By Mike Kaye
Last updated 2011-02-17
Abolitionists undermined the claims of the pro-slavery lobby by publishing books and pamphlets written by people who had witnessed the realties of the trade first-hand.
Olaudah Equiano (pictured above), a former slave, published his autobiography in 1789. It documented his kidnap from Africa, his voyage across the Atlantic and his life in slavery. It would have been difficult for readers not to identify with the author. Equiano was courageous, resourceful, literate, cultured and Christian - all the qualities that British people admired and aspired to. The book, which became a bestseller, fundamentally challenged some of the widely held assumptions of that time about Africans and the slave trade.
Other prominent testimonies included those by Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, Dr Alexander Falconbrige and the Reverend John Newton. Newton had formerly been a slave ship captain and his testimony was particularly influential since he became a prominent Anglican after his retirement from the slave trade.
The abolitionists realised that personal testimonies were an incredibly powerful way of communicating the direct experiences of those subjected to the horrors of the slave trade. It allowed British people to relate to them as fellow human beings.
This continues to be a popular communication tool. Media stories regularly focus on personal accounts of how people respond to particular events, such as dealing with illness, bereavement, financial problems and relationship issues. NGOs routinely provide case studies or direct quotes from people affected by human rights violations so that the reader can see how the issue affects real people.
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