Book of Note: Hollywood Weighs In On the Abolition of Slavery in England

Book of Note: Hollywood Weighs In On the Abolition of Slavery in England

The new movie “Amazing Grace” is an elegant depiction of famed British abolitionist William Wilberforce, who at 21 began the movement to eventually abolish the slave trade and free all slaves in England. However, the story behind the story can also be found in one of the earliest published books by a Black author — and the only known first-hand account of an 18th-century slave.

The Interesting Narrative Of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Written by Himself was published more than 200 years ago. Equiano had been purchased at age 11 and sent to the New World. After more than a decade of servitude, Equiano won his freedom and joined Wilberforce’s movement, offering a searing account of the wretched conditions on slave trading ships.

However, Dr. Vincent Carretta, a professor and associate chair of the English department at the University of Maryland, wrote a biography in 2005 of Equiano, titled Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man (The University of Georgia Press). Carretta uncovered baptismal records in England, which state that Equiano was born in South Carolina, not Nigeria, therefore calling into question whether Equiano personally experienced the Middle Passage. Sounds like the final chapter has yet to be written.

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