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Olaudah Equiano

Gretchen Gerzina explores the life of the best-known black man in 18th-century Britain, Olaudah Equiano. A former sailor and slave, he was a world traveller who bought his freedom.

Professor Gretchen Gerzina explores a largely unknown past - the lives of black people who settled in Britain in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

She reveals a startling paradox - although Britain was at the heart of a thriving slave trade, it was still possible for many black people to live here in freedom and prosperity. A few even made it to the very top of fashionable society.

But there were others who were brought over by slave-owners from the West Indies and who were never free, despite living for the rest of their lives in Glasgow or Bristol or London. Some took the law into their own hands, and managed to free themselves, others went further and advocated violent revolution. Free or unfree, they all saw Britain as a place of opportunity that could become a home.

Over two weeks, Professor Gerzina travels across Britain and talks to historians, unearthing new evidence about Britain's black past. From a country estate in Chepstow, via the docks of Liverpool, to grand houses in London and Bristol, she evokes the daily texture of black people's lives, using first-hand accounts from letters and autobiographies.

In the fifth programme of the series, Professor Gerzina explores the life of the best-known black person in 18th century Britain, Olaudah Equiano. A former sailor and slave, he was a world traveller who bought his own freedom. He ultimately arrived at the heart of British power, even visiting the Queen.

Presenter Gretchen Gerzina is the author of Black in England: Life before Emancipation. She is Dean of the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts.

With historians Professor Vincent Carretta and Professor James Walvin.

The music in this series is by the 18th century composer Ignatius Sancho, and performed by the Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra.

Readers: Paterson Joseph, Jonathan Keeble
Producer: Elizabeth Burke
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4.

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15 minutes

Last on

Fri 7 Oct 2016 13:45