Today is International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, the day designated by UNESCO to memorialise the transatlantic slave trade. The slave trade existed from the 16th to the 19th centuries and forcibly enslaved and transported central and western Africans to work in abhorrent conditions on commodity crop plantations and production of clothing to sell in Europe.
Over the years, slavery had become eponymous with racial caste and subhuman 'property' and an estimated 12 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic, torn from family, loved ones and their home country, never to return. These cultural ‘norms’ have had a devastating intergenerational impact on a global level, which we are still working to put an end to.
When we think about slavery we often puzzle over how such horrific acts of human abuses could have been so widespread and accepted. At the time in the 1700s to 1800s slavery was strongly argued as an antidote to national economic collapse, 'proven' inferiority and inability for slaves to partake in other kinds of work and even religious arguments that it was in the Bible, so God must have approved it.
Poet & Writer Hannah More (1745-1833) was a friend and contemporary of William Wilberforce and strongly opposed to the Slave Trade. She was part of an evangelical group opposing the Trade and wrote extensively on the topic.
One such piece was a poem she penned in 1788 about Britain's role in the Slave Trade, appealing to the morality of Christians who had either turned a blind eye or actively participated in the Trade.
Thy followers only have effac'd the shame
Inscrib'd by SLAVERY on the Christian name.
Shall Britain, where the soul of freedom reigns,
Forge chains for others she herself disdains?
Forbid it, Heaven! O let the nations know
The liberty she loves she will bestow;
Not to herself the glorious gift confin'd,
She spreads the blessing wide as humankind;
And, scorning narrow views of time and place,
Bids all be free in earth's extended space.
Throughout her life, Hannah continued to support the cause and lived just long enough to see the act that abolished the Slave Trade in 1833.
An excerpt of the poem "The Tears of the Slave, written by an unknown poet named Africus in 1828, reveals the links between this and Hannahs' poem in using moral suasion to appeal primarily to powerful white Christian men who had the political sway to act against slavery.
The pitiful tears of a SLAVE!
Can a land of Christians so pure!
Let demons of slavery rave!
Can the angel of mercy endure,
The pitiless—tears of a SLAVE!
Just Heaven, to thee I appeal;
Hast thou not the power to save?
In mercy thy power reveal,
And dry—the sad tears of a SLAVE.
Voices Beyond Bondage
These poems which were circulated around England and the America’s respectively helped to articulate and educate people to question the accepted norms of society. Interesting to note is how the power of creativity appealed to the populace by capturing their interest by presenting circumstances in ways that repositioned them out of the mundane.
Are there areas in the modern church that we overlook because it's accepted by society, or put in the ‘too hard basket’?
How can we use our talents, passions and gifts to spread compassion, education and perfect love to those who have been victims to these areas – as well as the perpetrators themselves?
Each human on this earth was created to be loved and understood. What does that look like? How can we partner with heaven in advancing 'all things new'?