Power Writers and the Struggle Against Slavery

Power Writers and the Struggle Againt Slavery: Celebrating five African writers who came to the East End of London in the 18th Century (HANSIB/THACMO ISBN 187051833X)

A fascinating booklet published by the Tower Hamlets African and Caribbean Mental Health Association. It covers five black writers who lived in the east end in the 18th Century. Each writer is given a full biography. Examples of their written work are also included and the book is illustrated with documents and prints from the time as well as photographs of relevant locations from the present day.

Of course much of the writing is concerned with the iniquities of slavery. Indeed, the fact that Phillis Wheatley was actually able to write beautiful poetry was used as an example of the humanity of black people by the abolitionists when faced with arguments about them being more akin to livestock.

Taking a stance against slavery and the slave trade is a no-brainer these days, but in the 18th Century it was a hot issue. It is very interesting to see the arguments put forward so eloquently at the time by ex-slaves rather than white liberals. For example, the book allows us to contrast the moral and religious positions put forward by Olaudah Equiano with the more economic arguments written by Ottobah Cugoano.

The point that struggle against slavery was international and not just something undertaken by “enlightened” white people is hammered home again and again. For this reason the book also includes chapters on the Jamaican Maroons, Sierra Leone, The Bussa Revolt in Barbados, Black History in London and more. Indeed, the linking of anti-slavery issues with other struggles such as high bread prices and the demobilisation of the army was one facet of London life at the time.

Some of the incidental details thrown up by the research are as fascinating as the central theme. For example I was excited to find out that Southwark Bridge (which I walk over nearly every day on the way to work) was the site at which the Thames gave up a carved wooden spoon of an African head. This dates from the 1st Century and is therefore the oldest artifcact of its type to be discovered in London.

All in all this is extremely well researched, and written in such a way that the facts and characters come to life. Well worth getting hold of if you are interested in any of these issues – and the parallels which can be drawn with life today.

64 pages, many photos, perfectbound. £5.99. Available from AK Distribution, or perhaps you should order it from your local library, especially if you live in London?