In Burngreave it was 1790, the 27th August to be precise and Olaudah Equiano, the freed slave and abolition campaigner, came to Sheffield to talk to pupils in some of the Year 4, 5 and 6 classes in each primary school.
Wearing a greatcoat, silk waistcoat and a frilly ruff he caused great excitement amongst the children as he strode into each class. “Warmest greetings, worthy friends!” Olaudah declaimed and sat down to tell the children how he was stolen from his village in Nigeria as a boy of ten by slavers and then worked to earn his freedom, educate himself and campaign to abolish slavery. It was mesmerising and after he gracefully answered questions from the children.
‘Brave’, ‘selfless’ and ‘determined’ were some of the words the children used to describe him afterwards in drama workshops looking at role models and the qualities they show. Miss Shah, Year 4 teacher at Pye Bank School, described how the children were really moved by Olaudah’s story. “They were so involved and interested in what they learnt about him! It provided an opportunity to think about their own experiences.”
Pictured above right, the children are role playing : the kidnapped child is about to be taken away by the captain of the ship. The children were asked to imagine what both the child and the captain must be feeling. “Do you think you can get away with this!” was the comment one pupil made to the captain.
Performed by Dead Earnest Theatre, the workshops were part of Burngreave Voices’ contribution to Black History Month celebrations.
Olaudah Equiano did actually come to Sheffield in 1790 to promote the cause of abolishing slavery. He might even have come to Burngreave: he regularly appealed to the working classes, sympathising with their treatment in the factories and equating it to slavery. He wrote a book called The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano or, Gustavus Vassa, The African which he published himself. It’s still in print and is available to borrow from Burngreave Library.
by Nikky Wilson
Burngreave Voices is a Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust project. It is supported by the Sheffield City Council and Burngreave New Deal for Communities.