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Last Updated: Friday, 8 December 2006, 10:54 GMT
Abolition of slavery
Len Tingle
Len Tingle
Political Editor
BBC Yorkshire and Lincolnshire

Portrait of William Wilberforce
Portrait of William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce introduced the first Parliamentary Bill to abolish the slave trade. He was born in Hull and attended Hull Grammar School. The City plans a celebration of his life in 2007.

"What do these tell you about plantation life?" History teacher Fran Kennedy holds up a heavy pair of iron manacles as she takes a class at Hull's Winifred Holtby School on the subject of slavery.

Thirteen-year-old Naomi Nixon is one pupil enthused by what she has learnt:

Fran Kennedy displays shackles
Teacher Fran Kennedy displays shackles during a slavery lesson

"Slavery has been abolished in Britain, but it still goes on in other parts of the world, so we would like to do a campaign on that."

Anniversary celebrated

The lesson has particular relevance because March 2007 will mark the 200th anniversary of Parliament voting in favour of the "Abolition of the Slave Trade" Act, a vote that changed the face of world history - and the campaign to end slavery was led by local MP William Wilberforce.

2007 has been declared Wilberforce year and it is not just the schools that are taking part.

A huge programme of events has been set up in the city, culminating on 25 March 2007, when the Prime Minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur, visits Hull to open the upgraded Wilberforce Museum, and deliver the Wilberforce Lecture on freedom and democracy.

Hull City Council is organising a year of commemoration, both to make people aware of the achievements of Wilberforce and to bring home the message that slavery is still a very real issue in various parts of the world.

A petition against modern day slavery has been launched online.

Iconic figure

Chris Cade plays Wilberforce
Chris Cade plays Wilberforce in a recreation of the debate

City Council leader Councillor Carl Minns says: "William Wilberforce is an inspirational figure from Hull's past.

"Now we need a new chapter in the fight for freedom, and everyone in the city can help by signing the petition.

"I hope Hull people sign and return the petition in their thousands. It is of the greatest importance, because millions of people around the world are living in slavery, through human trafficking, child labour, forced military service, and debt bondage.

"Every signature counts. Together we can build a new mass movement for change."

New initiative

In addition, 2007 is also a chance for the city of Hull to gain international exposure as the world's media focus on slavery, past and present.

Places on a newly established Wilberforce Trail, like Holy Trinity Church, where he was baptised, and the Old Grammar School, where he was educated, are expecting record numbers of visitors.

Even the statue of Wilberforce which dominates the city centre from atop a giant pillar has been given a wash and brush up for the anniversary.

"It is going to bring a lot of people in, not just from the region but from the rest of Britain, North America, West Africa and the Caribbean," says Jane Tyler, from the Museums Service.

Statue of Wilberforce
The statue of Wilberforce is given a wash and brush up for 2007

The celebrations begin in earnest with a fair trade fortnight in March 2007, with events running through to Black History Month in October 2007.

Mitch Upfold, who is co-ordinating the events says that by the end of 2007 they want to achieve two things:

"We want to ensure that people understand the significant contribution Wilberforce made and that people are alive to the issues around slavery today."

The Politics Show

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Join the Politics Show team on Sunday 10 December 2006 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.


This is the last Politics Show for the autumn series - we return again on Sunday 14 January 2007, 12:00 GMT- in the meantime, from us all... have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

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