Wilberforce House Museum is one of the world's oldest slavery museums. It opened in 1906 after the building, the house where leading abolitionist William Wilberforce was born, was bought by the Hull Corporation to preserve it for reasons of learning and of civic pride. Initially a local history museum, at the centre of Hull's historic High Street, the collections soon expanded through public donations and, unsurprisingly, these donations focussed heavily on items relating to Wilberforce. Today the museum and its collections are owned by Hull City Council and managed by Hull Culture and Leisure Limited. It forms part of Hull's 'Museums Quarter' alongside museums on transport, local social history and archaeology. In addition to the Wilberforce displays, the museum also features period room settings, silver, furniture and clocks, as well as a gallery exploring the history of the East Yorkshire Regiment.
The galleries at Wilberforce House Museum tell many different stories. An exploration of the history of the house welcomes visitors into the museum, followed by displays about William Wilberforce from his childhood, to his work and his family life. These galleries have examples of costume, books, domestic items and even the 1933 Madame Tussauds wax model of Wilberforce himself. Up the grand cantilever staircase, installed by the Wilberforce family in the 1760s, the displays continue. Here they look at the history of slavery and the origins of the British transatlantic slave trade. One gallery contains items that illustrate the richness of African culture prior to European involvement, dispelling the traditional myth that Africa was empty and uncivilised before the intervention of the Western world. Following that, the exhibition narrative goes on to look at the process of enslavement, the logistics of the trading system, the Middle Passage and slave auctions. Again, a wide range of collections are used to illustrate the informative panels. This is repeated in the displays about plantation life and resistance.
Of course no museum about William Wilberforce would be complete without an exhibition on antislavery and the abolition movement. This is extended with two galleries which look at the legacies of such a campaign in terms of modern slavery and human rights today. There are opportunities in these galleries for visitors to provide their comments and opinions, through several interactives, as well as engage with ideas as to how they can actively participate in today's campaign to end modern slavery.
The official publication from the British Government in response to the bicentenary included a message from Prime Minister Tony Blair. It set out the history of transatlantic slavery and resistance to it, and featured a calendar of upcoming events for 2007 relating to slavery and abolition. The publication also detailed contemporary efforts to end modern slavery. Later in 2007, 'The way forward: bicentenary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807-2007' reflected on some of the commemorative activity that had taken place in Bristol, Hull, Liverpool, London and Greater Manchester. With a foreword by the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the theme of the publication was 'Reflecting on the past, looking to the future' and it linked efforts for the abolition of historical and contemporary slavery. The publication also looked to how to tackle inequality and poverty in the UK, Africa and the Caribbean.
The Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE) was officially opened in Hull in 2006 in anticipation of the city's bicentenary commemorations. The University of Hull research centre specialises in researching the history of slavery, while also examining contemporary slavery and human rights abuses in the present day. The patron of the institute is Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the institute was opened by then President of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor. The WISE Humanitarian Wall commemorates historical and contemporary figures in the struggle against slavery, including Olaudah Equiano, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Nelson Mandela.
Campaign! Make an Impact was a British Library developed programme that used history to inspire young people into active citizenship. The Bitter Sweet Project involved students from Easingwold School engaging with collections from the British Library, Hull Museums Service and Harewood House. Year 9 students studied the 1807 campaign to abolish the transatlantic slave trade and then created a graphic novel about Harewood House’s links to the sugar trade.
La Bouche du Roi was created by artist Romauld Hazoumé, who lives and work in the Republic of Benin, West Africa. The multi-media artwork is named after a place on the coast of Benin from where enslaved Africans were transported. It comprised 304 plastic petrol can 'masks', each representing a person, arranged in the shape of the woodcut of the Liverpool slave ship Brookes. The aroma of tobacco and spices are represented alongside the terrible smells of a slave ship. The artwork was accompanied by a film showing the motorcyclists who transport petrol illegally between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin. The cans and motorcyclists are metaphors for modern forms of enslavement and resistance. First exhibited at the British Museum in London, La Bouche du Roi toured to the following venues during 2007-9: Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, Bristol's City Museum and Art Gallery, Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, and the Horniman Museum in London.
Uncomfortable Truths at the Victoria and Albert Museum sought to expose how embedded the transatlantic slave trade was within British culture during the 18th and 19th centuries through art and design. A series of five trails - 'Traces of the Trade' - explored the permanent collections on display through the following themes: Consuming the Black Atlantic, Black Servants in British Homes, Britain and the West Indies, Representing Slavery and Abolitionism, Gold and Slaves Transnational Trade Links. An exhibition of contemporary art examined the impact of the legacies of slavery on modern art and design. The Victoria and Albert Museum commissioned new works by Yinka Shonibare, Romauld Hazoume, Julien Sinzogan and Keith Piper. These and other contemporary interventions by a total of 11 artists were displayed throughout the museum. This exhibition later toured to Ferens Art Gallery in Hull.
The 'Truth and Rights' season of events highlighted often untold stories of Black British heroes, including focus on the actor Ira Aldridge. Visitors were also offered discussions, debates, displays and an eight week free art course. A two-day conference, 'From Cane Field to Tea Cup: The Impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade on Art and Design' focused on V&A collections took place in February 2007.
As part of the Wilberforce 2007 programme, ArtLink Exchange, a community arts organisation in Hull, worked with local schoolchildren to produce an exhibition of artwork inspired by the bicentenary. This included artwork created by pupils from Sir Henry Cooper School and Endeavour High with artist Isaac Acheampong.
Hull's parish church of Holy Trinity is where William Wilberforce was baptised in 1759. The Church held a number of performances and events throughout 2007. The Together for Freedom commemorative service took place on 25 March 2007, led by the Archbishop of York and featuring the Redemption Gospel Choir from Hull and Middlesbrough. The Freedom Flower Festival took place in June and the Songs of Freedom Music Festival in September, featuring performances by leading gospel performers and local schoolchildren. The London Community Gospel Choir gave a powerful concert, which highlighted the important role of music in the lives of slaves living on plantations. In August, the Freetown Society of Hull hosted a performance of the Milton Margai School for the Blind Choir from Freetown, Sierra Leone. A Panos photographic exhibition at the Church, Slave Britain, revealed the realities of contemporary human trafficking.
Part of Wilberforce 2007, the Walking with Wilberforce Heritage Trail is a journey through Hull's Old Town, via twelve important landmarks related to William Wilberforce and the theme of freedom. Along the trail is the Humanitarian Wall, at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, constructed in 2006 to commemorate worldwide actions for human rights and justice. The ceramic markers, inspired by the Sankofa bird, were designed especially for the trail by three community and art groups from Hull's Africa Forum, from Hull College ceramic students and from local schools working in collaboration with two local ceramic artists. The trail was launched with a celebration of African culture led by students from Hull schools and the local Congolese community.
This sixty-mile walking trail was devised to commemorate the bicentenary by East Riding Local Strategic Partnership's Community Cohesion Forum and the Yorkshire and Humber Faiths Forum. The trail connects some of the important places in the life of the abolitionist William Wilberforce: it starts in Hull (where Wilberforce was born), connects with Pocklington in the East Riding of Yorkshire (where he attended school) and finishes at York (where he was declared MP for the County of Yorkshire).
Hull Truck Theatre supported Wilberforce 2007 with two specially commissioned productions, Slavers and Sold, and a playwright festival. For one week in August 2007, Hull Truck Youth Theatre presented Slavers, set in 2007, which told the story of abolition through the eyes of young people in Hull. Written by Rupert Creed and directed by Karen Dainty, the play followed a group of school leavers and their potentially prosperous business-start up, trading in human cargo. When some started questioning the morality behind the business, the audience was transported back to the debates of Wilberforce and his allies two hundred years previously. Another play, ‘Sold’, in conjunction with Liverpool Hope University, sought to raise awareness about the victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation today.
The Wilberforce Women project was launched by the Hull Women's Centre with the support of Wilberforce 2007. Hull based photojournalist Lee Karen Stow worked with groups of women from the twinned towns of Hull and Freetown (Sierra Leone), through photography and messages of friendship. Women from Hull were invited to think about themes of Pride, Freedom, Belief and Change and contribute a photograph on the chosen theme to send as greetings to women in Freetown. To return the greetings, women in Freetown were taught basic photography skills in order to interpret their own thoughts on the themes. A selection of the images were displayed at the Humber BBC Open Centre and on the BBC Humber website, as well as a dedicated exhibition at the Ferens Art Gallery and at the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation. A second stage of the project saw the images and messages being collated into a photographic book and DVD.
Wilberforce House Museum re-opened in 2007 after a significant redevelopment. In 1907 the 17th century building, and William Wilberforce’s birthplace and home in Hull’s Old Town, became Britain's first museum of the history of slavery. In 2007, the museum was fully refurbished with new displays. Some of these showcased existing collections, including those relating to the life of their famous patron, the slave trade and plantation life. Other displays engaged with themes considered absent from former interpretations, including the wider abolition movement. Another significant new feature was the inclusion of two galleries relating to modern slavery and human rights. These exhibits drew attention to local and global issues, with objects donated by members of the local community and contemporary antislavery campaign groups.
In 2009, Full-Flava Entertainment compiled a world music CD and DVD celebrating the cultural diversity of Kingston Upon Hull through a collaboration of a wide selection of diverse musicians, bands and groups based in Hull. The Wilberforce Connexion included artists that have migrated to Hull, or who represented their ancestral country of origin: Angola, Congo, India, Kurdistan, Malawi, Nigeria, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Tanzania and United Kingdom.
Alongside commemorating the passing of the 1807 Abolition Act, the ‘William Wilberforce, Slavery and the East Riding’ exhibition at the Treasure House in Beverley also highlighted Wilberforce’s connections with the East Riding of Yorkshire. The exhibition traced the roots of the Wilberforce family back to the early 13th century, and narrated the story of William Wilberforce’s early life in a family of merchants, and later, his significant contributions to the abolition campaign. It also looked at the other links between the East Riding and slavery, in the family fortunes of the Beverley family and Watt family, founded on ownership of slave plantations, but also the anti-slavery societies established in the region. The exhibition ended by highlighting the plight of the millions of people still enslaved across the world today, and discussed some of the contemporary antislavery efforts.
Wilberforce 2007 was a year-long programme of events from Hull City Council, commemorating the bicentenary and celebrating the city's diverse communities. The programme, named after 'son of Hull' William Wilberforce MP, was based around the themes of Pride, Freedom, Belief and Change. In partnership with Anti-Slavery International, Hull promoted the Fight for Freedom Petition against modern day slavery. The Wilberforce Lecture Trust held five specially commissioned lectures. The Wilberforce Weekender in July 2007 was a weekend of public events, including the Wilberforce Clipper Challenge Cup, Sankofa Sunsplash (celebrating African and Caribbean culture, food and music), Zapcat Racing, and the annual Jazz Festival. Throughout the year there were concerts and specially commissioned pieces from the Hull Choral Union, Hull Philharmonic, Hull Sinfonietta and the East Yorkshire Motor Services Brass Band. Other initiatives raised awareness of Fair Trade, and there was a variety of educational programmes and events. Funding was also made available for smaller community projects.
Written by Ghanaian playwright Ama Ata Aidoo, The Dilemma of a Ghost deals with colliding cultures in 21st century Africa. An African-American woman accompanies her Ghanaian husband as he returns home, but the couple are haunted by ghosts of the inheritance of the slave trade. A collaboration between London theatre company Border Crossings and the National Theatre of Ghana, the production used music and dance to celebrate 50 years of Ghana’s independence and 200 years since the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. The play was performed in Birmingham, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, London, Plymouth and Slough. The production was was accompanied by a new book from Border Crossings, working in collaboration with Anti-Slavery International. ‘Theatre and Slavery: Ghosts at the Crossroads’ explored the ways in which world theatre responds to key issues in modern society and politics, including the issue of contemporary slavery.
This project was the Church of England’s official response to the bicentenary, as CMEAC (established by the Archbishops’ Council) explored the Church’s multi-faceted role in the history of slavery in Britain. Making our Mark focused on connections with local communities, opening access to heritage, and raising awareness of the legacies of slavery. The project had two main strands. The first was a set of regional dialogues – the Bicentenary Hearings – which represented local opportunities for discussion about experiences of slavery, as a way to make new connections between past and present, education and action. The Hearings took place in Liverpool, London, Birmingham, Hull and Southwark in February and March 2007. The second strand was the Walk of Witness, a heritage trail through London on 24 March 2007. Participants included government representatives, leaders in the Church of England, social justice organisations, ecumenical and multi-faith partners, and schools. A pack was produced for schools, including a DVD with footage from the Walk and Hearings.
The Lifeline Expedition began in 2000 as a reconciliation journey linking the European and African nations. The March of the Abolitionists was organised for 2007, aiming to bring an apology for the slave trade (especially the role of the church); to promote understanding of slavery and abolition by engaging with schools and the media; and to remember black and white abolitionists of the past, and of current campaigns. For the first stage in March 2007 (the Meridian Walk), a group of walkers included Africans and descendants of enslaved Africans, while white people from the former slave trading nations wore yokes and chains on their 250-mile journey from Hull to London. In the capital they joined the Walk of Witness at Westminster, led by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. The second stage of the march (the Sankofa Walk) linked the former slave ports of London, Liverpool and Bristol in June and July 2007.
This community-based mass reading scheme drew together partners from four areas of the UK; Bristol and the South West (Great Reading Adventure), Liverpool and the North West (Liverpool Reads), Hull (Hull Libraries) and Glasgow (Aye Write! Bank of Scotland Book Festival). 50,000 free copies of Andrea Levy’s award-winning novel 'Small Island' were distributed - a story of Jamaican slave descendants arriving in the UK in the 1940s, it addressed resonant themes of identity, racial awareness, forgiveness, ignorance and survival. There was also an accompanying reader's guide. Younger audiences took part by reading Benjamin Zephaniah’s 'Refugee Boy', or Mary Hoffman’s 'Amazing Grace'. Activity packs inspired discussion of historic and contemporary issues addressed in the texts. Featured are some of the responses of pupils from Parson Street Primary School, Bristol, to 'Refugee Boy'.