OU on the BBC: The Slavery Business - Programme 2: Breaking the Chains
In 1807 Britain did something unique: it ended the trade in slaves. No other nation had ever abandoned the slave trade. It took a revolution of the slaves to destroy France’s slave system and a terrible civil war in the USA decided the fate of the slaves of the Southern States, but in Britain alone slavery was ended by millions of ordinary people, black and white, free and enslaved, who decided it simply could no longer be tolerated. And one man, more than any other, was responsible for the end of the slave trade - William Wilberforce.
Wilberforce became a national hero for his work bringing the suffering of Africans to the attention of a shocked British public, and fighting in parliament against the powerful pro-slavery lobby. But what is less well known is that the 800,000 Africans who were already enslaved on plantations across the empire were not freed by the Abolition Bill. They remained human property to be beaten, raped, sold and worked as their masters decided. And what’s been forgotten in the official history of slavery is that William Wilberforce, the hero of the abolitionist movement himself, was a leading voice arguing that these slaves should not be freed.
This programme tells the untold story of how the slaves of the Caribbean eventually won their freedom and how William Wilberforce slowly changed his mind and became their champion. It’s a tale of blood and fire, of revolution and of faith. It was a battle between greed and morality, fought by the slaves in the sugar cane fields of the Caribbean and by a handful of remarkable heroes.
Preachers and humanitarian politicians inspired a whole nation to harness their moral outrage to destroy the world’s most powerful and loathsome industry. This is the lost story of William Wilberforce’s last desperate struggle, and the slow, strange death of British slavery.
First broadcast: Wednesday 10 Aug 2005 on BBC TWO
The Slavery Business in more depth:
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Wednesday, 2nd March 2005
Last updated on: Monday, 25th July 2005
- Body text - Copyrighted: The Open University
- Image 'William Wilberforce and fellow MPs' - Copyrighted: Used with permission
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