In Autumn 2007, the opera 'The Woman Who Refused To Dance' by composer and conductor Shirley J Thompson was performed at Westminster Palace, Houses of Parliament. The piece was based on a 1792 print by Isaac Cruickshank - entitled 'The abolition of the slave trade, or the inhumanity of dealers in human flesh exemplified in the cruel treatment of a young negro girl of 15 for her virgin modesty' - depicting a woman who refused to dance on board a slave ship, and who was hung from one leg as punishment. The opera has recently been re-premiered to mark the 210th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.
Eastside Community Heritage worked with young people from West Ham and Stratford to explore the significance of the bicentenary within the context of their own history in London and in British history more widely. The Road to Freedom project was devised by the young people themselves, who gathered information from the Museum of London Docklands, the National Maritime Museum, the International Slavery Museum and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Their research led to a documentary-drama and an exhibition which toured venues in Newham, accompanied by discussion sessions led by the participants.
Paxton House in Berwickshire was once owned by Ninian Home, the owner of two sugar plantations on the island of Grenada. The Wedderburn Papers, part of the house archives, contain some 2,000 documents relating to the Grenada properties between the 1760s and the 1840s. In 2007, the Paxton Trust began a project to digitise and increase access to all the documents relating to Grenada (including correspondence between Grenada and Paxton, plus documents relating to the plantations and their enslaved workers). A booklet and exhibition was also organised, and links were made with a youth group based in Acton, London, most members of which are of Grenadian descent. The Wedderburn Papers are held at the National Archives of Scotland.
The ‘Last Bicentenary Pilgrimage’ trip to Liverpool was organised by the Institute of Black Culture Media and Sport, in partnership with the CarAf Centre, who provide educational, social and cultural activities for disadvantaged parents and young people. Members of the local Camden community were taken on a two-day family learning trip to Liverpool, to mark the end of the bicentenary with a goodbye ceremonial event and a visit to the International Slavery Museum. The event was supported by the London Borough of Camden Council.
Word of Mouth Media Production, based in Southwark, staged a production of Celia at New Players Theatre in London. The play was directed by Malcolm Frederick and written by Richard Nyeila, inspired by Melton A. McLaurin's biography 'Celia A Slave'. Based in the mid-19th century, the story revolves around Celia, an enslaved woman on trial for murdering her abusive owner.
Commissioned by 2007's City of London Festival, artist Satch Hoyt created several sculptures made only of sugar. In St Paul's Cathedral, life-sized portraits of influential black figures - including Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho and Mary Seacole - were made of painted sugar cubes. Hoyt also created two slave ships from sugar, displayed at Museum of London Docklands.
The Print that Turned the World? was an exhibition at the London Print Studio, which examined the role played by printmaking in changing public attitudes towards the slave trade and influencing the abolition campaign. The exhibition looked in particular at the influence of the widely publicised print of the slave ship 'Brookes', first published in 1788; the crowded and inhumane conditions depicted had a significant impact on public opinion. The exhibition also examined the role of William Wilberforce in the abolitionist campaign, and the continuation of anti-slavery efforts in modern times. London Print Studio worked with local schoolchildren in creating the exhibition and associated artworks.
The World Development Movement seeks to increase awareness of political views in regards to world economic and social development. The organisation published a briefing in 2007 to mark the bicentenary, exploring the stories of grassroots pressure and the historic and modern campaigns for global justice. In collaboration with the University of Leeds, the World Development Movement also organised two public events looking to explore the lessons to be learned from the struggle to end the slave trade and examining contemporary campaigns in Africa and beyond for global social justice. Speakers included the Kenyan writer and academic Ngugi wa Thiong'o.
The National Maritime Museum marked the bicentenary with a range of initiatives and events including a new exhibition, a film season, poetry, music, debates, and new publications. A new permanent gallery opened at the museum in winter 2007 exploring Britain's Atlantic empire. A catalogue of slavery-related images, artefacts and documents from the collections of the museum, 'Representing Slavery', was published. The museum also devised a transatlantic slavery trail around Greenwich.
The National Maritime Museum hosted a number of events throughout 2007. The theme of the weekend 23-25 March was 'And still I rise', marked with a series of activities, performances and discussion. On August 23, International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, the ‘Freedom Festival: Contemporary Commemoration’ event saw a programme of creative events and performances exploring themes around the heritage of enslavement. The museum also offered a range of learning experiences based on its collections. For example, in November, a study session, 'Roots of Resistance: Abolition 1807' examined the roots of resistance and the abolition movement through talks by curators and contemporary artists. Activities for families were based on themes of freedom and carnival. 'The Big Conversation 2007' was a programme of debate and showcasing of diverse projects undertaken by students around the country, organised by the Understanding Slavery Initiative and the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
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.
An exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood in London focused on the experiences of young runaway slaves in Britain. The exhibition focused in particular on the story of Ignatius Sancho, born in 1729 on board a slave ship, who ran away from his owners in Greenwich. Sancho's letters, later published, became an inspiration for those who campaigned for abolition.
This project worked with young people from Lambeth, South London, to examine the history of West Africa, its peoples and their rich heritage, culture and traditions, as well as the impact of slavery and the African diaspora. Using film production, creative workshops, and visits to heritage sites, the emphasis was on the positive impact of African history and its effect on the aspirations and self-esteem of young people.
Bridgetower - A Fable of 1807 is a jazz opera composed by jazz pianist Julian Joseph, with libretto by author Mike Phillips. It was commissioned for the City of London Festival's bicentennial commemoration of the Abolition Act. The opera recreates the story of the Afro-European violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower (1778-1860), who was born into slavery, became a friend of Beethoven and was acclaimed throughout Europe for the standard of his playing. The opera was directed by Helen Eastman and toured by English Touring Opera. It opened during the 2007 City of London Festival at London Symphony Orchestra St Luke's, and later toured venues around the UK. Each performance featured a local community choir, with members drawn from local amateur choirs.
In this website and Key Stage 3 Resource Pack, the City of London Festival examined the work of the Afro-European violinist George Bridgetower (1778-1860) and, in particular, his relationship with the composer Ludwig van Beethoven. The resource also explored the role of other artists, writers and musicians who were active at the same time as Bridgetower, with a special focus on their relationships to the anti-slavery movement. The website provided music, video clips and worksheets, alongside an interview with Julian Joseph, composer of the jazz opera Bridgetower - A Fable of 1807, toured by English Touring Opera. The resource was part of a broader education project developed by City of London Festival, which included the exhibition, 1807: The Life and Times of George Polgreen Bridgetower, held in the walkways of London's Tower Bridge. The education project also included storytelling, music and creative writing workshops in secondary schools.
In 2007 the artist Faisal Abdu'Allah was commissioned by Tate Britain to work collaboratively with a group of young people from Park High School in Harrow and St George's Roman Catholic School in Westminster to explore ideas related to the commemoration of the 1807 Abolition Act. The group engaged with creative research and artistic processes to produce narratives capturing their personal viewpoints on the themes of freedom of expression, liberty, revolution and slavery. The project Stolen Sanity resulted in a series of large scale photographic portraits that were displayed in the main galleries of Tate Britain. The project integrated the factual historic time line of Tate Britain's display, 1807: Blake, Slavery and the Radical Mind, with fictional personal reflections through audio and visual art.
Bombay Africans 1850-1910 was exhibited at the Royal Geographical Society as part of the wider ‘Crossing Continents: Connecting Communities’ project, which with community partners aimed to develop new resources to advance the importance of geography. Based on the research of Clifford Pereira and with community consultation partners, Bombay Africans explored the histories of a group of African men who assisted British explorers such as John Hanning Speke, Richard Burton and David Livingstone on mapping expeditions in East Africa in the late 19th century. The name 'Bombay Africans' was given to Africans who had been rescued from the slave ships operating in the Indian Ocean. The exhibition examined the roles of these men in the anti-slavery movement and in Christian organisations like the Church Missionary Society. Focusing on the East Coast of Africa and the slave trade routes in the Indian Ocean, the exhibition also explored enslavement, forced migration, liberation and the African diaspora in the Asian subcontinent.
To mark the bicentenary, Manifesta (a not for profit company delivering projects addressing cultural diversity) and the Runnymede Trust (an independent policy research organisation focusing on equality and justice) joined forces to launch a youth and digital media initiative, Video ART (Anti-Racist Trails) Postcards. The project explored connections between slavery, colonialism and contemporary issues of racism and related injustice. In the summer of 2007, two groups of teenagers aged 14-19 from the London Borough of Newham participated in workshops to uncover sites related to historical racism and anti-racism in the West India Docks area of London, assisted by video artists and historians. Using video for self-expression, each participant interpreted this history and heritage by producing a short personal video or 'postcard' - there were 33 videos in total. The videos were made available on an online resource, and a Teacher's Guide was created to be used alongside the website.
Midnight Robbers was exhibited at City Hall, London in 2007 and the Ohio State University Urban Art Space in 2008. The exhibition explored the historic context of Notting Hill Carnival and examined the Carnival art form. The London exhibition also marked the bicentenary of the Abolition Act. ‘Midnight Robber’ is a masquerade of traditional carnival, in a wide-brimmed hat and cape. The exhibition adopted the Midnight Robber motif for its title, and sought to engage audiences in the history of Caribbean-derived carnival as a legacy of slavery and colonialism. It was curated by Lesley Ferris and Adela Ruth Tompsett of Middlesex University and showcased the work of carnival artists through photographs, costumes and a carnival interactive.
The Freedom Roads exhibition at Guildhall Art Gallery was one of several initiatives led by London Metropolitan Archives to mark the bicentenary. The exhibition featured contemporary photographic portraits of people of African origin whose work has contributed to the continuing struggle for human rights in different fields. Colin Prescod, Shirley Thompson, Eric and Jessica Huntley and Rudolph Walker were amongst the individuals featured. Others like the young people from BEAT (Black Experience Archive Trust) were engaged in a project to find out about significant people in their local community. Each person was photographed with an image of an object or place which has a special significance to them. The other part of the exhibition focused on relevant archival materials held by London Metropolitan Archives, including the South African Bill of Rights and a copy of the Constitution signed by Nelson Mandela, Cyril Ramaphosa, F. W. De Klerk and Roelf Meyer. Other material relating to slavery and abolition included a letter from John Julius, a plantation owner on the island of St. Kitts.
The Greater London Authority produced an Events Guide for Londoners in 2007 detailing some of the initiatives taking place in the capital involving the Mayor. This included Africa Day on Trafalgar Square, celebrating the positive contributions of London's African communities, and 'Rise: London United', an anti-racist music festival. The conference 'Faith Symposium: In God's Name?' at City Hall examined the role of the Church in the transatlantic slave trade. There was also a seminar on the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade from a Caribbean perspective and a Caribbean Publishers Book Fair held at London Metropolitan University. The Dr Eric E. Williams Memorial Lecture Series at City Hall was made available as a webcast.