William Wilberforce

April 2007


Last Sunday, I went to see the film Amazing Grace. It featured the life of William Wilberforce who in the late eighteenth century began a 20-year fight for the abolition of the British slave trade. On March 25, 1807, after almost 250 years of African slaving expeditions, the triumph finally came and the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was passed.


While in his early twenties, Wilberforce was torn between devoting his life to serve God or join Parliament. His friends pointed out that he could do both by fighting against injustice as a member of Parliament. One of his encouragers was former slaveship master turned abolitionist minister John Newton, who penned the lyrics to the song Amazing Grace after “seeing the light.”


Wilberforce worked with fellow-abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to inform British citizens of slavery’s brutality. Slavery was seen as a necessary evil to most. Not many wanted to know the brutal, unimaginable truth. The logic went something like this: Sugarcane was an important crop processed by slaves in the West Indies. Britain needed sugar for tea. Slavery was necessary.


Another key abolitionist featured in the film was African-born Olaudah Equiano, who after being forced into slavery, bought his freedom and published an account of his life. His book and his presence in London as a learned, outspoken man provided the strong cognitive dissonance needed to change minds.


When the film was over and I was teary-eyed, the audience began an enthusiastic round of applause. I was so emotionally overcome that I couldn’t clap. I knew I would burst into tears. As I began walking out and unobtrusively dabbing my eyes, a young woman stood up and proclaimed, “Slavery is still going on today! Go home to your computers and google theamazingchange.com! Get informed!” Then the audience began clapping for the young woman. She began sobbing uncontrollably. 


The human brain is designed to ignore what is not immediately affecting its survival. It has to. We receive so much sensory stimulation that the brain has to filter out most of it and only pay attention to selected stimuli. Ignoring things is a natural phenomenon. Realizing that we have to actively educate ourselves about important issues that may not be in our immediate vicinity is a goal we must all work to accomplish.


The United States abolished the African slave trade on January 1, 1808, shortly after the British abolition. By the end of 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, slavery was abolished and prohibited in the United States.


Slavery still exists in many forms around the world. The remarkable theamazingchange.com website will undoubtedly prompt many to proclaim “Was blind, but now I see.”