Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


(Am I Not a Man and a Brother — a medallion produced
by Josiah Wedgwood, 1730-1795, English potter)

On July 4, 1776, the thirteen United States of America asserted their unanimous Declaration of Independence with these momentous words in the second sentence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

With this act, America institutionalized for the first time the foundational principle of liberty, that all men are created equal. In a paradox of history, it was Great Britain, which fought a bloody war to keep its hold on these thirteen colonies, that was the first nation to put an end to slavery.

The British struggle against slavery, begun earlier in the eighteenth century, was a long and hard battle fought in the chambers of Parliament, where its members felt the influence of the people.

In 1787, the British Committee to Abolish the Slave Trade adopted as its motto, “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” The next year, the potter Josiah Wedgwood produced a medallion featuring those words surrounding a bas relief depiction of an African slave shackled in chains.

This image became the emblem of the country’s anti-slavery movement and was found everywhere, in the thousands, on women’s jewelry, on men’s cufflinks and pipes, and on household items like tea caddies and needlework samplers.

The British parliament finally abolished the slave trade in 1807 and the practice of slavery in 1833 in countries under its rule.

President Lincoln abolished slavery in America with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, fought in part over the evil of slavery.


I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals —
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting —
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, —
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —
I know why the caged bird sings!

~ Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), American poet and novelist whose works examined the lives of blacks in America before and after slavery; both his parents had been slaves

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