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.
2007 saw a number of different projects taking place at Harewood House in West Yorkshire, home of the Lascelles family. The bicentenary was used as an opportunity to explore the family connections with the transatlantic slave trade and the sugar plantations of the West Indies.
To spotlight Harewood House's historic links with the Caribbean and carnival, in September 2007 a production of Carnival Messiah was held in a Big Top in the grounds. Carnival Messiah is a reinvention of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah as carnival theatre and heritage experience. The West Indian celebration features dancers, singers, masqueraders, musicians and actors. Stories from the Caribbean folk tradition, medieval mystery plays and African ritual combine with contemporary popular music and dance styles, including gospel, calypso, reggae, jazz, hop hop, bhangra and steel band. Geraldine Connor was Creator and Artistic Director and David Lascelles of Harewood House was Executive Producer. A community education and outreach programme ran alongside the project.
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 Centre for Contemporary Ministry (CCM) is an educational charity specialising in the study of contemporary social issues. The CCM established a slavery exhibition at their base, Moggerhanger Park in Bedfordshire, once country home of members of the Thornton family, cousins of William Wilberforce. A mobile travelling display toured local venues. ‘Free at Last?’ was also part of the Spirit of Wilberforce project. This initiative saw a replica of the 18th century slave ship ‘Zong’ sail into London on 29 March 2007. The replica ship was accompanied up the River Thames by HMS Northumberland as part of the Royal Navy’s contributions to the bicentenary. The ‘Slavery Past and Present’ exhibition on board the replica was opened by the Mayor of London – a virtual reality display depicted conditions on a slave ship. The exhibition continued at the church All Hallows by the Tower, exploring the work of the abolitionists and the legacy of slavery. HMS Northumberland also opened to the public - an exhibition on board explored the role of the Royal Navy in enforcing the 1807 Act.
London Shakespeare Workout presented a new 21-song musical, celebrating the life of the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar's parents were freed slaves and he used some of their tales of plantation life in his work. Set backstage in a British theatre in 1897, the play explored themes such as love and loneliness, racial interactions, and the abolition of the slave trade. With an original score by Tim Williams, the play opened in Westcliffe, and toured 26 venues around the UK. Each performance was followed by a ‘talk-back’, allowing audience members to share their views on the issues raised by the production. Special interactive workshops were also created for schools and community groups to bring the concepts of slavery and abolition to life through history and literature.
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.
Squaring the Triangle was the theme of African History Month 2007 in Suffolk. The programme was co-ordinated by the Nia Project (a cultural, arts and heritage project) and explored the history and legacy of slavery through film, literature, exhibition, music and debate. The theme of Squaring the Triangle was underpinned by the African proverb, ‘Until the Lion tells his tale the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter’. Highlights included the Nia Memorial Lecture, given by the producer-director Pam Solomon-Fraser. Nubian Films short season looked at the current legacy of slavery and the Diaspora of African peoples. Talks, workshops and debates covered issues such as reparations, retribution, resistance, and educational guidelines for parents on how to discuss the African slave trade with children. Special recognition was given in the programme to Ghana’s 50th anniversary as an independent state. There were heritage walks around Ipswich to uncover some of the cultural connections with Africa, the Caribbean and Suffolk. A Youth Day Conference hosted by the Zimbabwe Youth brought together young people from the community to use music and poetry to explore their ideas on the legacy of the slave trade. Historian Maureen James and representatives from Suffolk County Council led pupils from local schools in researching the anti-slavery movements, with particular reference to the Clarkson family.
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.
A commemorative event to mark the bicentenary in Rothley, Leicestershire, was organised by a planning group of Rothley Parish Church and the Committee of the Rothley History Society. The event on 25 March 2007 launched a new book by Terry Sheppard and Iain Whyte, ‘Rothley and the Abolition of the Slave Trade’, which explored the ‘mutual endeavours’ of Thomas Babington, Thomas Gisborne, William Wilberforce and Zachary Macaulay. These men were linked though family and university connections, and their involvement in the campaign to abolish the slave trade. Many of their meetings took place at Babington’s home, Rothley Temple, now known as the Rothley Court Hotel, where the event in 2007 was held.
The day included dramatic readings from 18th century documents relating to the campaign for abolition, an exhibition of panels from Anti-Slavery International, an interview with a descendant of Thomas Babington, and a choir concert from the Kainé Gospel Choir. In collaboration with Charnwood Borough Council, a new plaque was unveiled to remember the suffering of African people and the part played in ending the trade by Babington, Wilberforce and others. In December 2007, the planning group invited organisations in Rothley and Leicester to submit items contemporary to 2007 to be placed in a time capsule, to be laid up at the court until the tricentenary in 2107. The oak casket sits behind glass in a niche at the hotel.
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.
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.
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.
Written by composer Paul Field, Cargo premiered in Hull City Hall in March 2007, sponsored by Hull City Council. Cargo featured contemporary songs, narration, dance and images that told the story of the struggles of slaves, the historical work of William Wilberforce and the abolition movement, through to the contemporary struggles against slavery today. Performers included the singer Coco Mbassi, saxophone player Mike Haughton and Springs Dance Company. The narrators and choir were local people, including members of City of Hull Youth Choir, Redemption Gospel Choir and Hot Gospel in Hull. Cargo was also performed in London, Plymouth, Bristol and Liverpool. Smaller events were put on by church and community groups around the UK, assisted by the script, score and backing track of the music being made available on CD-Rom.
Kirklees Council ran a range of events in 2007, focused on local connections with slavery and abolition. Kirklees Civic Sunday was the official commemoration at Huddersfield Parish Church, with a performance by a local gospel choir and a presentation by actors as historical characters. The links between Yorkshire and the Caribbean were also explored: 8,500 people of African-Caribbean descent live in the borough of Kirklees. Events such as the Jamaica National Independence Cultural Festival, Deighton Carnival and Huddersfield Carnival celebrated African and Caribbean culture. Part of the Kirklees programme was to host the Equiano Project's touring exhibition at the Hudawi Centre in Huddersfield. The Centre went on to name one of its rooms after Equiano. Other events included talks from historians, including Richard Reddie and Paul Crooke, church services, choir concerts and theatre productions.
Sugar & Spice was Gateshead's festival celebrating African and Caribbean culture. Held in October 2007, highlights of the programme included 'Mama Africa', South African singer Miriam Makeba; the opera 'Mary Seacole'; a massed performance of 'On Liberation Street' featuring local performers and singers alongside the Grand Union Orchestra; and 'Roll Jordan Roll' featuring jazz trumpeter Abram Wilson performing with the London Community Gospel Choir. The festival weekend also featured street theatre; jazz,blues and gospel music; a light show; and children's arts activities.
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.
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.
This collaborative community initiative celebrated African and Caribbean culture in Leeds, with a focus on commemorating the Abolition Act by 'highlighting African achievement, liberation and aspirations'. New exhibitions, publications and resources were produced and over 100 bicentenary events organised under different themes: Education and Museums; Arts and Carnival Culture; Churches and Abolition; Legacy; Black History and Community Development; Media and Communications. Highlights included the photographic exhibition and pamphlet 'From Abolition to Commonwealth', which remembered indentured labour in Africa and the Caribbean after 1807, and the 40th anniversary of Leeds West Indian Carnival, with themes that highlighted heritage, liberation, respect and freedom. Project outputs included an education pack, black history classes, concerts, church services, lectures and performances.