The Prime Minister of the United
Kingdom, Tony Blair, has promoted the bicentenary of the
abolition of the Atlantic slave trade.
The event will be marked by elements of
penance on March 24th this year on the eve of the 200th
anniversary of the passing of the act that ended the trade.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York
are to lead a walk of witness through London, accompanied by
an African drummer. Churches are encouraged to send
supporters to the march. The English General Synod voted
last year to apologize for the church’s involvement with the
trade from which bishops, clergy and lay people benefited.
For instance, the USPG, a missionary
society, owned a sugar plantation in the West Indies worked
by slaves A number of stamps will be produced depicting
evangelical Christians who were involved in the abolition
movement, such as a distant ancestor of mine,
Estimates vary that between 10 and 28
million Africans were sent to the Americas and sold into
slavery between 1450 and the early 19th century. By then
Britain was the dominant trader transporting more than
300,000 slaves a year in shackles on disease ridden boats.
William Wilberforce was the politician who, unremittingly,
drove the legislation through Parliament against much
opposition, especially from vested interests such as
plantation owners and slave traders. The fruits of slavery
were a major player in the British economy. The Churches
were benign towards the issue, as St Paul did not seem to be
The success of
was very much dependant upon the evidence that Thomas
Clarkson discovered, such as torture instruments and his
infamous picture of the way slaves were packed into the
boats. Clarkson produced a drawing of the inside of a slave
ship in 1789 where 480 slaves were packed in, lying flat on
their backs, in space less the size of a coffin for a voyage
that lasted six to eight weeks.
For 48 years he campaigned up and down
Britain and put himself at considerable risks when he
visited the docks such as Bristol and saw the ships for
The Archbishop of Canterbury said in
his Christmas message:
“the abolition of slavery was achieved
by Christian people who were passionately persuaded of the
dignity of man, touched by the incarnate Word of God; people
who knew that slavery was both a terrible affront to the
dignity of the slave — and a terrible wound to the spiritual
health and integrity of those who owned slaves and who in
virtue of that, fact, were more deeply enslaved themselves
by sin and greed”.
John Newton, the author of that famous
hymn 'Amazing Grace', was a slave owner before his
conversion. The Archbishop also in his message posed the
question, “Where, are the slaves today?” Child soldiers,
victims of sex trafficking, people who live with violence,
especially abused women and children. Indigenous
housing needs urgent attention.
I would hope that the dedication and
perseverance of the abolitionists will inspire us all to
show courage and witness to our faith by social action today
wherever we come up against the injustice of inequality,
dispossession and marginalization.
Canon John Clarkson is a descendant of
Thomas Clarkson. He is a
the Society's Board of Governors.
This address was originally published in an Anglican
Church diocesan paper in February 2007.