365 days of celebration


William Wilberforce Day

Posted by Brittany

William Wilberforce DayWilliam Wilberforce Day is celebrated annually on the birth date of William Wilberforce as an opportunity for people everywhere to celebrate the life and legacy of the revolutionary British abolitionist. William Wilberforce was born in the East Riding of Yorkshire on August 24, 1759. The only son of a prosperous merchant, Wilberforce had the advantages of wealth, social position, and charm. Short and nearsighted, he was a sickly child, but during his education at Cambridge (where he befriended future Prime Minister William Pitt) he was know for his social nature and flare for entertaining. After college, at the tender age of 21, Wilberforce began his political career in Parliament, where he quickly became the heart of the British abolitionist movement.

Today’s historians compare William Wilberforce to modern leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi — other “people of faith seeking social justice.” Wilberforce worked tirelessly not only to end slavery, but also to repair the moral fabric of nineteenth century England, leveraging his personal fortune, political ties, and friendships to better the world around him. Though it took decades, his brilliant and unmatched skills as an orator and debater stirred sympathy for enslaved Africans, first putting an end to the British slave trade, and later leading to the emancipation of Britain’s slaves — the latter goal being attained only three days before Wilberforce’s death in 1833.

Until I started charting the holidays for this month, I had never heard of William Wilberforce. I’m guessing this owes to my geographic location, as I was raised learning about great American abolitionists like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas (who, incidentally, said of his British precursor, “Let no man forget the name of William Wilberforce.”) To learn more about the man and his legacy I watched an hour-long documentary titled The Better Hour: The Legacy of William Wilberforce. The brief film was not only informative, but also engaging, using haunting images of slavery and it’s injustices, as well as interviews with historians and biographers who shed insight on Wilberforce as a man and leader. Most of the program focused on the slave trade and Wilberforce’s determination to end it and enact emancipation, even at the expense of his own physical and mental health. The final segment also explored his lasting legacy; Wilberforce was involved in founding, funding, or leading over sixty organizations created for the betterment of society — organizations dealing with social issues like child labor, smallpox inoculation, and education of the deaf. And Wilberforce’s efforts continue to inspire and shape our society — many of these organizations still exist today.

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