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A new film 'Amazing Grace'
Boston, January 26, 2007 – Two hundred years after the British Empire abolished slavery – and 144 years after the Emancipation Proclamation – an estimated 27 million people around the world are living in slavery.
This winter, as a new film tells the story of Amazing Grace, the hymn written by a reformed slave trader, a new abolitionist movement is being mounted to end slavery forever. Tens of thousands are planning to launch this effort February 18 on Amazing Grace Sunday.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the British Parliament's act to end the sale of human beings in its empire. The act did not end the slave trade between Africa and the Americas but it set a political precedent and a moral standard for the rest of the world.
William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was the original Great Emancipator. His twenty-year fight to end the British slave trade continued until Parliament finally acted days before his death in 1833. Wilberforce is less well known than Lincoln but the U.S. president said the British statesman was one of his political models. Wilberforce also advocated for child labor laws, campaigned for education of the blind and deaf, and founded organizations as diverse as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the National Gallery (of Art). "Good causes," it has been said, "stuck to him like pins to a magnet."
A central but little known figure in the abolitionist movement in Great Britain is Olaudah Equiano (c.1745–1797) who wrote an eyewitness account of his life as a slave and of his work in the anti-slavery movement: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African. Though born in what is now Nigeria, Equiano was kidnapped and sold into slavery in childhood and taken as a slave to the New World. As a slave to a captain in the Royal Navy, and later to a Quaker merchant, he eventually earned the price of his own freedom by careful trading and saving.
Equiano, like Wilberforce, stood for more than just abolition. Equiano was an African, a slave, a sailor, an Englishman, an abolitionist, a Christian, a writer. He used his many titles to show how slavery brutalizes society as a whole.
He wrote: "Is not the slave trade entirely a war with the heart of man? Such a tendency has the slave trade to debauch men's minds and harden them to every feeling of humanity! For I will not suppose that the dealers in slaves are born worse than other men…it corrupts the milk of human kindness and turns it into gall. Surely this traffic cannot be good, which spreads like a pestilence and taints what it touches!"
Americans are probably more familiar with Wilberforce's friend and mentor, John Newton, the writer of "Amazing Grace." Church choirs that praise the grace that "saved a wretch like me" scarcely plunge Newton's emotional depths. He was a slave trader who came to feel the agony of personal responsibility for the 30,000 souls that perished under his cruelty. His astonishment that God's grace was sufficient to save even him transcends the words of the familiar hymn. But it was the depth of his feeling and the power of his soul that motivated Wilberforce and others.
Also overlooked by most
people who sing the hymn is the fact that slavery has never been
eliminated or that more people are enslaved today – 27 million
people – than at any other time in history. (See the following Web
sites for more information:
Grace, based on the life of antislavery pioneer William Wilberforce,
is directed by
Michael Apted (The World is
Not Enough, Coal Miner's Daughter) from an original
screenplay written by Academy Award® nominee
Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things).
Gruffudd plays Wilberforce, who, as a Member of Parliament,
navigated the world of 18th Century backroom politics to end the
slave trade in the British Empire.
Albert Finney plays John Newton, a confidante of Wilberforce who
inspires him to pursue a life of service to humanity.
Benedict Cumberbatch is William Pitt the Younger, England's
youngest ever Prime Minister at the age of 24, who encourages his
friend Wilberforce to take up the fight to outlaw slavery and
supports him in his struggles in Parliament.
On Sunday February 18th, tens of thousands of people around the globe will cross racial and denominational divides to stand united against this ongoing human atrocity by praying for freedom and singing the historic song Amazing Grace. This Sunday will serve as an observance of both the historic battle against slavery and oppression and as a call to action for churches to pursue justice. Churches can register on a special website created for the event, download lyrics, music and bulletin inserts and get more information about the background of the hymn. www.AmazingGraceSunday.com
The Amazing Change campaign is inspired by the film "Amazing Grace" to continue the unfinished work of William Wilberforce. The campaign is raising awareness and funds to help abolish slavery, gather signatures on a petition to end modern day slavery, and motivate a new generation of activists who give back to the world.
information or to request an interview,
contact: Loretta Cooper at
|NCC News: Dan Webster, 212-870-2252, NCCnews@ncccusa.org|
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