“The Interesting Narrative” (1789)*

Pictured: Professor Sir Hilary Beckles

I have snatched an hour to visit the touring exhibition Equiano – an extraordinary life. There are three sessions remaining, this evening and tomorrow, at the American International Church, Tottenham Court Road, Fitzrovia.

William Hague wrote in his 2008 biography of William Wilberforce, who became the voice of the abolition movement in Parliament:

“A glimpse of the heart rending circumstances in which slaves were taken is afforded by the autobiographical writings of Olaudah Equiano (c1745-97), a slave who was captured as a child in the 1740s…but who subsequently earned his freedom (in monetary terms; the act of manumission, or affranchisement) and wrote his story…His firsthand account* of the brutalities of the slave trade played a major role in informing and influencing popular opinion and became a roaring success, with nine editions printed during his lifetime alone.”.

Equiano was known in his lifetime as Gustavus Vassa.

Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, has predicted that “Reparatory justice will become the greatest global movement of the Twenty First Century”.

Claire Heuchan, who blogs as Sister Outrider, responded on Friday this week in the Huffpost Opinion column, to Glasgow University’s plans to raise and spend £20m in slavery reparations. The money will be used to create a Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research. Heuchan asks: “…wouldn’t the truly just and brave course of action be to offer the descendants of those enslaved people, whose exploitation built the University of Glasgow, direct financial restitution?”.

Alison Campsie reported in The Scotsman on 4/6/18 on the Runaway Slaves project, a searchable database covering the whole of the UK, of more than eight hundred “runaway notices”. These are quite often the only evidence of the existence of slaves who tried to flee their masters.

Nelson Mundell, a PhD candidate on the (Glasgow University) project, said: “The vast majority of people know that slavery existed in the British Empire…but many people don’t realise that there was a significant number of enslaved on our own shores too….Unfortunately, for the vast majority of runaways we have no idea what happened after the advertisements were placed..”.

Professor Beckles told a gathering in Kingston, Jamaica, on 31st July, on the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two universities, that while most institutions looking into their links with slavery “do research and run”, Glasgow “researched and repaired”.

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