhibition told the story of British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, the resistance to it, and its abolition, and in particular emphasised the involvement of Hackney's residents in the abolition movement. The display included new artwork by Godfried Donkor in collaboration with young Hackney artists. A film of interviews with Hackney residents, Hear My Voice, was produced. Over 1200 children from Hackney Primary Schools took part in poetry workshops at the museum with poets Adisa and Baden Prince. Their poems and responses were published in the booklet 'And Still I Rise'.

The research into Hackney's connections to the transatlantic slave trade continued in 2013-2015 with 'Local Roots / Global Routes', a collaborative project between Hackney Museum and Archives and the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project.

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Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807-2007

The official publication from the British Government in response to the bicentenary included a message from Prime Minister Tony Blair. It set out the history of transatlantic slavery and resistance to it, and featured a calendar of upcoming events for 2007 relating to slavery and abolition. The publication also detailed contemporary efforts to end modern slavery. Later in 2007, 'The way forward: bicentenary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807-2007' reflected on some of the commemorative activity that had taken place in Bristol, Hull, Liverpool, London and Greater Manchester. With a foreword by the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the theme of the publication was 'Reflecting on the past, looking to the future' and it linked efforts for the abolition of historical and contemporary slavery. The publication also looked to how to tackle inequality and poverty in the UK, Africa and the Caribbean.

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The Adventures of Ottobah Cugoano

The Adventures of Ottobah Cugoano is a book written for young readers, written by Marcia Hutchinson and Pete Tidy, and published by Primary Colours as part of the Freedom and Culture 2007 initiative. Ottobah Cugoanao was an African abolitionist, captured in 1770 in Fante (present-day Ghana) and sold into slavery. He was eventually made free and baptized John Stuart in London. Stuart became active in Sons in Africa and through his publications campaigned for abolition. A Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 Teaching Pack was produced to accompany the adventure story, written by Marcia Hutchinson, Pete Tidy and Shazia Azhar, with a foreword by David Lammy MP.

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OLAUDAH EQUIANO - African, slave, author, abolitionist

This sculpture of the abolitionist Olaudah Equiano was made by London-based sculptor Christy Symington in 2006 to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the British transatlantic slave trade, with the intent to further share Equiano's story. It was first exhibited by selection at the Society of Portrait Sculptors 'FACE 2007' annual exhibition. The sculpture portrays Olaudah Equiano’s social standing through his clothing and hairstyle which was unusual for a black man in that time. The continent of Africa is implied by the shape of the back of his shoulders arrived at by chance whilst modelling. Broken shackles and chains are sculpted down the side of the sculpture, prompting his opposition to slavery as an abolitionist and his path to freedom. The Brookes slave ship diagram and an enlarged detail of a single enslaved female figure from the diagram are found on the stem of the sculpture - a reminder that there were women and children on the ships as well as men.

Since 2007, the sculpture has featured in several other exhibitions including a solo 'OLAUDAH EQUIANO MAN AND BROTHER' at the Stephen Lawrence Centre Gallery (2015); 'Black Georgians: The Shock of the Familiar' at the Black Cultural Archives (2016); 'Revelation of the Head' at Messums Wiltshire (2018); 'Untold Stories: A Celebration of Black People in Kent' (2018); and Royal Society of Sculptors Members' 'Summer Exhibition' (2018). There is a bronze edition and in 2017 a black and white duo edition (featured in exhibition 'OLAUDAH EQUIANO in BLACK and WHITE' at SPACE). The bronze sculpture is now in the permanent collections of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool (2017), Royal Museums Greenwich (2018) and Parliament UK (2019).

Photos: Tontxi Vazquez / Sylvain Deleu © Christy Symington MRSS/DACS 2019