Olaudah Equiano

People Spotlight – Olaudah Equiano

History attaches great names to great movements. And yet there remain names whose renown, though great when these movements actually passed upon the stage of history, are blurred over the veil of long years. If the historical movement we are speaking about is the abolition of slavery, the blurred name I hope to bring into focus for my readers is Olaudah Equiano.

Olaudah Equiano was kidnapped from his West African home as a young boy and eventually found his way into the machine which was the transatlantic slave trade. He passed through the hands of many owners in West Africa, North America, England, and the West Indies before earning his freedom and becoming the most famous and wealthy person of African descent in the transatlantic world of the 18th century.

He documented his sorrows and joys in what would become the prototype weapon of mass abolitionism, his self-published autobiography, The Interesting Narrative. This remarkable book sparked an entire literary genre of its own, the slave narrative. It went viral. It was arguably the powerhouse behind early abolitionism. The Narrative brought the horrors of slavery into intense focus for the world to see.

The most striking contents of his autobiography are his spiritual transformations in becoming a Christian. He encountered the Bible through his oppressors and was granted the discernment to see through their false Christianity and grasp the real treasure for himself. The tale of his conversion is deeply moving. Let us hear the man himself: 

It was given to me to know what it is to be born again… Christ was revealed to my soul as the chiefest among ten thousand… Now every leading providential circumstance that happened to me, from the day I was taken from my parents to that hour, was then in my view, as if it had just then occurred. I was sensible of the invisible hand of God which guided and protected me when in truth I knew it not: still the Lord pursued me… The amazing things of that hour can never be told.

His Christianity played the central ideological role in his abolitionism. He snatched the Bible from the hands of his oppressors and used it as a weapon against them. He armed himself with biblical truths and hurled them at this Goliath system with great accuracy. His God gave him success.

This Herculean figure was the transatlantic world’s most interesting man.