This portrait is of William Wilberforce (1759 - 1833). He was a member of an influential group of evangelical Christians known as the Clapham Sect.
William Wilberforce was active in social reform, a concern that arose from his Christian faith.
As an MP for Hull and then Yorkshire he campaigned for improved factory conditions in England and for the abolition of the slave trade. You can read more about him in a brief biography of William Wilberforce on the BBC History website.
He was bought by a British naval captain who brought him to England when Oloudah was about 12. Staying with a family in Blackheath he learnt to read and write but continued to be a slave. For much of his life he worked as a seaman, firstly as a slave but eventually managing to buy his freedom.
His autobiography "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano" published in 1789 makes remarkable reading. The book begins with a petition to Parliament and ends with an anti-slavery letter addressed to the Queen. The book was widely distributed and influential in the progress towards ending the British involvement in 'legal' slave trade.
After winning a Cambridge University essay prize on the subject of slavery he had a spiritual experience through which he believed he received,
"A direct revelation from God ordering me to devote my life to abolishing the trade".Together with Granville Sharp he formed a committee of 12 men (mostly Quakers) known as 'The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.' This group persuaded William Wilberforce to be their spokesman in the House of Commons.
Thanks to the work of these 3 inspirational men and many other people who campaigned in the 18th and 19th century to end slavery, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807 followed in 1833 by the Slavery Abolition Act which gave freedom to all African slaves in the British Empire. As is well known, this did not end slavery or the exploitation of people in near slave-like conditions.
Though slavery is now officially illegal in almost all the world The Global Slavery Index estimates that in 2016 about 45.8 million people in the world are living in some form of modern slavery. There's a long way to go until all people are truly free. I believe that will take more than legislation and law-enforcement. It will take profound change of hearts, one at a time. William Wilberforce said that
"Great things have small beginnings. Every downpour is just a raindrop; every fire is just a spark; every harvest is just a seed; every journey is just a step; because without that step there will be no journey; without that raindrop there can be no shower; without that seed there can be no harvest."See my post the Value of Small Things.
God our deliverer,
who sent your Son Jesus Christ
to set your people free from the slavery of sin:
grant that, as your servants
William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano and Thomas Clarkson
toiled against the sin of slavery,
so we may bring compassion to all
and work for the freedom of all the children of God;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Common Worship Daily Prayer (Church of England)
Image Credit for portrait of William Wilberforce: Wikipedia, public domain
Image Credit for portrait of Thomas Clarkson: Wikipedia, public domain
Image Credit for portrait of Oloudah Equiano: Commons Wikimedia