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You are in: London > History > Abolition > How BBC London and our audience marked the bicentenary

How BBC London and our audience marked the bicentenary

Passage of Time - Uncovering the Untold Histories of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, was a unique event organised by BBC London and The British Library. Here are the various elements which made up the day, including lectures, readings and music.

Detail from 'Slavery' by Mahogany and the public

Detail from 'Slavery' frieze

On March 24th 2007, BBC London ran an event for viewers and listeners called;

Passage of Time - Uncovering the Untold Histories of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

Nearly 200 people arrived at the British Library, which was co-hosting the event with us.  They came to hear lectures, readings, music and a debate. 

Over half of those who attended also took part in creating two paintings entitled Slavery and Freedom. 

The music and artwork were sponsored by Arts Council England's Roots initiative in conjunction with the BBC.

If you weren't able to attend, this is your chance to catch up on what happened on the day and to listen again to the lectures and readings.

Juwon Ogungbe and Scilla Stewart

Juwon Ogungbe and Scilla Stewart

The most successful campaigns are always conducted on a number of levels; political, intellectual, literary, or artistic, to name just some. 

The campaign to abolish the Transatlantic Slave Trade was no different.  We wanted to commemorate the many contributions made by campaigners by reflecting that variety. 

One way we achieved that was by celebrating the role of Ignatius Sancho, one of the black abolitionists who was active in 18th century London and who was also a man of culture and musical talent. 

Juwon Ogungbe a composer and singer who has worked for The South Bank Centre and Aldeburgh Festival among others, performed four of Sancho's songs.  He was accompanied by Scilla Stewart.

We also wanted to create something on the day, which in a small way would be a lasting reminder of the event and what it symbolised.  Mahogany, a leading group of multi-disciplinary artists who design and create large scale kinetic sculptures, enabled us to do that. 

Boy helping to create the 'Freedom' frieze

Boy painting 'Freedom' frieze

Mahogany generally make carnival costumes and have contributed to world events including the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.  On this occasion though, we asked them to work with the public but against the clock, to produce two 3 metre long friezes by the end of the day.  One is entitled Slavery, the other Freedom. 

You can click on the video link to see Evadney Campbell's report showing how the pictures developed during the day as well as excerpts from Ignatius Sancho's songs.


Thomas Clarkson was one of the founder members of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787.  He was a young scholar when he first turned his attention to the cause, largely because he wanted to win an essay prize at Cambridge which had slavery as its subject. 

He won the prize and the essay changed his life because he was so convinced by the arguments he spent many years travelling to campaign against the trade.  The actors Patrick Robinson and Jan Lower read a passage from that winning essay, entitled An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species.   

Olaudah Equiano is the best-known of the former slaves who fought for the freedom of others.  His book 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African', was published in 1789, the very height of the campaign to abolish slavery. 

Patrick Robinson read an extract, taken from Chapter Two, describing the young Equiano’s entry into a slave ship.  Equiano's writing is notably more vivid and affecting than Clarkson's since he is drawing on his own experience. 

Actors Patrick Robinson and Jan Lower

Patrick Robinson and Jan Lower

William Wilberforce first brought his Abolition Bill before Parliament in 1789, the same year that Equiano's book was published.  But powerful economic forces were at work and it wasn't until 1807 that MPs finally voted for abolition.  Nevertheless, that early Wilberforce speech, made a huge impact. 

In the eighteenth century, unlike today, there was no Official Record of speeches made to Parliament.  Instead, newspapers recorded their own versions, and in many cases altered what they had heard to serve their own political agenda.  Jan Lower read a passage from Wilberforce’s famous speech, as recorded by William Cobbet.

You can see the actors' performances by clicking on the relevant vido files.  Patrick Robinson has numerous TV and film credits to his name and was recently in the Royal Shakespeare Company's acclaimed production of Much Ado About Nothing.  Jan Lower, is an actor who ten years ago left the theatre to set up ‘Elbow Productions', a specialist film company for museums and exhibitions.  He is currently working on a project for the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool.  

Alex D Great

Alex D Great plays out the show.

Lecture 1.  An Examination of the Wider Historical Context of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, by Dr Hakim Adi.

Dr Adi is Reader in the History of Africa and the African Diaspora at Middlesex University. He is a founder member of the Black and Asian Studies Association, which he currently chairs. He has written widely on the history of Pan-Africanism and is author of several books, including three history books for children.  You can read the full text of his lecture or click on the audio link to hear him deliver it.   Also, don't miss his separate article on our website about London's historic ties with the Slave Trade.

Peter Herbert takes questions from the floor

Peter Herbert answers questions

Lecture 2.   The Legacies of Slavery for Contemporary British People by Peter Herbert. 

Peter Herbert is a barrister and chair of the Society of Black Lawyers.  He is known as a campaigning human rights advocate whose interests span employment discrimination,  deaths in custody and child care law. He is currently a member of the Attorney General’s Race Advisory Committee, and has sat as an immigration judge since 1996.  You can hear Peter Herberts lecture by clicking the audio link. 

Debate: What Should the Legacy of this Anniversary be?

Both lecturers were joined on stage towards the end of the day by Esther Stanford and Joseph Harker. 

Esther has been at the forefront of the resurgent international African reparations movement in the UK and around the world. She is the UK Co-Vice Chair of the Pan African Reparations Coalition in Europe and legal advisor to the Black Quest for Justice Campaign. 

Joseph Harker is assistant comment editor at the Guardian Newspaper, where he is a regular columnist. He was a founder and Editor of Black Briton newspaper, and is a former Assistant Editor of the The Voice Newspaper.

With BBC London's Dotun Adebayo in the chair, the four panelists discussed what they would like to see in perpetuity, following the bicentenary.  There were also numerous contributions from the floor.  You can hear the debate by clicking on the audio link. 

Members of the public who attended our day also contributed their thoughts and reflections for a commemorative book.  You can see their comments on the seperate page on our website, and please feel free to add your own.  And don't miss our photo gallery from the day (both links at the top of this page).

last updated: 09/04/2008 at 09:19
created: 30/03/2007

You are in: London > History > Abolition > How BBC London and our audience marked the bicentenary

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