A nineteenth-century monument celebrating the philanthropic efforts and commitment to social reform of the Quaker abolitionist Joseph Sturge was restored from a state of disrepair in 2007 as part of Birmingham's bicentenary commemorations. The monument, sculpted by John Thomas, was first unveiled in 1862 by the city's nonconformist religious leaders and local businessmen to celebrate Sturge's legacy. The restoration work was carried out with funding from Birmingham City Council, The Birmingham Civic Society and the Sturge Family. A rededication service took place on 24 March 2007.
Part of the Equiano Project led by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Culture Clubs were a series of outreach projects enabling contributions by local schools and community groups to the way Equiano’s story is told and the issues surrounding how his experience is represented. The four groups - Techno Elders, Hockley Youth Project, Deansfield Secondary School and King George V Primary School - worked closely with the project teams and professional artists to produce work based upon Equiano’s life story. Their work featured within the Gas Hall and Soho House exhibitions.
The Hockley Youth Project’s work was displayed in the ‘Unshackled’ exhibition at Soho House in Birmingham, once home of the industrialist Matthew Boulton. Working with visual artist Nicola Richardson, the group produced a series of suits and artworks which explore themes around Equiano’s life, particularly his success as a businessman and entrepreneur.
The In Stitches project was led by the African Families Foundation (TAFF) and brought together British, African and African-Caribbean women's quilting groups meeting in London, Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham. The In Stitches Quilt, designed by Janice Gunner, included 60 squares of embroidered images, texts and symbols, depicting historic figures, scenes and artefacts associated with the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition. The Quilt used several of the Adinkra symbols from Africa, originally printed on fabrics worn at funerals by the Akan peoples of Ghana. The accompanying work pack was designed to support learning about slavery based on the four themes of the Quilt: Capture, the Middle Passage, Life in the 'New World', and Proscription of Slavery. The Quilt was unveiled at City Hall in London, and then toured to the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum (Bristol), Central Library (Liverpool), Soho House (Birmingham), the International Quilt Festival (Birmingham) and Central Library (Manchester).
Historian Simon Schama's true story of a plantation slave (Thomas Peters) and a British naval officer (John Clarkson) and their search for freedom at the time of the American War of Independence. Schama's account was adapted for the stage by Caryl Phillips, directed by Rupert Goold and produced by the Headlong Theatre Company. It explores ideas of racial identity, home and freedom, as former slaves who fought for the British army are led across the Atlantic to the newly-created province of Sierra Leone. The play toured West Yorkshire Playhouse, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Liverpool Everyman and Lyric Hammersmith.
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.
In conjunction with York Theatre Royal, Riding Lights Theatre Company produced a new play written by Murray Watts, directed by Paul Burbridge, with original music by Nigerian musician Ben Okafor. African Snow: Secrets of the trade was originally commissioned by the Church Mission Society, an organisation founded in 1799 by representatives of the abolition movement, including William Wilberforce. The play sought to explore the ideas associated with antislavery and how they can be put to use in the modern day campaign for the end of slavery. Opening at York, the play went on to have a West End Transfer followed by a national tour. The main characters are John Newton, the converted slave-trader who later wrote 'Amazing Grace', and the former slave and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano. The play saw them confronting each other’s differing perspectives, creating a dialogue in which the audience could witness alternative views towards slavery. A 'snow' was a class of ship, commonly used for the transportation of slaves. 'The African' was the first slave ship on which John Newton sailed.
The Sites of Memory project was the first research by English Heritage (now Historic England) to provide an overview for the public of the buildings, memorials and grave sites across England that reflects the role of the slave trade in British history, and resistance to it. The project explored the history of Black people in Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries by exploring the stories behind the historic built environment of local streets, buildings and landmarks. The research (by historians Angelina Osborne and S. I. Martin, on behalf of English Heritage) also identified sites associated with the slave trade and plantation wealth, and with the abolitionists who campaigned for an end to slavery. English Heritage also made recommendations for new listings for historic sites that mark the Black presence.
'Three Continents, One History' was a community project led by the African-Caribbean Millennium Centre (ACMC) to explore the historical links between Birmingham, the transatlantic slave trade and the Caribbean. Research focused on themes such as the region's manufacturing history and its links to slavery, the role of local regiments in keeping order on Caribbean plantations, the African presence in the West Midlands, and the region’s role in the abolitionist movement. The project aimed to examine the contemporary relevance of 1807 and the slave trade to Birmingham’s diverse communities, to contribute to a reshaping of the National Curriculum, to establish a physical archive and an interactive website. The research was shared with the public via weekly broadcasts on New Style Radio (a community radio station housed in ACMC) and simulcasts with Caribbean and African radio stations. Other events included conferences, dramatisations and discussion workshops.
Written and directed by Mervyn Weir, 'Nobody Knows' used drama, dance, music and imagery to explore the history of the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy today. Told through the eyes of Olaudah Equiano, the play celebrated the dignity, pride, and spirit of Black people as they fought for emancipation from slavery. In 2007 the play was presented by Krik Krak productions during the Routes to Freedom season at The Drum in Birmingham.
A play by Lonne Elder, 'Splendid Mummer' looks at the life of Ira Aldridge (1807-1867), the goundbreaking 19th century actor. Aldridge overcame racism and prejudice in European theatres to break away from stereotypical comedy roles and become one of the first Black Shakespearean actors. In 2007, the play was presented by CETTIE (a London charity working with schools, libraries, theatres, and community venues), directed by Malcolm Frederick, and starred Shango Baku. It was performed in various venues in London and at The Drum in Birmingham, and was accompanied by a feature exhibition on Aldridge by Positive Steps. 'Splendid Mummer' was produced in collaboration with the Ira Aldridge Bicentenary Project.
'The Cotton Tree Passage' was a dance theatre production by Koromanti Arts performed at The Drum in Birmingham as part of the Routes to Freedom season. The production depicted the spiritual passage of slavery from Africa to the Caribbean and the UK. A collaboration between 'H' Patten and dance, music, film and visual artists, this piece combined multimedia techniques and contemporary African, Caribbean and urban dance, including African hip-life and Jamaican dancehall.
20 young people from the Aston area of Birmingham worked on a commemorative project exploring the impact of the 1807 Act on the African, Caribbean and Asian communities in the UK and the contributions of these communities to British society since then. Their performance at The Drum showcased poetry, singing and dance.
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.
The 'Routes to Freedom' season of events took place throughout Autumn 2007 at The Drum, an intercultural arts venue in Birmingham. The programme explored the struggle for social justice and equality in relation to African, Asian and Caribbean communities, and marked two key historical events and their impact: the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act and the 60th anniversary of the partition of the Indian subcontinent. The programme was made up of theatre productions, touring exhibitions, film screenings, readings, dance performances and special events, including 'Coolies of the Caribbean' and a conference about Olaudah Equiano.
'Field Slave Number 139' was written and produced by Ava Ming, and commissioned by The Drum in Birmingham as part of their Routes to Freedom programme. The play focuses on a love story between a dark-skinned field slave and mulatto house slave on a plantation in America's Deep South. 'Field Slave Number 139' is written mostly in monologues with occasional interaction between the actors: all three were on stage for the duration of the piece. The 2007 production featured two performance poets and a local actor.
A Shared History, A Shared Future was a series of projects led by Birmingham Libraries to engage with different communities within Birmingham. The project as a whole identified archival materials, local historical documents and music with an emphasis on the diverse multicultural nature of historical and modern indentured slavery, and how it relates to everyday lives in Birmingham. Over 1000 participants from schools and community groups took part in over 150 workshops to create stories, artwork, banners, protests, games, films, dances, drama and performances. A resource pack, the liberty box, was produced to encourage community groups, youth groups and others to explore the issues of slavery. In August 2007, the project organised the March for Justice in Birmingham city centre, a recreation of the Quaker and philanthropist Joseph Sturge's march against slavery in August 1838. The day included an anti-slavery fashion show, a limbo performance, storytelling, African drumming, and a Slavery Question Time Special hosted by an actor representing Olaudah Equiano.
SCAWDI are a Birmingham based community group specialising in working with local volunteers to research the early presence of Black people in the West Midlands and learn more about their local history. Different projects sought to explore this heritage. ‘In the beginning …’ looked at enslaved Africans who came to the West Midlands to live with wealthy land owners in the area’s stately homes. ‘History Detectives’ took this work further to identify and construct biographies for the black individuals who came to the West Midlands before 1918. The project created a database of almost 200 individuals: the characters explored connect to themes of slavery, class, migration and religion. ‘A day in the life …’ created a black heritage trail detailing the locations attached to these stories.
SCAWDI are a Birmingham-based community group specialising in working with local volunteers to research the early presence of Black people in the West Midlands. In collaboration with English Heritage, ‘Interwoven Freedom’ enabled a group of local women to visit archives, exhibitions and historic sites and explore the role of women in the abolitionist movement. The participants drew on traditions of abolitionist women such as Elizabeth Cadbury creating and distributing workbags filled with anti-slavery manifestos by making their own textile bags from fair trade cotton and African cloth. They wrote their own manifestos which mixed historical facts with fictional stories and poems. The accompanying exhibition of textiles, text panels and an audio documentary toured London and 11 regional venues. The exhibition included photographs documenting the project by photographer Vanley Burke.
This exhibition held by the Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections at the University of Birmingham included material from the archives of the Church Missionary Society held there, and some of its rare book collections. The accompanying information boards are featured here. The exhibition focused on the role of religion in the abolitionist movement, the power of the African voice in literature, and the role played by Birmingham residents in the anti-slavery campaigns. A booklist on anti-slavery publications held at the library was also produced. The exhibition was part of a University-wide initiative, with additional involvement from academic departments and the Guild of Students. An online exhibition was also produced in collaboration with the Library of the Religious Society of Friends: 'Quakers and the path to abolition in Britain and the colonies'.
The phrase 'Ziba-Ufa' is Kiswahili for 'Closing the Gap'. Led by ACCR - the African Community Council for the Regions - this project aimed to close the gap between past and present by undertaking research from an African perspective. Blind Memory was a multimedia exhibition of images of Africa, slavery and resistance held at the Drum Arts Centre in Birmingham. The exhibition looked at memories relating to the transatlantic slave trade and how they affect beliefs and feelings; one of the aims of the exhibition was to rectify the amnesia and blind memory which many people are perceived to have in relation to slavery.