Youssou N’Dour stars as real-life slave Oloudah Equiano in Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian and evangelical Christian who spearheaded the abolition of slavery.
A handful of newly-released books, a mainstream film and a number of special events marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, many of them taking advantage of March 25, the day the legislation was passed in Parliament.
The commemoration was most evident in Great Britain, where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Archbishop of York, Ugandan-born John Sentamu, walked in a “Procession of Witness” in London on March 25. Marchers from across Britain participated, carrying a giant cross and walking to the beat of African drummers. The archbishops of West Africa and the West Indies also took part.
Archbishops Williams and York also posted an online reflection on YouTube, a popular video sharing Web site, about the nature of the slave trade, saying that slavery is not “a thing of the past and no more;” they urged Christians to remember that “every person is made in the image and likeness of God, of great worth and of great value.”
The World Council of Churches, World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Council for World Mission issued a statement calling the slave trade an “African holocaust” and called upon churches, governments and businesses “that were unjustly enriched by the slave trade not only to repent but to demonstrate fruits of that repentance.”
Among many church services in Canada, the oldest black church in Toronto, First Baptist Church, commemorated the anniversary with a special service featuring former member of Parliament Jean Augustine, the first African-Canadian woman elected to Parliament.
The voice of the black diaspora aching for freedom was honoured at a concert on March 26 at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall. The internationally-known Nathaniel Dett Chorale sang such classic spirituals as Go Down, Moses and Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel. Organist Christopher Dawes, who serves the Anglican church of St. George the Martyr in Toronto, adapted Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen on the pipe organ.
At least five books have been released this year about various aspects of slavery. Two are biographies of William Wilberforce, the member of the British Parliament and evangelical Christian who spearheaded the fight for abolition law.
Amazing Grace, by Eric Metaxas, is an engaging and lively account of Wilberforce’s life and reads like a novel rather than an academic treatise. Another biography, William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity, by Kevin Belmonte, was written by the historical consultant to a motion picture about Wilberforce called Amazing Grace.
The film stars Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce and features a powerful performance by Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour as the real-life former slave Olaudah Equiano. Although the movie is a bit talky and contains a few Hollywood cliches (emotional moments are underscored by a torrential downpour of rain and violins swell as Wilberforce is finally victorious), it serves as an excellent dramatization of the passion and faith of the great reformer.
Wilberforce’s own book, Real Christianity, has been released in modern English. In it, he argued that the real duty of Christians was to uplift the world around them and spoke of how the “motivation for life” should be “God-centered” rather than “man-centered.” Another related book, entitled Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It, notes that various forms of slavery still exist around the world – sexual bondage, debt slavery – and profiles a new generation of abolitionists.