By Mike Kaye
Last updated 2011-02-17
In 1787, Josiah Wedgwood designed a seal for the anti-slavery campaign. The image (shown above) depicts an African man kneeling in supplication under the slogan 'Am I not a man and a brother?'.
The African slave is presented as passive rather than rebellious, and is therefore non-threatening. This appealed to those opinion formers with a paternalistic attitude towards slaves. The pose also evokes prayer and resonates with those who felt that slavery went against Christian values. Finally, the logo's slogan appealed to all those who felt a basic solidarity with their fellow human beings.
The Wedgwood seal ignores the fact that some Africans were actively engaged in challenging the system of slavery through rebellions, personal acts of resistance and as abolitionists. Instead, it depicts an image which was likely to engage the maximum number of white, British people in the campaign. This approach was effective, but serves to reinforce negative stereotypes of Africans as helpless and dependent, as indeed do some fundraising campaigns today.
The image was adopted as the abolition movement's logo and used to brand publications, chinaware, snuffboxes, cufflinks, bracelets, medallions and banners. The logo became both a political and a fashion statement and helped to popularise opposition to slavery. This helped to build support for the anti-slavery movement over a large cross-section of British society, including radicals and conservatives, and the working and middle classes.
The use of branding, marketing and merchandising is commonplace today and includes anything from T-shirts to credit cards. The 'Make Poverty History' wristbands, AIDS ribbons, the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal and Comic Relief's Red Nose Day are all examples of contemporary campaigns which have raised public awareness and gained mass support from the public in this way.