Modern Campaigns

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The abolition of slavery

It’s hard to believe anybody ever thought it was okay to own and trade people, but that’s slavery in a nutshell, and it went on until relatively recently in the British Empire; in the 1790s we ‘owned’ over half a million Africans and made them do our dirty work for us for free.

European traders would sail to Africa with a boatful of goods, which they’d swap for kidnapped African people. Then they’d sail all the way to America – which took between one and six months – with so many Africans crammed into the boat that they had no room to move and many died on the way. The ones who survived, they sold. A very nasty business.

A lot of incredible people were involved in bringing slavery to an end: a self-trained lawyer Granville Sharp who tried to get rid of slavery through the courts; one Thomas Clarkson who earned himself the nickname ‘the moral steam engine’ for risking his neck convincing people to come forward as witnesses; and an ex-slave Mary Prince who told her story through the author Susan Strickland, and in doing so won the hearts of the nation’s women.

They faced an uphill struggle: the buying and selling of slaves made the empire a lot of money, and the British people felt as though they had problems enough of their own without worrying about the rights of Africans. In the end, though, they prevailed, and slavery was finally abolished 170 years ago.

The slave trade is a great example of a campaign overcoming the longest odds, and we’ve barely skimmed the surface – to read more about it and get inspired, have a look here: