Black abolitionist to be honoured at church in Westminster

By staff writers
January 28, 2009

The popular notion that the anti-slave trade movement was a white one is being challenged by the honouring of a key black campaigner for abolitionism through a memorial in St Margaret’s Church in Westminster - right next to the Houses of Parliament in London.

The Anglican Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, will attend the dedication of the memorial of Olaudah Equiano at St Margaret’s on 9 February 2009.

Revolts by slaves themselves on plantations also played a crucial role in ending the transatlantic trade, as well as economic change and pressure from church figures, politicians and other activists.

Equiano (1745 – 1797), who was also known by his slave name of Gustavus Vassa, was baptised at St Margaret’s Church on 9 February 1759. His autobiography The Interesting Narrative Of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, The African depicted the horrors of slavery and helped influence British lawmakers to abolish the slave trade through the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

Despite his enslavement as a young man, Equiano purchased his freedom and worked as a seaman, merchant, and explorer in South America, the Caribbean, the Arctic, the American colonies, and the United Kingdom.

Canon Robert Wright, the Rector of St Margaret's, said: "We are all looking forward to the dedication of the memorial to Ouladah Equiano in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey. It seems very appropriate that he was baptised in the church where the writers John Milton and Samuel Pepys worshipped, a few yards from the place where William Caxton set up his first printing shop, and where the great 17th century artist and engraver, Wenceslaus Hollar is memorialised."

Arthur Torrington, Secretary of the Equiano Society said: "The memorial in St Margaret’s Church is a fitting tribute to an African who made a significant contribution to Britain."

The memorial has been created by the London-based sculptor Marcia Bennett-Male who trained as an architectural stone carver and letter cutter at the London Art School.

St Margaret's stands between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, and is commonly referred to as "the parish church of the House of Commons".

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